Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure (Wii)
Though its puzzles may occasionally infuriate, the real source of frustration regarding Zack & Wiki stems from the fact that nobody bought it. Every year has its share of titles that deserve an audience yet never find one, and in this regard, Zack & Wiki is easily one of the most tragic games to put an uncontrollable smile on your face. Relentlessly charming and beautifully presented, the debut of Capcom's choc-chomping pirate and his simian sidekick challenges the mind and warms that cynical, meh-spouting lump in your chest. How refreshing it was to overcome obstacles and bosses by choosing the power of the mind over an impossibly large bazooka.
Uncharted: Drake's Fortune (PlayStation 3)
Don't praise this game as the PlayStation 3's long-awaited killer app. Don't praise it for its guided tour of Cell and Blu-ray possibilities. Rather heap your kind words on Naughty Dog's impeccable design, snappy writing and tight grip on the very concept of "adventure." It may not be a riot of innovation -- Gears of Indiana Jones and whatnot -- but the game's likable characters and cinematic flair make sure that the edge of your seat is as far as you go.
Pac-Man: Championship Edition (Xbox Live Arcade)
If I was to envision a mental calendar representing what I was doing with my life for most of the year, there'd be a mysterious black patch, lasting several weeks, around the time Pac-Man: Championship Edition saw release. The truth is, in-between the game's addictive modification of the Pac-Man formula and a constant high score war with folks on my friends list, my life outside of games became a complete blur. If it didn't help me plot a more efficient way of devouring ghosts, it was irrelevant.
Tomb Raider Anniversary (PC)
Honestly, I'm tired of having to explain this game to friends who raise an eyebrow and say, "But dude, hasn't Tomb Raider been rubbish for the last twenty games or so?" The series had its Batman Begins reboot with Tomb Raider: Legend and has been totally awesome since. Dude. Anniversary remakes Lara's iconic debut, melding Legend's superior controls and fluidity with the original game's intelligent level design. Trust me, the result is better than the game in you imperfectly remember.
Metroid Prime 3: Corruption (Wii)
It's impossible for me to tell if this is the best Metroid Prime overall, but there are certain things which it's best at compared to the previous two and utterly fantastic games. Prime 3 is perfectly paced, to the point where "just one more missile upgrade" becomes "just one more area." Next you'll be wanting to do "just one more planet," only you've finished the game and remarked that the end of the trilogy finally brings with it a truly engaging story. The Wii's controller also delivers the best combat yet -- I think we can drop that "First-Person Adventure" nonsense now and call this one a shooter.
DiRT (Xbox 360)
The only game to cause me personal injury, Dirt is the most thrilling racer to come along in years. From out of nowhere, Codemasters produced an amazing graphics and physics engine, one conveying every bump, jolt and ill-advised jump on the track. Choose an interior viewpoint and watch out for the trees!
Phoenix Wright 3: Trials & Tribulations (DS)
Let's face it, there's not a whole lot going on here in terms of pure gameplay. Strange then, that the game I had the most fun playing was Phoenix Wright's third and final turn(about) as the most chronically and comically unprepared attorney in the world. A great cast of characters and a story which thrives on ridiculous twists make it a great read... but what makes it a good game? I know exactly what the answer is now. It's the swell of excitement that arrives when you make the connection, when the amazing soundtrack kicks in and you flip an impossible case around at the very last and desperate moment.
- The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass (DS) -- Bad poetry says it best: A bore, a snore and a chore. It took me several months to claw my way through this game, as all desire to play it quickly evaporated every time I touched my DS and remembered that yet another return to the Temple of the Ocean King awaited me. I could forgive the bland music, dull environments and utterly dreadful sailing, but this was one bad design boomerang I loathed. I desperately wanted a sequel to my beloved Wind Waker... just not this one.
- Blue Dragon (Xbox 360) -- Assembled by a JRPG dream team, I think it's fair to say that Blue Dragon delivered what I expected. Exactly what I expected and what I thought I wanted. It turns out the line between "traditional" and "old fashioned" isn't always clear, a fact which Blue Dragon learns throughout its unevenly paced adventure. I liked it, but I should have loved it. The feeling that Mr. Final Fantasy phoned this one in just couldn't be avoided.
- Super Paper Mario (Wii) -- I send my condolences to the families of the developers responsible for this charming title. As I understand it after playing the game, the entire team was mysteriously killed halfway through development, leaving the disastrous second half to random amateurs. What a shame.
- Stranglehold (PS3) -- Though it captured the destructive action of Hard Boiled fairly well, it also did a good job of capturing silly aspects of game design. Do we really need irritating bosses that, for some reason, absorb 10,000 bullets before keeling over? Certainly no more than we need poor checkpointing, sluggish aiming and the ugliest implementation of Unreal 3.0 to date.
- The Darkness (Xbox 360) -- A surprisingly forgettable game, The Darkness was carried by its morbid atmosphere and highly entertaining use of vicious tentacles. There was a decent game here, but every mechanic felt woefully underdeveloped. The last part of the game is a complete mess, deluging you in abrupt cutscenes (depicting things you could do yourself!) and leading you to believe that there's an important choice to be made. There isn't.