With hundreds of video games of various genres released in 2005, buying the right gift for the gamer in your life has become as complex as learning Icelandic.
To ease your burden while elbowing aside the 14-year-old lads at GameStop, here's a quick list of this year's top-rated titles.
"Shadow of the Colossus" for the game snob
A game about killing giants and rescuing a princess may not sound right for the game aficionado. But believe me, "Shadow" proves that video games are due for a little more fairy tale magic. Players take on the role of a young princeling tasked with finding and slaying 16 giants in order to rescue his love. Racing on horseback over mountain ranges and past mist-covered lakes is half the fun. The giants are huge — unlike anything seen in games before. Battles can take upward of 30 minutes each or more. The snob will appreciate the game's uncluttered interface, quick load times and its heritage. "Shadow of the Colossus" comes from the makers of "ICO," a little known, but critically acclaimed title for the Playstation 2. Game snob heaven.
Sony Playstation 2. Rated T for Teen. $39.99
"Nintendogs" for the cute-obsessed
Pick a puppy. Apply love by rubbing the touchscreen of the Nintendo DS. Train your puppy to do tricks. Clean up poop. Take him out on walks. Wonder at the graphics. Use the DS's built-in wireless connectivity to meet other puppies and puppy owners. Not a game, but a virtual pet simulation, "Nintendogs" is perfect for pet lovers, parents hoping to teach responsibility and anybody impressed with Japan's quest for ultimate cuteness.
Nintendo DS. Rated E for Everyone. $29.99
"God of War" for the strong-thumbed
This action title uses the heroes and villains of Greek mythology to create one of the best Playstation 2 titles of the year. The graphics are gorgeous, with settings ranging from a city trampled by a giant Mars, god of war, to a ship haunted by the three-headed Kraken. Rarely boring, always frantic, "God of War" escapes the tedium of the action genre by introducing a who's who list from Greek mythology. "God of War" may not be historically accurate, but it tells a good tale of a time when tough guys wore short skirts.
Sony Playstation 2. Rated M for Mature. $39.99
"SSX On Tour" for the disbeliever
Know someone who's game machine is gathering dust? Rekindle his or her love of hours of solitary couch entertainment with the snowboarding game, "SSX On Tour." If gaming is an addiction, then "SSX On Tour" is the gateway drug. Here music, ambient sound and a sense of speed work together to create a near hallucinatory experience. There's nothing really new with this latest addition to the SSX series beyond offering an option for skiers. But what this series does, it does so well: offering impossibly high mountains and even more complicated looking — but easy to perform — tricks. The soundtrack, a major reason for the series' success, includes old Def Leppard and Ronnie James Dio (!) as well as newer stuff from LCD Soundsystem. And if menu screens could earn an award, this game's notebook doodling-meets-Basquiat style deserves one.
Microsoft Xbox/Nintendo Gamecube/Sony Playstation 2. Rated E for Everyone. $29.99
"King Kong" for the cineaste
At last players have the opportunity to discover what it's like to be really, really hated in the Big Apple. We're not talking Donald Trump: The Game, but (take a breath here) "Peter Jackson's King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie" (whew!). Play as human hero Jack Driscoll and his big bad hairy highness, King Kong himself The interface has been stripped away of all distracting icons to lend a cinematic experience. As it should be. Film director Peter Jackson joined forces with game designing stud Michel Ancel of "Beyond Good and Evil" fame to create something that extends the film experience. The action varies from battling dinosaurs in a South Seas jungle to swatting biplanes in an urban one. Made for all platforms, but rules on the Xbox 360.
Microsoft Xbox and Xbox 360/Nintendo Gamecube/Sony Playstation 2/Win XP. Rated T for Teen. $49.99 and $59.99 (Xbox 360)
"Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories" for the commuter
Granted, few games less represent the holidays more than "Grand Theft Auto," but there are 265 commuting days between this Christmas and the next; plenty of time to dive into the scummy streets of Liberty City. Just about everything you loved — or hated — about Grand Theft Auto is here. The radio stations with their obnoxious hosts. The mob bosses. Our favorite scum ball Tommy Vercetti. And this time it all fits in the palm of your hand. Pick your commuting partner wisely.
Sony PSP. Rated M for Mature. $49.99
"Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction" for the cynic
The holidays for many involve family members hurling opposing political viewpoints across the dinner table. Put a stop to it by giving the gift of cynicism. In "Mercenaries," everyone from the North Koreans to the United Nations in their "shoot me" baby blue helmets all want a piece of the Korean peninsula. It's up to the player, the mercenary, to play each side against each other all the while collecting cash and access to bigger weapons. "Mercenaries" features a massive open environment ’ imagine a kim chee-flavored "Grand Theft Auto" — loaded with tanks to command and ugly North Korean Stalinist architecture that's just begging for an air strike. Cynical to the hilt. But when you're in on the joke, a joy to play.
Microsoft Xbox and Sony Playstation 2. Rated T for Teen. $29.99
"Psychonauts" for the gamer who owns everything
Give the great game of 2005 that no one apparently bought: "Psychonauts." Designed by Tim Schafer, a game designer known for infusing humor and whimsical characters into game play, "Psychonauts" mixes puzzle solving with the usual swinging and jumping one expects from games of this type. "Psychonauts" is set in a summer camp for clairvoyant kids and several of the game levels where players literally navigate the brains of some of the characters rank among the best for 2005. Weird fun.
Microsoft Xbox. Rated T for Teen. $39.99
"City of Villains" for the comic book collector
In the massive online role playing game, "City of Heroes" players can create their own superheroes and team up with others to battle injustice in a massive superhero digital playground. The "City of Villains" expansion pack now gives players so inclined the opportunity to create nefarious scoundrels, form leagues of super villains and battle the square-jawed goody-two-shoes. The great thing about the expansion is that one $14.95 subscription works for players who own both "Villains" and the original "Heroes.
Win XP. Rated T for Teen. $39.99.
"Star Wars Battlefront II" and "LEGO Star Wars: The Game" for the Yoda-philes
Between a film that didn't exactly blow — or blew less than the others — and two great games, the year 2005 was a good year for fans of the Star Wars universe. In "Star Wars Battlefront II" players can join the rebels or the Imperials as a grunt and slog it out on ground in battlefields from one end of the galaxy to the other or they can hop into X-Wings or TIE fighters and dogfight in space. The battles are as frantic as battlefields are expansive. Multiplayer mode supports up to 32 players. And as for "LEGO Star Wars" ... yes, the characters and settings are designed to look like LEGO figurines, but behind the novelty is a game that's loaded with little secrets. It's pure fun. Perfect for kids and the most hard-core members of the 501st Legion.
"Battlefront II:" Microsoft Xbox/Sony Playstation 2/Win XP. Rated T for Teen. $49.99.
"LEGO:" Microsoft Xbox/Nintendo Gamecube/Sony Playstation 2/Win XP. Rated E for Everyone. $29.99.
"Resident Evil 4" for the iron-stomached
The zombies of Resident Evil are now popping up in rural Spain and that red liquid bubbling in the pot ain't gazpacho. Ewww. "Resident Evil 4" doesn't skimp on the yucky stuff, but what makes it the most frightening game of the year is how it breathes new life into even the deadest of horror cliches: the spooky forest. Graphics and sound are tops.
Nintendo Gamecube. Rated M for Mature. $39.99.
"Civilization IV" for the historian
The Civilization series from noted game designer Sid Meier has always appealed to the type of player who likes to sit down with their PC as say, earlier generations, sat down with Winston Churchill's history of World War II. In short. content is deep and the player will finish the game with enough cocktail talk fodder for the holidays. "Civ IV" continues the theme of world conquest. Create a people. Pick a leader from a Who's Who listing of big kahuna's from Gandhi to Caesar. And use any combination of warfare, technology, diplomacy, religion and cultural creativity to dominate the world. For parents apprehensive about buying a game for their children (see below), "Civilization IV" is the perfect choice.
Win 2000/XP. Rated E for Everyone. $49.99.
"F.E.A.R." for the traditionalist
While console owners unrolled their sleeping bags in front of their local Toys R Us for the chance to claim an Xbox 360, PC gamers were nice and cozy inside playing the latest first-person-shooter, "Fear." You know the drill: The hallways. The gore. The supernatural. "Fear" breaks no barriers in game play. But for those lucky enough to own a decent graphics card, the graphics are phenomenal. What's more, "Fear" turned out to be one of the few games that actually lived up to its title. Play with the lights on.
Win XP. Rated M for Mature. $49.99
"Advance Wars: Duel Strike" for the armchair general
This is old school turn-based strategy. Old school like chess. Or rather, cartoon chess because “Advance Wars” is set on a planet called “War World” inhabited by armies with names like Blue Moon and Green Earth and Yellow Comet. The goal is conquest. The player takes a turn, then the computer, or an opposing player, takes a turn. Each turn involves a number of smaller moves such as creating new battle units, moving existing units around the grid-based map and, if the enemy occupies a nearby space on the map, initiating battle. Re-tooled for the Nintendo DS, "Advance War: Dual Strike" supports wireless play for up to eight players and takes advantage of the DS's dual screens to simultaneously report battle statistics — troop strength, firepower, location — on one screen and the grid-like battle map on the other.
Nintendo DS. Rated E for Everyone. $35.99.