Beyond the ever-popular "Madden NFL" series, 2004 served up some quality sports titles you may have missed.
"Tony Hawk's Underground 2" (GameCube/PC/PlayStation 2/Xbox). Race against a shredder in a wheel chair. Skate with founding father Ben Franklin. Whaddya expect from a game that stars members of MTV's "JackAss" alongside world class skaters? Fluid control gives players the ability to chain together some spectacular stunts. No knowledge of "ollies" and "grinds" required. One of the year's best. Rated "T" for Teen. $49.99.
"FIFA Soccer 2005" (GameCube / PC / PS2 / Xbox). Players may be shouting "GOOOOAAAALLLL!" with more enthusiasm thanks to ball handling improvements in this year’s version of Electronic Arts' "FIFA Soccer." "FIFA Soccer 2005" boasts teams from 18 international leagues and the requisite suite of international soccer chants including that annoying "Ole!" song. Color commentators from the BBC add a bit of old world authority. Online play, natch. Rated "E" for Everyone. $45.99.
"ESPN NBA 2K5" (PlayStation 2/Xbox) and "NBA Live 2005" (GameCube/PC/PlayStation 2/Xbox). Both NBA titles feature improved moves and a TV-riffic presentation. But "ESPN's" $19.99 price tag makes it hard to ignore. Rated "E" for Everyone. $19.99 ("ESPN") and $29.99 ("NBA Live").
"Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2005" (PC/GameCube/PlayStation 2/Xbox). Zen is spending hours indoors on the couch playing golf. Although this title was released in September the character customization tool and the "Tiger Proofing" feature whereby players are able to modify courses down to the rough insures re-playability. Rated "E" for Everyone. $45.99.
"Mario Power Tennis" (GameCube). Mario, Luigi, the Kong boys – Donkey and Diddy – and the rest of the Nintendo gang are yours to control. Like every Mario-inspired sports game, play is easy to pick up -- even for those unfamiliar with the rules of the sport. Fun to play, but the constant cartooney chatter gets annoying. Rated "E" for Everyone. $49.99.
Action and platformers
The meat and potatoes of the gaming world. Sequels dominate this market with "Metroid Prime 2: Echoes" and "Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater" launching just in time for the holidays.
"Metroid Prime 2: Echoes" (GameCube). The long anticipated sequel has Samus, our morph-ball changing bounty hunter, jumping portals between two dimensions. The story is pure mystery – what has happened to the people of the planet Luminoth? -- while the game play is a mixture of action and puzzle-solving. A truly immersive action game that gradually ramps up in difficulty. Rated "T" for Teens. $49.99.
"Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal" and "Jak 3" (PlayStation 2). "Ratchet & Clank" is a cheeky platformer with fine voice acting and questionable one-liners. Veterans of this series can expect more moves and more weapons (including the sheep gun) plus new online multiplayer play. "Jak 3" continues the job started in "Jak 2" of applying an epic storyline to what's really a platformer game. The story can be hit and miss, but the running, jumping and swatting aspects deliver. Rated "T" for Teens. $39.99.
"Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater" (PlayStation 2). Unfortunately this game arrived in the mail a little too late to make my deadline, but the opening levels look good. A must for any fan of stealth games, "Metal Gear Solid 3" moves the action back a couple decades to the early 1960's right after the Cuban Missile Crisis. The setting? The jungles of Asia. Great cut-scenes and the play (so far) is riveting. Rated "M" for Mature. $49.99.
NOT YET RELEASED. "Prince of Persia: Warrior Within" (GameCube/PC/PlayStation 2/Xbox). Last year's title combined acrobatics, an interesting "Arabian Nights" setting and elegantly designed game levels that allowed players the ability to use the construct of time in nifty ways. If the sequel matches the first in originality, then it's worth a look.
NOT YET RELEASED. "Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords" (Xbox). The sequel to 2003's game of the year arrives in time for the holidays.