Special: Goodness, gracious, great games of 2006!
Last year we asked the question "What if the gaming industry stopped?
". And our answer was to highlight the 52 games (one for each week) of 2005 that we considered "the best", whether they were the most original or the most epic or games that were just plain fun. In other words, if the gaming industry stopped in 2005, those were the games we'd still be playing in 2006.
Naturally we thought, what would our list look like for 2006? So we did it again.
Now, this list isn't a true "Games of the Year" list. Instead, it is a list of games that the staff of Gaming Target believes stand apart from the pack in some way. They may not be the "Games of the Year" to some people, but they are games released this year that should
be played by as many people as possible. Because of this, the games are not ranked, they're listed alphabetically. However, as a special treat today, we have chosen a handful of games as the cream of 2006's crop. So be doubly sure to check those out.
So what if the gaming industry stopped? If we could pick up a different game every week, this is what we would play in 2007...
Trauma Center: Second Opinion (Wii)
As one of the Wii's more original games, the semi-sequel to the hit Nintendo DS game provides players with hours and hours of entertainment as they slice and dice their patients. While the game appears rather simple and easy within the first couple of chapters, the later chapters move to extreme difficulty when the GUILT begin to appear. Not only does the game essentially put the player in the operating room, but it has a decent sci-fi medical drama plot to go with it. With extra missions, various difficulties, and the uber XS rank Trauma Center: Second Opinion will have us entertained well through the new year as we attempt to save patient after patient. Heck, with so much playtime available in the game you might actually begin to think you'll make a great surgeon. Maybe. - Jason Young
Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria (PS2)
Remember Valkyrie Profile? No? Probably because Enix released about 10 copies in 2000 and thus nobody has played it. However I bet you've heard of it as Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth, the PSP port of that practical vaporware. It was really released as a primer for this prequel for PS2, Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria. Taking place years before the original and starring a Valkyrie hidden inside a princess known as Alicia, the plot and gameplay has been greatly refined. The battles still consist of a button mapped to each character, but now it's in full 3D which makes the fights less turn-based and far more real-time. The story actually continues what was learned in Lenneth, even if it takes place years before it ? weird how that works. Thankfully because Square-Enix published it, more than 10 copies have been produced, and thus it isn't as rare, making it a good, challenging RPG to pick up on a whim and enjoy, especially if you want something different from the norm. - Adam Woolcott
Viva Pinata (Xbox 360)
Publisher: Microsoft Games Studios
In one of the more originally interesting games since Ico, the winsome Viva Pi?ata lets players establish their very own medley of pi?ata species. Build homes for your pi?atas, play Cupid to expand your garden's population, and even sacrifice some of your pi?atas for the good of your garden's future. A journal lets you keep track of all your pi?ata tenants, and a number of zany humanoids introduce themselves to aid you in your garden's growth. Not everything is so gleeful, though, as evil pi?ata species threaten the sanctity of your garden. While Rare's cutesy adaptation of the children's TV show is sure to keep the youngins entertained, the game's open-ended gameplay and endearing characters are enough to paint a smile on even the most rugged, hard-nosed gamers. - Joe Comunale
Wii Sports (Wii)
Ah, yes. The pack-in game. How long has it been since a hardware manufacturer actually included a full-versioned game with their product? Well, its been a long time. Anyhow, thankfully Wii Sports not only provides players with a glimpse of what the controller can do, but it's also a fun game in its own right. Although it lacks depth for solo play, put the game on for the kids during a family get together and you won't see them the rest of the night. It's that special feeling that Nintendo was trying to advertise with their product, and in my opinion they did wonderfully. Whether it's golf or bowling, Wii Sports is guaranteed to entertain the masses for years to come. Sure the game doesn't have the ?greatest' visuals but they're pleasant and they set an appropriate atmosphere for the game. My hope is that other hardware companies follow suit and actually include a full-blown game in the future. - Jason Young
Xenosaga Episode III: Also Sprach Zarathustra (PS2)
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Developer: Monolith Soft
2006 saw the ending of an amazing trilogy of sci-fi goodness. Beginning as a pusedo-prequel to the Sony Playstation one hit, Xenogears the trilogy told the tale of the Federation's battle with the space entity known as the ?Gnosis' through gorgeous cinematics, a beautiful OST, and bible references galore. Although the game doesn't really stand-out as anything special on it's own, it becomes something magical when you weigh it along with the other games in the series. While the trilogy had some serious bumps in the road (like Xenosaga II), the game's production values, chraracters, and intriguing plot development continued to stand out as one premiere RPG's to date. We'll surely miss kicking ass with KOS-MOS and the gang, but whenever we need a saga fix, all we'll have to do is just restart from Episode I and re-experience the magic that was the Xenosaga series. Here's hoping to Namco Bandai continuing to make a new Xeno series for the next-gen. - Jason Young
"Vacation Week" Games
Up to this point, all of the "Games We'll Still Be Playing From 2006" have been listed in alphabetical order. But if you go by our one-game-we'll-still-be-playing-from-2006-a-week setup then some games would have to be picked during those three day weekends and long vacations that come with holidays like 4th of July and Thanksgiving
So which games would we devote extra time to during weeks we can escape the drudgery of the 9-to-5? Well, seven games stood out amongst all of the 2006 releases. We've even paired them with what we think is an appropriate holiday. Here they are, the best of the best from 2006:
New Year's Day is a time to sit back, relax and sleep off the night before. But what if you never went to sleep? That's where this game's massive quest steps in...
The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (PC, Xbox 360)
Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: Bethesda Softworks
It's no surprise the fourth installment of The Elder Scrolls rocked. Considering how fantastic Morrowind was, Oblivion had a lot to live up to, and believe me- it is definitely a worthy addition to the series. Offering players an even larger world than the island of Morrowind, Oblivion takes players on a nearly endless romp through the land of Cyrodiil, where anything can happen out in the fields. Hundreds of scripted and unscripted events happen everywhere in Oblivion giving the game an almost real-world feel. All of this, and I still haven't even mentioned the awesome graphics or sound used in the game. The game doesn't end when the credits roll, either. The guys at Bethesda are constantly adding official upgrades to the game available over their website and Xbox Live. For a small fee, players can keep on exploring and adventuring to their hearts' content. Players with the computer version of Oblivion are in for even more of a treat as the mod community keeps presenting newer and better upgrades to the game offering a level of variety unheard of in any game in history. We won't just be playing The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion through 2007, we'll be playing it long into the next decade. - James Dauer
If Oblivion requires the time commitment that only New Year's Day can provide, the antics of the young cast of this epic RPG can only be truly appreciated on Spring Break...
Final Fantasy XII (PS2)
When it comes down to revolutionizing an already successful franchise and turning it into something even better, Square Enix is the king. Following in the pseudo-roots of Final Fantasy XI, Final Fantasy XII introduced a new battle system reminiscent of online RPGs with battles in real-time, eliminating random encounters and enemies carrying gil in every single one of their pockets. Although the game suffers a tad bit from the annoying licensing system (why do I need a license to wear a friggin' hat!), the positives of the game easily overshadow these minor inconveniences. The cut-scenes in the game are easily some of the best you'll find in today's market and shows us that the PS2 still has some life left in it after five years. Additionally, the game continues the series' tradition of maintaining a strong storyline throughout the game telling the tale of a rebellion against an evil empire. - Jason Young
We owe a debt to our fighting men and women that can never be repaid and on Memorial Day it only makes sense to honor them by playing...
Gears of War (Xbox 360)
Publisher: Microsoft Games Studios
Developer: Epic Games
When screenshots of this title were first released, many people decided right then, that they had to get themselves a 360.The hype machine that followed Gears of War was something that few games could ever hope to live up to. The rumor around during its development, told of Microsoft actually boosting up the internal memory and a few other tweaks in the 360's production specs specifically to handle ?Gears'.
Suffice to say, every 360 owner patiently waited and prayed for greatness. Saying GOW doesn't disappoint is the understatement of the year. Marcus Fenix will go down as one the coolest game characters in the pantheon of gaming. He's big, he's mean and he's got some wicked scars. The very definition of ?awesome? has to be the ability to control this futuristic badass in his fierce war with the Locust Horde on the planet of Sera.
Gears of War is definitely one of the most universally praised games of 2006 and for darn good reason. Its outstanding visuals utilize Unreal 3, one of the first titles to show off the power of Epic's newest game engine. You won't find a better looking game on any platform (needs to be seen it on an HD screen to believe it). The sound effects, especially when blasting through a 5.1 speaker setup, will shake every bone in your body. Gameplay is plain addictive. Elements such as taking cover, popping up to shoot, swat turns, blind firing and the shaky, war cameraman inspired ?Roadie Run? are brilliant examples of how to actually innovate in a previously stale gaming category.
A totally immersive cinematic package topped off with a robust coop/multiplayer bow on top made Gears of War the ultimate early Christmas present of 2006. If you own a 360, you need to own GOW. If you don't own a 360, this game alone is reason enough to go out a buy yourself one, NOW!!!! - Jose Martin
Moving on, nothing is more American than shredding "Purple Haze" on a guitar, so when 4th of July rolls around, I suggest you set down the fireworks and unleash your inner "Free Bird!"...
Guitar Hero II (PS2)
"Guitar Hero II gives you more than one reason to keep your plastic guitar plugged into the PlayStation 2 controller port. One of those reasons involves having a second guitar plugged into the other PS2 controller port thanks to the expanded competitive and all-new cooperative multiplayer modes. On top of that, the practice mode is surprisingly more than a throw-away experience and the track list is not surprisingly full of some of rock n' roll's best songs. In addition to the 64-song track list, the sequel adds a co-op mode for guitar and bass parts, a solid practice mode, extra challenge and ?Free Bird.? So, not only does the game make you look cool compared to other music/rhythm titles, but it also adds more than a handful of new songs to the mix." - Matt Swider
To boldly go where no man has gone before. This was not just the motto of the Starship Enterprise, but of Columbus, a man who wanted to explore new worlds. So for Columbus Day, it is only fitting to explore the new controls of...
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (Wii, GameCube)
It was a long time coming, but Nintendo finally did its fans right and gave them a Zelda game in the vein of The Ocarina of Time. Gone are the cartoony graphics and sea-voyage. Players can expect plenty of horseback riding goodness through the ample fields of Hyrule, as well as a dark story the likes of Majora's Mask. Of course the gameplay has still remained intact. A simple yet deep combat system mixed with mind bending puzzles will keep players adventuring for a long time. The graphical style is as beautiful as it is unique, and the music is classic Zelda music. As for the two versions released, the only real difference is the control setup, so regardless of which one you choose, you can't go wrong. ? James Dauer
On this Thanksgiving, we give thanks to Nintendo for creating the first original side scrolling game in this series in fifteen years. Thank you Nintendo, from the bottom of our hearts, thank you...
New Super Mario Bros. (DS)
For the last several years Nintendo has treated us to some of the finest 3D platforming gaming in the business, but when it comes to the classic 2D Mario gameplay, many of us have been stuck playing GBA ports of the Super NES Mario World games. That said, it's about time that Nintendo released us a new Super Mario Bros. game, aptly titled New Super Mario Bros. Nintendo proves that it still has the goods when it comes to making a 2D platformer. Mario faces 8 worlds filled with pitfalls and dangers as koopas, goombas, Bullet Bills, and every other old-school Mario enemy tries to keep him from rescuing the fair Princess Toadstool. I tell you, someone should get a Barcom system for Toadstool castle. But I guess if that happened, then we wouldn't have such awesome adventures with Mario. Let's just hope Nintendo doesn't make us wait another decade for the next 2D Mario. - James Dauer
Finally, we come to Christmas. A time when families gather and cutthroat gambling on cards is the norm. I mean, a great online game like this is a gift...
Uno (Xbox 360)
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: Carbonated Games
The idea that Uno, a card game that we all played as kids, would be so well received during E3 week of all times (when gaming's bright high-definition
future was on display is a testament to the game's appeal. It proves that a game doesn't need flash or guns or girls to be ridiculously addictive and very fun. There's just something satisfying about slapping a Draw Four on the table while the sing-song sound effect of "Uno!" echoes across the Internet. It may not be Gears of War, but I'm not sure I had more fun with my 360 all year than when I was playing Uno. ? John Scalzo
So that's our list, we hope you enjoyed it. Looking back on the whole thing it's easy to spot a few trends. First of all, the PlayStation 2 dominated, with 18 games (most of them exclusives) making the list on Sony's last-gen machine. A more surprising trend is the fact that the PSP and DS were roughly neck and neck, netting five and six selections respectively. If you believe the hype machine, Nintendo's sleek handheld should be destroying Sony's Frankenstein's monster, but the truth is, they are about even. Finally, 2006 was the year that Microsoft's Xbox 360 has come into it's own. The 360 actually had more selections than the PS2 (20 games in total), but few were exclusive to Microsoft's green machine. One other thing is clear from this number as well, the PlayStation 3 is definitely playing catch up to the 360 and Nintendo's Wii, but with seven games on the list, the PS3 is no slouch either.
But the one thing we know for sure? 2007 is going to be awesome
See the whole list:
Part 5 (You Are Here)