Video Games Reach a Wider Audience for the Holidays

By Mike Musgrove
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 23, 2007

It's high season for video game fans right now, the time of year when most new video games are released. This year seems to have a particularly wide lineup.

Not only are game publishers offering up titles that have the serious game fans abuzz, there are a lot of offerings for the more casual audience as the game industry seeks to entice a wider crowd to the systems currently on the market.

Here's a roundup of this season's offerings:

Notable Wii-only Games

The Nintendo Wii was considered the underdog in this round of the console wars until the system was released last year and won over most folks who tried its unique, motion-sensing controllers. A year later, the console has outsold both of its rivals. It can still be hard to find it in stock at electronics stores.

Game to look out for:

Super Mario Galaxy: This is a sure-fire hit for the Wii this holiday season, as it features its most famous character -- the plumber who speaks with the high-pitched Italian accent. In this one, Mario flies around from solar system to solar system, fighting the usual bad guys, except this time each adventure takes place on tiny, puzzle-ish planets, with different rules of gravity. Cooperative play mode allows two players to take on the adventure simultaneously.

Notable PlayStation 3-Only Games

Sony's PlayStation 3 was the presumed winner of the latest round of console wars because of its overwhelming success with the PlayStation 2. A lack of great titles for the PS3 has meant that this console has been bringing up the rear, sales-wise. That's changing, though, as game designers appear to be taking more advantage of the system's power.

Games to look out for:

Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction: This game, the latest in a popular franchise, has been winning positive reviews for being one of the first games to show off the power of the PlayStation 3's graphics.

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune: An explorer goes on the hunt for the mythical treasures of El Dorado. This one has been described as the game equivalent of a summer blockbuster movie, most specifically, Indiana Jones plus Tomb Raider, with guns.

Notable Xbox 360-Only Games

The Xbox 360 received a few black eyes this year. Microsoft expanded the warranty, from one to three years, after admitting that the system suffered from a high failure rate. Then, some discs for the latest Halo game came scratched when they came loose in a metal box designed to house a premium version of the game. Still, as a console that was released a year before the other two debuted, the Xbox 360 has had the most time to develop a wide library of games.

Games to look out for:

Mass Effect: This epic sci-fi story lets players take on the role of a human explorer, the junior member of an intergalactic alliance where humans are considered a little suspect and unravel a mystery that might determine the fate of the cosmos. This is more of a story-driven game and is the first entry in a planned trilogy from a game developer that is revered by gamers for titles such as a Star Wars-based adventure called Knights of the Old Republic.

Halo 3: This game franchise is now a household name, and this latest version wraps up its storyline. Or, if you can't remember what the story is supposed to be, you can just blast away at everything that moves until you save the world. The game comes in three versions, depending on your budget and your interest in this game franchise.

Notable PC Games

Video game consoles seem to get all the attention these days, but there are still some solid titles coming out that are PC only. Be warned, though, that some of these games require new-ish computers, with fast processors and the latest graphics cards.

Games to look out for:

Crysis: This game, about a battle to save Earth, takes place against a white, frozen landscape. An artifact uncovered by a team of U.S. archeologists in the South China Sea that reveals an alien presence on earth causes tension between the U.S. and the North Korean government. This titles has been highly anticipated, as it was designed by the team that did Far Cry, a popular "shooter" game.

Tabula Rasa is a new online multiplayer game from famous game designer Richard Garriott.

SimCity Societies: Interesting, fresh premise for a SimCity game. In this edition, players create cities based on social decisions, not on where the police and fire stations go. But, whoops, the general consensus is that this game is a little glitchy and a little low on material.

Games for Serious Gamers

These are available on multiplatforms:

Assassin's Creed: In this title, players use stealth and other tactics to complete nine assassinations set in the 12th century.

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare: The previous entries in this game franchise were set in World War 2. This one takes the action to a fictional present-day conflict with rogue Russian nationalists and securing nuclear material. This one has received rave reviews for its graphics.

The Orange Box: "Orange Box" is a quirky name for what's actually a small collection of games from developer Valve, which is most famous for a brainy "shooter" game called Half-Life. This compilation throws in all the Half-Life 2 content that was previously only available on PC. The new title in this collection that is generating the most buzz, and blowing players' minds, is a game called Portal, a witty adventure where players have a futuristic weapon that can open up holes (or "portals") in space.

Games for the More Casual Audience

Trivia Games: Traditionally, trivia games have not been a big category for the video game industry, but it seems like every publisher this year had the same idea to introduce one at the same time. It's too early to tell whether one will catch on over the others-- and there's pretty much a different one for every game system.

Games to look out for:

Scene I: Lights, Camera, Action: Movie trivia game for the Xbox 360

Smarty Pants: The first trivia game for the Wii system tests general knowledge on a variety of subjects.

Music Games

Thanks to the smash success if the first couple of Guitar Hero games, this is a big, new-ish category.

Games to look out for:

Rock Band: The latest game from the original creators of the Guitar Hero series lets players fake-rock out with some new instruments and create a band to a whole new songlist, which includes a range of classic tracks from Black Sabbath to David Bowie.

Guitar Hero 3: This game was developed by the company most famous for the Tony Hawk skateboarding games, but this new installment successfully captures the humor of its predecessors. Among the tweaks in this new version is a two person battle where players can break the strings of their opponents in guitar duels by hitting the right notes. Note sure what that has to do with the rockstar fantasy, but it's sorta fun.

SingStar 80s and SingStar Amped :- The SingStar karaoke games are a growing hit for the PlayStation 2. In these games, players sing into microphones plugged into the PS2 and the game judges your performance, on a tough scale ranging from "tone-deaf" to "lead singer." Players can work together in "duets" or compete against each other. These two new installments feature songs from the 80s ("Material Girl," "Eye of the Tiger," among others) and some harder-rocking tunes (songs from bands like Motorhead and Judas Priest), respectively.

Movie and Television Tie-Ins

Tie-Ins have something of a suspect reputation among game fans. Sometimes the results are lackluster and feel like they were put together as a cash-grab.

Games to look out for:

The Simpsons Game: The marketing point on this one is that the game's script was actually written by Simpsons writers. So, it's funny. As a game, however, it's not super hot.

Star Wars Lego: The Complete Saga: It's the Star Wars saga, as told with Lego pieces. Inside a video game. This might not make any sense, until you try it. The Star Wars Lego games have been finding an audience among kids and grownups. LucasArts has, in this game, dusted off two earlier versions of the game and combined them onto one disk. There's some fresh content, though not much new here for people who have already played the first editions. A well-executed "co-op" mode lets two players work through the adventures together.

Bee Movie Game: Like the recent animated movie, the one written by Jerry Seinfeld, this title has received generally blah reviews.

Jackass: The Game: Yes, there's a game based on the MTV show that was popular enough to launch two movies featuring Johnny Knoxville and his buddies performing risky stunts.

CSI: Hard Evidence: A series of mysteries featuring the cast of the popular TV show. This one got tepid reviews, for having blah graphics, but avid CSI fans might enjoy it.

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