By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
By Roy Edroso
By Jon Campbell
By Albert Samaha
By Zachary D. Roberts
My priest was a big fan of SimCity in the early '90s, when I was still an altar boy. I never surveyed his mayorship's simulated city on the hill, but I was privy to updates on its development. After all, the parish was running smoothly, and the poor guy didn't have a wife or kids to grumble about. What better game could there be for such a man? Its main elementsleadership, progress, and disastrous acts of Godalso animate the Old Testament. And while some games inspire religious devotion, only the Simspin-offs require it.
Bustin' Out, an update of the series' console debut, is much saucier, zeroing in on strip poker, hot tubs, and French kissing. "Free Play" mode allows you to orchestrate the lives of multiple families, but better to create one character, choosing such fundamentals as hairstyle, career path (seven to startswitch at any time), and astrological sign (sadly, sun only). The goal is to move out of Mom's and secure 10 promotions in your field, all while keeping up appearances, and per the franchise's increasingly literal capitalist lampoon, buying big-screen TVs. (Play with a friend using your memory card, or online if you have PS2.) The devil's in the details. Take a disco nap, shower, shit, and scooter to Club Rubb, grab ass, go homemundane or fun, everything recedes into a heartbeat of flushing, snoring, and Simlish. And whether you join the military or "counterculture," there's a path to follow; the latter, for instance, need only keep fit and charismatic. That's a world worth having faith in.
DDRMAX2: DANCE DANCE REVOLUTION
Unlike bukkake, this Japanese pastime makes perfect sense. We must, per Billy Idol, dance alone on a big cushy pad sometimes. This game insures that even without a partner, we score or get rejected. Only the fleet-footed will hack "Heavy" modenot to be confused with "Workout" mode, which counts the calories you burn. The series' most extensive music library yet includes Kylie, Dirty Vegas, obscure J-pop, and a host of fun, anonymous techno crap.
ESPN NHL HOCKEY
(SegaPS2, Xbox) 8
Branding: Cows don't like it, but corporations sure do. When the gloves come off, this ESPN tie-in is really just a manicured version of last year's game. The complex controls have been refined, and the team-management franchise mode now allows you to import new characters. (You pick which teeth he's missing!) Most notably, Sega tightened online play, closing easy-goal loopholes and adding a surprisingly fun single-skill competition mode. Stick handling, anyone?
(EA GamesGameCube, PS2, Xbox) 7
Enemy submarines sit in New York Harbor, tanks roll down Broadway, and femme fatale Tatiana Kempinski ha-ha delivers propaganda over the airwaves: It's up to Brooklyn plumber Christopher Stone to flush the Soviet army from NYC. By passing medic kits to wounded rebels, bombing the enemy, or raising the Stars 'n' Stripes, you win the loyalty of up to 12 citizen soldiers, who accompany you through large, nonlinear levels. Don't let your freedom go down the toilet!
MARIO KART: DOUBLE DASH!!
Speedier, sillier, and even more psychedelic, the first new Mario Kart in five years is reason enough to buy a GameCube. The Technicolor franchise's slapstick battle aspect, best summed up by the ability to drop a banana peel on the track, evokes the cartoon violence we all know and love while continually obliterating rankings. Between opponents' backseat bombers, traps, and other natural threats (breaking waves, thunderbolts), you'll need much more than a good drift technique to finish first. So turn on, tune in, and drop out!
NEED FOR SPEED UNDERGROUND
(Electronic ArtsGameCube, PC, PS2, Xbox) 8
The newest Need for Speedintroduces the novel ability to exoticize your crappy base-model with conspicuously sporty aftermarket parts, like spoilers. (And I don't mean car-safety guru Ralph Nader.) Engine ups and nitrous tanks unlock automatically, but hustling style-points by drifting around corners and landing jumps opens almost infinite combinations of superficial customizations. No spinners, thoughrace designers have yet to reinvent the wheel.
OTOGIMYTH OF DEMONS
The Japanese aesthetes behind this quasi-role-playing action title have created a hermetic universe fired by neuroses and governed by the twitchy laws of OCD. A cloaked princess assigns your character, former executioner Raikoh, quests so that he may "cleanse" his death-doling clan of "impurity." Set a millennium ago, during Japan's Heian era, the single-player Otogi bombards you with creepy spirits, Rorschach demons, and trickster bosses.
The first Prince of Persia was 2D; you play The Sands of Time in four dimensions. Plummet into a chasm? Rewind up to 10 seconds and take another leap. This evolution of Enter the Matrix's bullet-time gimmick rounds out the game's spectacularly acrobatic play, which finds you running along walls and climbing, dodging, jumping, flipping, and shimmying around enemies and through obstacles. The impeccably intuitive controls make this feel as magical as it looks. With empires like this, who needs revolutions?
SECRET WEAPONS OVER NORMANDY
(LucasArtsGameCube, PC, PS2, Xbox)
One part History Channel, two parts Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe, this flyover necessarily sucks much of the life-and-death from war history's grand sweep and anonymous tragedy. Whaddya gonna do? It's the postmortempardon mepostmodern condition. Secret Weapons' assortment of bombing runs, dogfights, and detail missions fly by thanks to an emphasis on arcade-style ease-of-play, but one simply leads into the next. And characters are rendered in black and white: Stoic American Chase (heh-heh), forbidding Germans, pussy Englishmen.
Helmed almost as a hobby by money-makin' Resident Evil 2 director Hideki Kamiya, this remarkably well-thunk-out 2-D side scroller celebrates purely physical gaming-qua-gaming. Speeding or slowing time, Joe deflects the fists and bullets of comic characters and bosses, scarfs burgers, and completes small but tricky tasks while turning corners and leaping for coins. Smooth, engrossing, tough, and pretty, Viewtiful Joe exceeds every GameCube title except The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker.