By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
The first Prince of Persia was 2-D; 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 Matrixs bullet-time gimmick rounds out the games 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?
(Fresh Games/EidosPS2) 8
A 21st-century 2D shooter: Your insect-like fighter simply scrolls right, encountering enemies that must be showered with bombs and bullets. Yet 101 customizable crafts provide exponentially escalating ways to counter trickster bosses, some of which grow and change organically as you fight them. There are only six levelssome in space, others that involve going underwaterbut many difficult-to-find paths through each. And no quarters required.
Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe, this flyover necessarily sucks much of the life-and-death from war historys grand sweep and anonymous tragedy. Whaddya gonna do? Its 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.
THE SIMS: BUSTIN OUT
(EA GamesGameCube, PS2, Xbox) 9
While some games inspire religious devotion, only Sim spin-offs require it. In this saucy console debut update, you can take a disco nap, shower, shit, 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, theres a path to follow; adherents to the latter, for instance, need only keep fit and charismatic. Thats a world worth having faith in.
(EA Sports BigGameCube, PS2, Xbox) 9
If the only snow you indulge in comes from Colombia, this franchise redesign justifies staying up all night. The winters best carve-and-grind title transmits texture, depth, and vertiginous launches with a combination of crisp, vista-encompassing graphics, fine response, and turbulent controller feedback. Dropped onto the slope, you follow signs to competitions or head off-trail and navigate fallen trees (doubling, of course, as rails), huge drops, and, on the third peak, avalanches and yawning chasms. I guarantee you wont be board!
ULTIMATE MUSCLE: LEGENDS VS. NEW GENERATION
This is the most homoerotic game ever. Even the male-stripper stereotypes of the WWE cant compare to Ultimate Muscles anime-rendered Village People lineup. The fighters fanciful settings, bitchy trash-talking, customizable everything, and series of attacks that culminate in nutty cut scenes bring life to a sometimes plodding genre. Plus, vibrant cel-shaded graphics perfectly complement the Fruity Pebbles sugar-buzz action. Fave character? Kevin Mask, who draws on his latent power.
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.