Gaming made serious strides in 2006. The casual gaming space exploded. The Xbox 360 has started to hit its stride with games like Oblivion and Gears of War. And the Mac had a fair number of quality releases, from both large and small publishers.
Time will only tell what is in store for Sony and Nintendo; 2007 looks bright for all three major companies.
With another year in the books, here are BC Gaming's choices for the best of 2006, and Game of the Year.
Best Action/Adventure Game
Winner: Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (Wii)
Synopses: Christina Little
With the Wii's interaction, using the Wii Remote, players have been eating up the chance to feel like they are actually Link. The long awaited game brought beautifully dark and enchanting graphics to the Wii.
With some of the best reviews, fans have shown that the Zelda games have not gotten old. With more and more fans being introduced to the land of Hyrule and riding Epona to the nearest game store to buy their own copy of the game, it's easy to see why The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess became the 2006 Best Action/Adventure game.
Runner Up: Tomb Raider Legend (360)
Atari took Dragon Ball Z to the next level in the fighting game that came across as the most innovative and mechanically sound fighting game of 2006. This builds on the three-dimensional success found in the first Tenkaichi title, and adds an additional side of flair, fan service and content.
The game features top-notch cell-shaded graphics and sound bytes that bring the anime straight to home and the 120 total characters and unlockables to be found in the story mode ensures fans will be glued to their systems for quite some time.
Runner Up: Street Fighter Alpha 3 MAX (PSP)
Regardless of the fact that Burnout Revenge was a port of an old Xbox game, it remained fun for both newcomers and Revenge veterans alike. The year was strong for racing games, but ultimately none are as fun as crashing in the many Crash Junctions added to Revenge on the 360.
The new feature, and the reason the 360 version finishes ahead, is Live Revenge. This changed the way we play Burnout online, and it adds complexity beyond just finishing first.
Runner Up: Excite Truck (Wii)
When Oblivion was released on the 360 it had been in development for three years. This allowed Bethesda to create a rich and active environment for the player to immerse themselves in.
This game was one of the first to show off the power of the Xbox 360. It was pretty, ran smoothly and created a very immersive environment for you to explore.
Runner Up: Final Fantasy XII (PS2)
Though it failed to recapture the luster of the 2-D Mario titles of old, New Super Mario Bros. was a trip down Nostalgia Lane for many of the Nintendo faithful and a great first attempt at bringing the series back to its roots.
Game play is just as solid and tight as it was back in the days of the original SMB (although it's unfortunately much easier) and the new power-ups like the Shell Suit and Giant Mario are excellent additions.
Considering it's been over 15 years since the proper 2-D Super Mario game was released, it should come as no surprise that this refreshing throwback to greatest platform franchise ever was tantalizing enough to be our choice for the Best Platformer of 2006.
Runner Up: Mega Man Powered Up
Brain Age shows how imaginative the developers working on the Nintendo DS are. They have taken a set of 'sub games' and combined them into an addictive game for both the young and old.
The game's genius is in its addictive nature when played against a friend or partner. The sub games get more difficult the better you get, and the challenge of reducing your 'Brain Age' when playing against others is great.
It has a large set of genres as it uses all of the DS's abilities: it has you reading, writing and calculating equations, but at no time does it seem to feel like a chore.
Runner Up: Tetris DS (DS)
2006 has been a great year for music and rhythm games, and we can probably credit a lot of the newfound interest in the genre to one particular title from the year previous: Guitar Hero.
This surprise hit won over casual and hardcore gamers alike with its authentic rock star feel and maddeningly addictive game play. Of course, the real triumph of this game was the brilliant custom guitar controller, without which the game wouldn't have been nearly as intuitive or interesting. But would Harmonix top such a near-perfect game with the inevitable sequel? Well… if they didn't, they sure came close.
It's debatable whether or not the track list in Guitar Hero II is superior to that of the original. Although there are some timeless classics like Sweet Child O' Mine, Shout At The Devil and Free Bird here, I still prefer the first Guitar Hero's line-up for sheer fun factor alone.
However, where Guitar Hero II excels and builds on its predecessor is the addition of a co-operative multiplayer mode allowing a partner to jam with you on bass or rhythm guitar, adding a whole new dimension to the game.
If this doesn't make Guitar Hero II one of the best party games ever, I don't know what does. Still, I think the thing that makes Guitar Hero II such an outstanding music/rhythm game in particular, is the fact that it can actually teach the basics of playing guitar on some level and even inspire people to pick up a real instrument afterwards.
Runner Up: Elite Beat Agents (DS)
It's Gears of War: 'nuff said.
What, not good enough for you? Okay, how about it's the most beautiful, visceral experience you can have without being sentenced to 940 years in prison.
Intensity is the name of the game when it comes to picking the best Shooter of 2006 and intensity is what Gears has in spades. Whether fighting the hordes of on coming locusts or giving your friends a few seconds to come to terms with their own death before you smash their skull into the pavement, Gears just makes you feel like you're constantly on the edge of orgasm, and if you're good, it'll result in an equally messy finish.
Runner Up: Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter (360)
When one attempts to visualize a strategy player, the image of a large man in a white shirt with a pocket protector immediately comes to mind. Someone who is the master of micromanagement and has 50,000 different formulae for maximizing distortion while maintaining a stable economy. You know, the kind of people the Bush administration might want to consider hiring.
But Company of Heroes isn't that kind of game. Instead of gathering resources like nearly every other RTS on the planet, the game focuses on extending your supply lines just like the Allies did during the real war. Combined with incredible visuals and a rich physics engine, Company of Heroes is a great addition to a somewhat stale genre, and proves to be more then just another WWII RTS. Hence it's the Best Strategy game of 2006.
Runner Up: Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle Earth II (360)
In a world where games get deeper and less accessible to the countless casual and/or non-gamers out there, Nintendo made things simpler. We've reached a point where more pixels or better physics or sharper images aren't improving games as much as they did a generation or two ago.
These are what tech demos are largely made to highlight. However, while the lineup in Wii Sports could largely be considered tech demos, it's not for more colors or polygons, the types of presentations you watch once or twice and don't care about anymore.
No, Wii Sports serves as a warm-up to what Nintendo hopes will become the new standard control scheme in console gaming, and without the Wii Remote, these games would be nothing. With it, however, they combine, Voltron-style, to become the most engaging and accessible sports game package of the year. I've never wanted to replay a mere "demo" so much in my life.
Runner Up: Fight Night Round 3 (360)
Zombies, man. They freak me out. They freak a lot of people out. But stick 50,000 in a mall with every imaginable instrument of destruction and you're left with a blood orgy of pure hedonistic ecstasy.
Shunning conventions they themselves created with the iconic Resident Evil series, Capcom worked hard to create a wholly original IP that captured the minds of zombie fanatics and sickos every where and was in no way "DEVELOPED, APPROVED OR LICENSED BY THE OWNERS OR CREATORS OF GEORGE A. ROMERO'S DAWN OF THE DEAD".
The sheer number of zombies on screen at any given time is a feat in and of itself, but the rich, albeit cheesy story, strong character development and focus on true survival (both against the zombies and the clock) makes Dead Rising our clear choice for Best Original Game of 2006.
Runner Up: Okami (PS2)
This is how all retro compilations should be done. It makes the Capcom efforts look feeble by comparison. It's not only the immense selection of games like Shinobi III, Vectorman, super-hard-to-find Golden Axe III, and Comix Zone all running in progressive scan for HDTV users; It's also arcade games like Altered Beast, a plethora of interviews, tons of art, and plenty of unlockables to keep you coming back.
Runner Up: Metal Slug Anthology (Wii)
Not all of the games on the Xbox 360 have been too family friendly. When Xbox Live Marketplace started releasing arcade games to players, it was only a matter of time before some classic card games would be announced.
When UNO was released to the Marketplace, players bought the game right away and started playing. It was a chance to play a familiar game and talk to your friends and even some people who would become your friends.
UNO became so popular that when Xbox owners bought a gold membership for Xbox Live for a year, they even included UNO for free.
It's impossible to log into UNO and not find players in games. With the release of the Xbox Live Vision Camera, players not only have the chance to talk to people, but see them as well! UNO gives a chance to let the whole family play the Xbox 360, making it the Best Xbox Live Arcade Game for 2006.
Runner Up: Assault Heroes
Starting Sony's download service out strong, in much the same way that Geometry Wars Retro Evolved did for the Xbox 360, Blast Factor is a challenging shooter with subtle SIXAXIS controls. Is it the next Geometry Wars as many had hoped? No. But that doesn't mean it isn't worth your time and money.
Runner Up: Lemmings
Best Virtual Console Game
Winner: Gunstar Heroes
Synopses: Andrew Ogier
Fourteen years hasn't aged this game one iota. Even by today's standards, Gunstar Heroes satiates the adrenal gland more than any game of it's genre.
It effectively takes everything that's exciting about Shoot 'Em Ups, removes the fluff, and throws it at the player in wave upon wave of immensely gratifying battles that make your hands sweat, while also adding strategy elements with its innovative weapon merging mechanics.
The beautiful 2-D graphics, awesome soundtrack, and fluid controls certainly help make Gunstar stand out, but what makes it stand out most for me is that the game is just as enjoyable and as much of a challenge in single player as it is with a friend.
Gunstar Heroes is a timeless classic, well worth 800 points, and is one of the greatest games on the Wii.
Runner Up: Super Castlevania IV
It's funny how an old or simplistic idea can feel so new and fresh when a different way of interacting with it is applied. Enter the Wii Remote. Where the other guys went the route of better graphics and more concurrent audio channels, Nintendo realized that improvements to the sights and sounds in a game will only get you so far.
At some point, you have to take a chance to break the mold and re-invent the wheel, hopefully for the better. They've stumbled in the past with the Virtual Boy, the R.O.B., and the (more or less required-to-play for the system's best games) RAM Expansion for the N64, proving that some ideas are better on paper than in execution.
However, with the runaway success of the DS in both Japan and the United States, it seemed the timing was right to revamping how people play games yet again. I couldn't agree more. Excite Truck, Wii Sports, Call of Duty 3, and all the other Wii games so far would all be run-of-the-mill if not for this new interface.
Runner Up: Unreal Engine 3
When Rockstar Games announced early in 2006 that they would be releasing a ping-pong game, a lot of people thought it was a joke. Surely the people behind such hyper-violent games as Grand Theft Auto, Manhunt and The Warriors wouldn't go soft on us and turn to something so basic and inoffensive… would they?
Is there even a market for a game like this? But this is Rockstar we're talking about, who has the freedom to do just about anything they want, and do it well. As a result, Rockstar Games Presents Table Tennis ended up being one of the most underrated and overlooked Xbox 360 games to be released in 2006.
Table tennis is a game known for its speed and precision, and the folks at Rockstar San Diego took that to heart in designing this title. There's nothing cartoony or exaggerated about it; the controls are tight, the game play intense.
It's easy to learn the basics, but there's also a lot more depth than you might expect. It takes some practice if you want to counter spins or catch the corners. The use of the rumble to indicate the power of a shot that is about to be unleashed also gave players valuable tactile feedback allowing them to feel their way around the table.
Sure it would have been nice to have an option for doubles, and maybe a career mode too, but in the end Rockstar's Table Tennis delivered great value for its budget price. I guess it also goes without saying that this is probably the best ping-pong video game ever made!
Runner Up: Drill Dozer (GBA)
While accessories such as the Xbox Live Camera and Wireless Racing Wheel have certainly improved how you play your video games and interact with others – the only accessory to redefine and change your way of playing was the Nintendo Wii Remote. With its motion sensing technology and inviting aesthetics, it's quickly ushering in a whole new way to get your game on.
Runner Up: Xbox 360 Wireless Wheel
The Elder Scrolls series has been redefining the way we play PC games since Arena in 1994. Oblivion's scope is immense, and Bethesda keeps releasing wonderful add-ons to the game. The mod community has also taken over, just as it did with Morrowind, and refined Oblivion in ways the original developers never thought of – or got around to doing.
You simply are not going to find a more engrossing game on the PC, with sheer scale and depth of play to match – that makes The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion an easy choice for our 2006 PC Game of the Year.
Runner Up: Company of Heroes
As far as Mac gaming goes, 2006 has been a good year. We've seen Wingnuts 2, a great sequel to a great arcade game; Redline Racing, giving a much needed boost to the Mac racing lineup; and Sketchfighter 4000 Alpha whose clever graphics sucked us in at first sight.
So choosing the best game of the year has been harder than usually this time around. However, with its gorgeous graphics (if your computer can handle them), infinite replayability, and it-will-take-over-your-social-life addictive game play, Civilization IV edged out the competition to score our nod for Best Mac Game of 2006.
Runner Up: Wingnuts 2
No one played Drill Dozer. This Game Freak developed platformer came far too late for a lagging Game Boy Advance audience now hooked on licensed Nickelodeon titles, not fresh and inventive efforts like this.
That makes it all the more special. The rumble built into the cart isn't a gimmick, it genuinely enhances the game play. Taking a giant drill and disposing of enemies from all angles never gets old. It shows the life, imagination, and ideas still left in the realm of 2-D.
Runner Up: Yggdra Union
GameCube Game of the Year
Winner: Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
Synopses: Jason "Njiska" Westhaver
If ever there was a case of winning by default this is it. Not only is Twilight Princess a class A title with one of the strongest first party IPs in the industry, it had no real competition for GOTY.
Like a steroid shot to the Gamecube's figurative ass, Zelda arrived at the very end of the the system's life to give it one last glorious push towards the finish before its heart explodes leaving it dead just like so many systems before it.
Though it's the exact same game we've play a thousand times before it's still just as entertaining. The Gamecube version also holds the honour of being the originally developed version meaning the game feels natural, you don't have that tacked on feel that's ever present when trying to play the game on the Wii.
You also get the original map layout, not the reversed one that appears on the Wii for some ridiculous reason. Art design is hands down the best the franchise has ever seen and truly some of the most beautiful ever witnessed on the Cube or any other system in its generation. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess is everything a good game should be, and even if it wasn't, it'd have still won 2006 Gamecube game of the year anyways.
Runner Up: Odama
Mario is back, and better than ever. Yes, this game does not use the old fashion sprites, but likewise it is not the 3-D offering of recent Mario games.
The original format shows that it still has life in it yet. Back is the good old fashioned side-scrolling Mario, but with a host of new features and improvements.
Runner Up: Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin
My mother-in-law is about as far away from a gamer as you can get. She's 60, essentially technophobic, and has never played a video game in her life. And yet, this Christmas, she played Wii Sports Bowling. And she was good at it.
That's Nintendo's genius. That's why Wii Sports is our sports game of the year. Its five sports — boxing, bowling, tennis, golf, and baseball — are all instantly accessible. And yet, somehow, they're enjoyable as a game even if you're used to far more hardcore pursuits.
Attracting, and captivating, as many non-gamers as Wii Sports does is an achievement in itself. Having lasting appeal beyond the first few moments of your Wii's life, being an enjoyable single player pursuit, and being just so much fun make this truly unmissable.
Runner Up: Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
The sequel to the 2005 hit stands atop the mountain of quality titles released for the Playstation 2 system this year. While our other nominees are fresh and excellently executed concepts, nothing has the pick-up-and-play, casual appeal of Guitar Hero that converts even the most jaded non-gamer.
Packed with extremely recognizable songs that feature more variety than its predecessor as well as adding new multiplayer and training modes, Guitar Hero II should be a staple of any party and will keep dedicated players shredding into the night.
Runner Up: Bully
After trudging through all the next-gen ports at the launch of Sony's PS3, it is refreshing to come across an exclusive first person shooter to take out our aggressions on. Resistance shows off the power of the PS3 in a story driven single player campaign, plus massive 40-player online matches.
By far the best launch title, and PS3 game of 2006, Resistance might well be the tops for the system for some time. Online play is silky smooth and offers loads of diverse play. And lets face it, no one does weapons better than Insomniac.
Runner Up: Ridge Racer 7
It's been a tough year for Sony's PSP handheld system. Despite its impressive hardware and wide array of multimedia functionality, the PSP has still ultimately failed to catch on with consumers.
Some might argue that Nintendo's stranglehold on the handheld market is unbreakable, but the real problem with the PSP seemed to be the lack of a killer app. Oh sure, there's been a couple of Grand Theft Auto games, and this year finally brought with it a non-card Metal Gear Solid title, but there's still been very little to set the PSP apart from any of Sony's other consoles.
LocoRoco may not be the kind of game that sells systems, but it is one of the first truly unique game play experiences for the PSP that you simply can't get anywhere else. What, at first glance, might have appeared to be a Katamari clone, actually turned out to be a fun and original platformer with a style all its own.
The art design and music are a delight to behold, and the idea of manipulating the environment instead of the characters proved to be a particularly innovative twist. Some may feel that the LocoRoco is too cute and simple for its own good, but I think this kind of game, easy to pick up and enjoyable in short bursts, is precisely what handheld systems were made for.
Runner Up: Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops
Xbox Game of the Year
Winner: Dream fall: The Longest Journey
Synopses: Jason "Njiska" Westhaver
2006 was a rather crap year for the original big black box. The 360 had already arrived when '06 started and its rise in popularity caused many potential titles to simply disappear or make the leap into the next generation. Luckily for Xbox owners Dreamfall: The longest Journey was one of the titles that stuck around.
As the sequel to popular adventure title The Longest Journey, Dreamfall not only did an outstanding job of continuing an already exciting story, it also added a fresh perspective by following the path of a new character rather then just continuing the events of the original. The game is notable for its solid controls, beautiful presentation and enjoyable game play and therefore has earned our award for the best Xbox game of 2006.
Runner Up: Splinter Cell: Double Agent
Gears of War is the icing on the cake of Xbox 360's success this year. Not only is the game a fantastic third person shooter, it's also the realisation of what we define as "Next Gen".
There's no denying that the game is the best looking title ever released, and that the sound immerses you like no other… but those aren't the only reasons why this game is what Next Gen is about. It's Next Gen because of how Gears takes a relatively staid genre and redefines it into something fresh and new.
By adding innovative features such as the "Roadie Run", Active Reloads, Grenade trajectory calculation, and changing the rules of engagement to focus on tight close quarter battles, Gears of War puts the player into the centre of the intense, immersive, and rather gory (thanks to the Chainsaw Bayonet) action for what is undoubtedly an unforgettable and enjoyable experience – online or offline, especially thanks to the excellent choice of characters and dialog in the single player story – who doesn't think the Cole Train is awesome fun to go to war with?.
The bar of excellence has been raised. Gears of War has Curb Stomped every other shooter game this year, and in my eyes there's only one possible game in 2007 that could come close to it.
Let's see if Master Chief can step up to the challenge…
Runner Up: Dead Rising
Games like this make lists like this irrelevant. Gears of War is impossibly engrossing, making other incredible action games falter in its shadow, otherwise known as the "Gears Effect."
It's a combination of factors that leads to its easy win in multiple categories. The nearly colorless, breathtaking graphics immerse the player in a new planet. The enemies move, flank, and charge to ensure progress is impeded at every interval. The weapons have an indescribable feel about them, and you'll never look at a chainsaw the same way again (or that annoying neighbor when you're holding one).
The cover mechanic is infinitely useful, leading to tightly designed multi-player skirmishes for up to eight players. Gears is undoubtedly Game of the Year, and an instant classic.
Runner Up: Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (Wii)