The candy-glossed Super Mario Galaxy (No. 8) transforms the 360-degree rotation of videogaming's ubiquitous thumbsticks into a logistical challenge as Mario leaps sideways and upside down across dozens of unique, puzzling planets. Less experimental, though much more difficult to master, is Virtua Fighter 5 (No. 7), which uses the new generation of videogame systems' fast response-times and slick graphics to take brawling to a new level.
I had more fun with Guitar Hero III (No. 6) than the previous entry in the series, thanks to the incorporation of numerous original tracks from the dozens of bands. The high difficulty and addition of a musical battle mode further elevated the series from a polished toy to a game of interactive music. Also charmed as the third entry in a popular franchise was Halo 3 (No. 5), a shooter for the Xbox 360 that added custom-designable levels and video-recordable combat to the game's already robust and rambunctious outer-space combat.
Persona 3 (No. 4) is a bit of a throwback as a turn-based combat role-playing game. Nevertheless, it's a stylish model of the genre, with a story that corresponds in a graphic and disturbing manner to the game's mechanics of summoning powerful spirits to aid in battle. More appropriate for kids (and satisfying for adults as well) is Pok & eacute;mon Diamond/Pearl (No. 3). With online connectivity and a complete roster of monsters that stretches back through all of the series' previous incarnations, this socially driven videogame franchise reaches epic proportions, with battles and trading taking place around the world.
Drawing its cataclysmic sequence of battles from Greek mythology, God of War II (No. 2) casts players as an average Spartan who has become the god of war. Old-school and glorious about it, the game has enormous boss battles and sweepingly kinetic cut-scenes set in environments that stretch from underwater to far above the earth. The combat can range freely from random button mashing to the careful timing of special attacks, and it plays as fast and furious either way.
In "The Player" I examine videogames as works of art that capture players and transform them into the driving force behind everything that happens. This year, there was no more heroic a title than The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass (No. 1). It is restlessly active, thanks in large part to the designer's incorporation of the Nintendo DS's touch-screen for all of the controls. Swinging a sword is the result of an actual slash, and boomerangs fly where a path is traced. All of these variations on classic Zelda forms of fighting are summed up in the game's magisterial main dungeon, which is deep, devious and visited many times, revealing new layers of itself while drawing on all of Phantom Hourglass's elegantly evolved forms of fighting.