The Sims 2 Platform: PC, $49.99. Rating: NNNN
After almost five years and a staggering array of expansion packs, the venerable Sims franchise has finally spawned an actual sequel. Once again, a "game" with no story, violence or ending proves strangely compelling and addictive.
The most obvious new feature of Sims 2 is the graphics. Updated to 3-D, the Sims world is packed with cool details for every object and character, right down to nose size and eye width. Even cooler is the genetics system that ensures your offspring will look like a believable (and sometimes amusing) mix of you and your spouse.
Unlike the virtual dollhouse of the original, where you spent most of your time buying stuff and eating, this one is more concerned with your character's desires and ambitions - family, romance, money, knowledge and popularity. Sims age, grow old and die. Your job is to help them realize their life's goals before they do, and the goals of their children, grandchildren, etc. Don't worry, though - you still get to shop.
A complex toy with a deceptively simple interface, The Sims 2 is a fascinating, accessible virtual world that's guaranteed to suck up hours and hours of your time. Highly recommended.
Donkey Konga Platform: GameCube, $64.99, Rating: NNN
While Konami's Taiko Drum Master has long reigned in Japan's arcades, it's been unknown in North America. In October, Nintendo's Donkey Konga made the leap first, announcing its presence with a bang.
In this twist on the rhythm game, you bang on bongos and clap your hands to the beat as Donkey or Diddy Kong. With the included conga controller, you play familiar tunes new and old and unlock a multitude of mini-games to challenge others and see whose hands will hold out the longest.
While some of the song selections cater to the younger set, many tunes will take tons of tenacious effort to complete. And let's not discuss Jam Mode, something only the craziest Konga fan can tackle. While the graphics aren't anywhere near up to par for the GameCube, who really notices when you're focused on the aural aspect of the game?
Where the game truly shines is in multi-player mode, which lets up to four people go at it. Four real bongos might be on the pricey side, so it's great fun to bust out your set for an evening of bongo-bashing with friends. Even with a somewhat limited song roster, there's plenty to keep the party going.
Metroid Prime 2: Echoes Platform: GameCube, $59.99. Rating: NNNN
A simple rescue mission turns into a whole lot more as our heroine, Samus Aran, finds herself knee deep in a war between the peaceful Luminoth and the evil Ing. Yes, the first lady of the first-person shooter is back and kicking alien ass in Metroid Prime 2 - and it's a blast.
Developer Retro Studios has wisely decided not to mess with a winning formula, so MP2 isn't very different from its prequel. Samus has a few new toys at her disposal, most notably the light and dark beams, each with special effectiveness against the right enemies, plus seeker missiles, an annihilator beam and new suits and visors. Aside from that, it's pure Metroid goodness as you scan and blast and roll your way through tons of great environments, vile enemies and nasty bosses.
The new multi-player mode, although it won't have you shutting down Halo 2 any time soon, is damn good split-screen fun.
A must for anyone with a GameCube, Metroid Prime2: Echoes is a solidly crafted FPS that adds a handful of cool new features to the fantastic original game. A winner.
Myst IV: Revelation Platform: PC, $49.99. Rating: NNN
Unless you're a hardcore adventure gamer, you might have missed the quiet release of Myst IV earlier this fall. Despite a complete lack of alien killing or carjacking, it's actually a pretty good game. Who knew?
Myst IV once again has you clicking your way through a beautifully rendered 3-D world, solving intricate puzzles as you tackle another chapter in the life of Atrus. As expected, the game has lush and painstakingly crafted pre-rendered visuals and incredible ambient sound and music.
Though the puzzles are as baffling as ever, luckily you now have a camera that allows you to take pictures of the many symbols and clues. The addition of a help system to guide you through the game's toughest moments doesn't hurt either.
Its stunning graphics, tough but rewarding puzzles and a slow and deliberate pace are the trademarks of a Myst game. Myst IV definitely isn't for everyone, but if you're a fan of the originals or adventure games in general, you won't find a better game of its type this season.