Video Game Buyer's Guide

They're bigger than Hollywood and they're selling faster than ever before.

The video game industry shattered its 2001 record of $9.1 billion in total sales. NPD data suggests that the 2002 holiday season pushed video game sales over $11 billion, far surpassing the Hollywood box office.

This year, there are many options for every type of gamer from kids to adults, portable to home console. In the end, the best video game systems will prevail not because they have better hardware or play DVDs, but because they have great games that are extremely fun to play. There are many great games on all systems, so you can't go wrong no matter which system you choose. If you are still shopping for only one game system, this guide will help you decide what to look for.

Game Content Rating System:
E: Suitable for everyone
T: Teens and up
M: Mature Audiences 17+
AO: Adults Only

GAMECUBE (Nintendo)

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Overall Score: A
Cost: $149.95 MSRP
Online enabled? Yes
Games: 180+
Progressive Scan Capable? Yes
Pros: Cheaper, better exclusive software, widest audience range, fast load times, powerful graphics processor based on original IBM and ATI technology, intuitive controller, the only wireless controller worth buying.
Cons: Doesn't play DVDs


Arguably the most versatile system, when it comes to games, is the Nintendo Gamecube. From mature, atmospheric gameplay to mindless fun that makes you feel like a kid again, Nintendo shows its range. Once touted as a company only for kids, Nintendo shattered those stereotypes for Gamecube with exclusives like "Resident Evil 0," "Eternal Darkness" and "Metroid Prime." Plus there are a handful of great third-party mature games as well. Anyone who still thinks that Nintendo only makes games for kids hasn't been awake for the past three years. You can find bundles that come with a free game at your local discount store. Here are the top 5 games of 2002 found only on Gamecube not to miss:


Metroid Prime by Retro Studios
Rated: T, First Person Adventure
Graphics: A+
Sound: A
Gameplay: A+
Overall (not an average): A

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This game is truly ahead of its time. You won't get this kind of atmosphere or fun factor anywhere else for a few years. Take the role of Samus Aran, a bounty hunter seeking to discover what went wrong on the planet Tallon IV. There are no load times and no "levels." It's just one huge seamless world that sucks you in and never lets go. All of your weapons, suits and visors that you collect along the way are vitally important to discovering the story and completing the game. It's beautiful to look at, listen to and play. With a lot of sci-fi action and many secrets to find it's easily the best game for every type of gamer, period.


Resident Evil Zero by Capcom
Rated: M, Adventure
Graphics: A+
Sound: A
Gameplay: B-
Overall: A-

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The prequel to the long-running horror/suspense franchise boasts the best graphics seen on any console. Plenty of weapons, intelligent puzzles, action and thematic elements will please fans of the series. The outdated control scheme can be detracting, but long-time fans will be used to it.


Eternal Darkness by Silicon Knights
Rated: M, Adventure
Graphics: A
Sound: A+
Gameplay: A
Overall: A

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This sleeper hit drew many comparisons to "Resident Evil," but upon playing it, it's obvious that the game is very different. You play as 13 different characters over the span of 2000 years in different countries, figuring out how to beat the evil that has plagued the lineage of the main heroine, Alexandra Roivas. In addition to a health and magic meter, you also have a sanity meter. When your sanity goes down, the game starts playing tricks on you. It's the first game to actually play the player.


Super Mario Sunshine by Nintendo
Rated: E, Action/Platform
Graphics: B-
Sound: A-
Gameplay: A
Overall: A-

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If you liked "Super Mario 64," you will love this game. Mario now has a water pack and must defeat enemies in classic and new Mario style in search of the imposter Mario who has framed him on his vacation. Although the levels do not have the variety of the Mario's of old, new gameplay elements will keep most gamers occupied for many hours.


Super Monkey Ball 2 by Sega
Rated: E, Puzzle/Action
Graphics: B
Sound: B
Gameplay: A
Overall: A

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This is the best multiplayer/party game on any system. The simple controls make it easy for anyone to pick it up immediately and play. You are a monkey in a ball trying to roll your way through over 200 levels of obstacles to reach your goal. Imagine the classic "Marble Madness" in 3D, with monkeys and you have this game. Team up with three other people and have competitions in the mini-games such as racing, boating, boxing, golf, tennis, bowling and more!

XBOX (Microsoft)

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Overall Score: A-
Cost: $199.99
Online enabled? Yes
Games: 130+
Progressive scan capable? Yes
Pros: Limited bundle comes with two games, powerful graphics processor, plays DVDs (with optional remote), hard drive for endless memory saves, only console to support true HDTV signal (720p/1080i) strong online gaming via "Xbox Live."
Cons: Lack of strong exclusive games hurts, DVD playback is marginal.

Microsoft's first video game machine shocked the U.S. with strong initial sales largely due to "Halo," arguably the best first person shooter on a home console. But that was a year ago and due to the lack of Xbox-only knockout titles, the Xbox has been largely dubbed "The 'Halo' machine." Even though the hardware is selling consistently, the software is not. But Microsoft is packaging two games, "Sega GT" and "Jet Set Radio Future" with every Xbox to attract more sales (while supplies last), even though Microsoft is losing over $200 with every Xbox purchase. But with recent games that promise a great online experience coupled with their "Xbox Live" peripheral, Microsoft hopes to prove that they are a true contender. Here are some Xbox-only games that are worth buying:


Splinter Cell by UBI Soft
Rated: T, Action/Adventure
Graphics: A
Sound: A
Gameplay: B
Overall: A-

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Not since "Metal Gear Solid 2" has a game incorporated stealth and action in such an accessible way. You are Sam Fisher, a secret operative of the NSA's Third Echelon. Crawl, jump, hide and shoot your way to prevent cyber-terrorists from initiating World War III. It's a relatively short game, but a great ride along the way.


Mechassault by Day 1
Rated: T, Action/Shooter
Graphics: B+
Sound: B
Gameplay: A
Overall: B+

If you though the "Mechwarrior" series was a bit too complicated, "Mechassault" makes it easier for anyone to enjoy a mech game. Climb into a 40-ton walking tank as 31st century 'Mechs square off in a wild contest of action and strategy. Download free Mechs, maps and more with Xbox Live. Tons of fast-paced run and gun action make this a holiday winner.

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Shenmue 2 by AM2
Rated: T, RPG/Adventure
Graphics: B-
Sound: B
Gameplay: A-
Overall: B


If you like fighting games and role-playing games, and wonder what would happen with the fusion of both genres, then this is a must-buy. Shenmue 2 picks up where its predecessor left off. Ryo, the hero, is in Hong Kong following the trail of Lan Di, the man who killed his father.

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Panzer Dragoon Orta by Sega
Rated: T, Action/Shooter
Graphics: A-
Sound: B
Gameplay: A-
Overall: A-

In the aerial-shooter dubbed Panzer Dragoon Orta, you wreak havoc as a girl riding a dragon, employing tons of weapons and dragon powers. This is a great update to the popular franchise with huge worlds, enemies and bosses with truly original designs.

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Halo by Bungie
Rated: M, First-Person Shooter
Graphics: A
Sound: A+
Gameplay: A
Overall: A

One year later, this is still the best game on the Xbox. Play as Master Chief and search out the mysteries of the ring-shaped planet, "Halo." This first-person shooter puts games like Unreal and Doom to shame because of how immersive the environments are and how realistic the physics of your character's movement are. Although the multiplayer modes are not as deep as "Goldeneye," they are as much fun to play. If you want the best first-person shooter for the next-generation systems, you must buy this game.

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PLAYSTATION 2 (Sony)

Overall Score: A
Cost: $199.99
Online enabled? Yes
Games: 300+
Progressive Scan Capable? Limited
Pros: Huge game library, can play Playstation One games, pays local stores to display more games than Xbox or Gamecube, plays DVDs.
Cons: DVD playback worse than a $50 Apex player, many accessories are hard to find, only two controller ports standard, if a game is made for all consoles, the PS2 version is almost always technically inferior to Xbox and Gamecube.

Sony -- who has its hand in the music industry, home theater systems and other electronics -- reports that 60% of its revenue come from its Playstation 1&2 systems and games alone. The Playstation 2 debuted two years ago to a much higher demand than supply. The console sold for as much as $1300 on E-Bay in its first month of release. The following year, PS2 owners weren't given any games worth playing. This problem was solved last Christmas with a slew of great titles, and this past Christmas was no different. And although the processing power is showing its age when compared to the graphical prowess of some Gamecube and Xbox games, it does not hinder the fact that games like these are still fun to play:

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Ratchet & Clank by Insomniac Games
Rated: T, Action/Platform
Graphics: A
Sound: A-
Gameplay: A
Overall: A

There are so many gadgets and weapons to collect to blow up everything in your way that you can have hours of fun. The great thing about this game, however, is how focused the gameplay is on completing objectives, courting all of the cool weapons you pick up along the way. This is the best Playstation 2 game this season by far, pushing the graphics and sound engine farther than most games on this system.

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Kingdom Hearts by Squaresoft
Rated: E, RPG
Graphics: A-
Sound: A-
Gameplay: B
Overall: A-

If you mix the "Final Fantasy" series with Disney characters, you have "Kingdom Hearts." It may seem as though both worlds are mutually exclusive, but what results is an enjoyable role-playing experience with a trip down a cartoon memory lane. The environments are straight out of Disney cartoons, but the role-playing elements remain solid throughout.

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Shinobi by Overworks
Rated: M, Action
Graphics: B-
Sound: B+
Gameplay: A
Overall: A-

Sega's most revered action franchise returns. As the ninja hero Hotsuma, you must run up walls, use magic and various weapons to fend off demons and the dead. Although the game is frustratingly hard at times, it is also very rewarding for the dedicated action gamer.

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Maximo by Capcom
Rated: T, Action/Platform
Graphics: B+
Sound: B+
Gameplay: A-
Overall: B+

Staying with the remake of old franchises, Capcom's "Ghosts 'N Goblins" gets a 3D Playstation 2 makeover. Maximo, the noble knight, returns home to find his kingdom in shambles. He must destroy Achille, his arch nemesis and, yes you guessed it, rescue the princess. It plays and feels like its old predecessor. It's another great mindless hack and slash-'em-up for all types of gamers.

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Grand Theft Auto: Vice City by Rockstar North
Rated: M, Action
Graphics: C+
Sound: B+
Gameplay: B
Overall: B

Grand Theft Auto: Vice City takes you back to the '80s, the decade that brought you Tears for Fears and Back to the Future. People looking for the basics of "Grand Theft Auto 3" with more weapons and vehicles need look no further. There is nothing too original here, but the appeal is in its seemingly endless world where you can jack any vehicle, obtain any weapon and do anything and everything that you'd get jailed for in real life. It's definitely not for kids. So parents, it is your responsibility to explore other options.

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GAME BOY ADVANCE (Nintendo)

Overall Score: A
Cost: $69.99
Online enabled? Future
Games: 500+
HDTV Capable? Future
Pros: Cheap, small, portable, great battery life, compatible with all old Game Boy games.
Cons: Screen needs a lot of light.

Years ago when Sega and Atari developed their handheld systems to compete with the original grayscale Game Boy, they figured that their color screens would easily knock Game Boy out as the best handheld system. Nintendo's philosophy of "content first, glitter second" proved true when all of its competition discontinued their color handheld systems. Now Nintendo developed the most powerful color handheld system with a processor slightly stronger than the original Playstation. The low battery consumption and huge library of games make it perfect for any gamer on the go. The Game Boy Advance resurrects some Super Nintendo classics this season along with some brand new versions of classic franchises:

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Zelda: A Link to the Past by Nintendo
Rated: E, Quest
Overall: A+

It's the same awesome game from the Super Nintendo title of the same name. It also boasts a deep new multiplayer mode never attempted before in a quest game.

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Metroid Fusion by Nintendo
Rated: E, Sci-Fi Action
Overall: A

It's a brand new, side-scrolling quest for Samus Aran taking place right before the events of Metroid Prime. Smart puzzles, lots of action, faithful to the franchise and portable!

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Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance by Konami
Rated: T, Action
Overall: A

Those that like "Castlevania: Symphony of the Night" on the original Playstation must pick this one up. It's better, bigger and the bosses have never been meaner.

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Contra: Advance by Konami
Rated: T, Action
Overall: A-

This is the Super Nintendo's "Contra 3: The Alien Wars" gone portable. It has two levels from the old Sega Genesis version as well. It's just as good as it was ten years ago.

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E-Reader by Nintendo
Overall: A-

This is a new peripheral for the Game Boy Advance. Just plug it into your Game Boy Advance, slide an e-Reader card and transfer entire games and other information right to your Game Boy Advance. The game cards are only three to four dollars and you can trade them like baseball cards.

GAMES AVAILABLE ON ALL SYSTEMS

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Madden NFL 2003 by EA Sports
Rated: E, Sports
Overall: A

The best football video game series keeps on improving with a deep NFL franchise mode and all new Madden challenges. Create your own plays, formations and teams. A must have for all NFL fans.

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Mortal Kombat 5 by Midway
Rated: M, Fighting
Overall: A-

This is the biggest surprise of the season. Abandoning the tired Mortal Kombat fighting engine, the fifth installment of the series plays more like "Soul Calibur" or "Tekken," but giving each character three switchable fighting styles.

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Tony Hawk 4 by Activision
Rated: T, Extreme Sports
Overall: A-

The Tony Hawk franchise has set the standard for smooth controls and over-the-top fun. This year's installment adds online play with bigger worlds. You can't go wrong.

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Harry Potter: Chamber of Secrets by EA Games
Rated: E, Adventure
Overall: B+

One of the very few movie-to-game conversions that actually works and is a blast to play. If you liked "Zelda: Ocarina of Time" on the Nintendo 64, then this game is for you. It's not as deep, but it's almost as fun.

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James Bond: Nightfire by EA Games
Rated: T
First-Person Shooter
Overall: B+

This is the best Bond game since "Goldeneye." Tons of gadgets, cars and guns add up for one of the best single and multiplayer experiences across all platforms.

BUYING TIPS
1. DO NOT buy a game system because the hardware seems more powerful.
2. DO buy a game system that has great games that you enjoy.
3. DO NOT buy a game system because it has more quantity of games.
4. DO buy a system because it has more quality games.
5. DO NOT buy a game because an ad made it look great.
6. DO buy a game because the demo you played was fun.
7. DO NOT assume that games rated "E" won't be fun for adults.
8. DO assume that all four systems will be supported for many years.
9. DO NOT buy a game because you liked the movie it's based on.
10. DO rent a game or system if you are unsure.

FUN FACTS
Electronic Arts, the company best known for the Madden football franchise, pulls in over $2 billion a year and is included on the S&P;'s 500 Index. While many stocks fell during the recession, Electronic Arts remained steady.

Ages of gamers are uniquely varied: 30% are 7-17 41% are 18-34 29% are 35+

Did you know? Nintendo and Sony worked on the original Playstation in a joint effort. But when Nintendo refused to use CDs over the old cartridge format, Sony broke off and made its own Playstation. Nintendo likes to pretend that it wasn't the biggest business mistake in their history.

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