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PSX Must-Haves
Written By:
Siou Choy

It looks like Christmas has snuck up on us once again. Amazing how fast the year passes by, no? We've seen the (somewhat abortive) launch of the Playstation 2 and the release of many great games for the PS, Dreamcast...even the N64 has managed to put out two fun games (this from a system which has only released about 5 good games to date!) . As we all rush out to buy the perfect game for that special someone, I decided to let you know of a few games that shouldn't be passed up. These games may not be new or groundbreaking but they offer hours of enjoyment and make some ideal stocking stuffers for the buyer on a budget. If you didn't get your grubby little hands on a Playstation 2 (and don't worry, you're not the only one) or even if you did, these games are well worth taking the time to pick up. So without any further ado, I present you with my list of games for Christmas (or for any other season, for that matter) that the gamer you love just can't do without.

First and foremost, if you're looking for action and adventure with a bit of spooky atmosphere, you can't go wrong with Konami's Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. I know, I know, "but it's in 2D", you say, "and everybody knows all good games come in 3D now, right?" Well, here's where you're wrong. Castlevania NEVER looked this good on any platform, 2D or 3D. The classically drawn backgrounds lend an air of class, colour, and gothic mystery to the proceedings that its first person, crazy-camera N64 successor just can't capture (in spite of all its other inherent virtues). Konami went all out on S.O.T.N. and it shows. Despite being an old-fashioned side-scroller like its predecessors, the PS version offers perhaps the most visually attractive game of the entire Castlevania series. You have the choice to play either as Richter, hero of the previous Castlevania games, or better yet, Alucard, son of Dracula. Alucard has inherited the uncanny ability of his undead progenitor to transform himself into a bat, a wolf, or mist to help make his sojurn through his father's castle far easier than it would have been otherwise. Playing as Alucard, you find that Richter has disappeared and is being sought out by the mysterious Maria Renard, whom you'll bump into a few more times during the course of the game. Castlevania SOTN also boasts a hefty percentage of freedom of movement, bringing a breath of fresh air in place of that old bear wherein the gamer is forced to explore their virtual world in one sequence only, lest he/she risk death (and a whole hell of a lot of aimless wandering, locked doors, and unnecessary dimunition of health).

For those who are looking for more of a challenge to the mind, why not try a puzzle game? Allow me to recommend two sure winners that won't break your budget: Capcom's Super Puzzle Fighter II (Turbo) or Next Tetris (for the PS) from Atari.

Next Tetris puts a new spin on the classic Tetris. In Next Tetris, the screen spins and flips the now-3D coloured blocks when they've built up to a certain level, making things somewhat more challenging. For those unfamiliar with the Tetris series, gameplay is as follows: coloured blocks of varying shapes attach themselves (by your direction) to preexisting blocks, forming even larger ones in the process. The main object of the game is to form complete rows, causing explosive chain reactions which remove said blocks from the screen. This time around, the pieces that you place in the screen are not always connected, and the serious gamer can strategize so remaining "disconnected" blocks will fill gaps in incomplete rows beneath, the ultimate goal being to clear the entire screen . Of course, if you prefer, you still have the option to play the original Tetris, which is openly offered as a choice at the start of the game (no hidden or buried "classic arcade" options here (ahem-super pitfall-ahem)).

Super Puzzle Fighter II (Turbo) "super deforms" popular Capcom characters such as Ryu, Felicia, Morrigan and Ken, putting them to war with each other in this challenging game. You need to combine gems of like colour in groups of four or more to form "power gems", which are then broken using sporadically computer-offered "crash gems". This causes chain reactions of varying size and degree, thereby clearing your screen, and more, resulting in "counter gems" which fall in generally large doses onto your opponent's stack. The bigger the chain reaction, the more powerful the attack your character does against their opponent. Simply put, this is one of the BEST 2-player puzzle games out there to date. This was one of the first Playstation games I bought, yet it still gets played more often than most other games in my household. The game also contains a "Street Puzzle Mode" where you play against the computer to win new colour costumes, access to art, animation and music, and a new "Master Puzzle Mode" (as you would in most fighting games).

If survival horror is more up your alley, then be sure to pick up Silent Hill. This is, hands down, the scariest personal console game available to date. Revolving around the search of average joe Harry Mason for his missing daughter, Silent Hill features more hours of challenging, gooseflesh inducing gameplay in its single disc than the entire series of Resident Evil combined. Armed with only the most basic of weapons and a disturbingly low supply of health, the daring gamer must lead Harry through a fog-enshrouded, apparently abandoned town, which is infested with otherworldly, demonic monsters, to solve the mystery of his daughter's disappearance and the unusual character of this mysterious town... truly superlative, atmospheric horror gaming characterizes this "not for the kids" entry in my Christmas-on-a-budget selections.

As for the RPG fan, if you don't have one already, why not spoil yourself and pick up a copy of Final Fantasy VII. That's right, FF7, not FF8. I believe the story in FF7 is far better than its more mundane, long winded science fiction-based cousin, and the characters more engrossing and endearing- in fact, the characters in FF8 actually seem to be a poor man's adaptation of those from FF7. While FF8 may have the nicer graphics of the two, I firmly believe that games aren't solely about graphics, but rather how much fun you have playing the game, and how involved you get in the storyline and the imaginary world the game postulates. As opposed to the long, drawn out, D&D style tactics and theatrics of FF8, the average gamer (and not just the obsessive cybergeek) will actually enjoy playing Final Fantasy VII, and find it hard to pull themselves away from gameplay.

If fighting games are more your cup of tea, then make sure you don't pass up Namco's Tekken 3. While more recent, high profile games like Soul Calibur and DOA2 for the Dreamcast steal the limelight with their stunning graphics and gorgeous animation, their prototype the Tekken series, while less dramatic and obvious, is still nothing to sneeze at. I was never much of a fan of 3D fighters but Tekken 3 was one of the games that changed my mind, with its (for the time) advanced graphics and deliberate fighting techniques. I'm sure you're familiar enough with fighting games in general to get the basic idea, and Tekken 3 doesn't deviate much from it (none really do). That being said, it's a fairly recent 3D fighter that is a lot of fun, and the "Tekken Force Mode" is a welcome extra, being somewhat of a salutory nod of the head to the classic 2D side-scrolling action/adventure games (such as the venerated Double Dragon series).

If 2D fighting is what you're looking for, look no further than the Street Fighter Collection from Capcom. Actually most 2D fighters from Capcom are a good choice, provided you stay away from their somewhat substandard "vs." arcade ports (the pre-Dreamcast Marvel Vs. Capcom, X- Men Vs Street Fighter, Marvel Super Heroes Vs Street Fighter). The Collection includes Street Fighter Alpha 2 Gold, Super Street Fighter II and Super Street Fighter II Turbo. Here you get to play hits that originally appeared for the Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, and the PS itself. This is a fine collection featuring two games you probably grew up with (and loved to play over and over again), plus the PS's Alpha 2 Gold. The latter game represents a quantum leap forward from the older platform games of the first disc, allowing you to use and perfect such neat (and now standard for the genre) tricks as super combo moves and alpha counters. Without exaggeration, the Street Fighter series is what made 2D fighting popular, and when it comes to 2D fighters, no one does it better than Capcom.

At this point, you may be wondering why there was no mention made of perennially popular Sports games. There is a good reason for this: each year a slightly improved version of the exact same game comes out, often with the only significant difference being the change in team lineup and player statistics (hardcore sports fans might want to lobby game designers for a self-upgradeable sports game, where you can punch in your favourite players and stats yourself, rather than giving in to the tyranny of the "planned obsolescence" cash cow). So for the rest of us (who aren't quite so sports-rabid), there are two choices: to blow often exorbitant amounts of money on the current release/s, or to pick up last year's version used at less than half the cost and enjoy it as a game per se (as opposed to a forum for up-to-the-minute league standings).

Well, that just about wraps up my little offering of games budget- conscious shoppers might want to check into this Christmas. Independent of cost, these games are a welcome addition to any gamer's library, and the discriminating shopper might be better served by picking up a few of these, rather than a bunch of peripheral components and an IOU for a system you won't likely get till Spring.

Remember, games are supposed to be about having fun. A great looking game doesn't always mean a fun or enjoyable game. The games mentioned hereinabove are without exception both fun and worth the small price it costs to pick one up. So enjoy, have fun, and happy gaming!
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