Earth Defense Force 2017 (X360) – The graphics are a bit underwhelming for a next-gen title, the animations are awkward, the frame rate gets choppy at times, and it’s a bit repetitive. It’s still a ton of fun though, just because of all the frantic mayhem of fighting off huge swarms of alien ants, giant robots, and sky-blotting UFOs with a large variety of heavy weaponry.
Worms (X360) – The same old classic 2D Worms gameplay, really. Unfortunately there aren’t as many terrain and voice sets as the PC versions, due to size limits, and they got rid of a lot of the weirder and more powerful weapons. More terrain and voice sets will be available later on though, and it’s easier to find people to play against on Xbox Live than it was with the now-ancient PC games.
Puzzle Quest: Challenge Of The Warlords (DS) – This is probably the oddest RPG I’ve ever played. It has all of the standard RPG tropes — character classes and stats, spells, equipment, towns with inns and vendors, quests to go on, etc., but combat is resolved by taking turns on a Bejeweled-alike grid where lining up different colours or symbols has different effects (gaining mana for spells, gaining gold, doing damage to the enemy, etc.). It’s challenging too, as you have to think ahead a few turns and try to avoid leaving the grid in an advantageous state for your opponent at the end of your turn.
Crackdown (X360) – Another GTA-like game, except this one puts you on the side of law enforcement. It’s a bit shallow in that there’s not a wide variety of missions and most weapons aren’t too useful (you soon run across an optimal combination that you can pretty much stick with for the rest of the game), but the firefights can get pretty intense. A lot of the fun is in just how exaggerated things can get — level up your skills a bit and before long you’re jumping up the sides of skyscrapers, leaping from rooftop to rooftop, picking up cars and throwing them halfway down the block, and setting off huge chains of explosions.
Trackmania United (PC) – It’s the same old Trackmania gameplay (essentially a faster-paced, modernized version of Stunts), but this version combines all of the terrain types and vehicles from the previous three releases, adds some new block types to the editor, and greatly expands the online community support. Your times on official tracks can now be registered on the global ladder rankings, you can organize into groups to compare times against each other, you can create tracks and publish them as an official track so that others can set times against it, and download others’ tracks and replays, all from within the game itself.
Castlevania: Symphony Of The Night (X360) – I’d played the various GBA and DS versions of Castlevania, but not this PS1 version, which was essentially the genesis of the current form of the series with its leveling, non-linear exploration, and variable equipment. This XBLA version is a perfect emulation of it though, and it’s pretty good. The voice acting is horrible and it gets a bit too easy after getting certain weapons, but it controls well and keeps things varied and interesting throughout the entire map.
Unfortunately, in one of the bonus modes where you can play as a character from the previous game in the series, the flaws of the 360 controller become a huge hindrance. You can pull off Street Fighter-ish moves with the characters, and although they’re completely unnecessary for the main game, they’re crucial to winning with this bonus character, as they’re the only way he can reach certain areas. They’re difficult to pull off reliably with the analog stick though, and the d-pad on the 360 controller is just horrible. Half the time you’ll accidentally hit a diagonal, ruining the precision of your current jump, preventing you from chaining moves, and making you land in the wrong place.
Space Rangers 2 (PC) – It’s hard to categorize this game, since it has a little bit of everything in it. It’s primarily a space trading/combat game like the Escape Velocity series, but missions and random events often take you off to something else entirely. Help defend an outpost and you’ll play a simple little RTS map. Get caught smuggling, and it becomes a text adventure as you try to endure or break out of prison. There’s even a Galactic Pizza Cook-Off competition. Most of the fun is in the core space sim though, establishing trade routes, upgrading your ship, fighting off the Dominator enemies and pirates (or becoming a pirate yourself), and maintaining relationships with the various factions.
Final Fantasy XII (PS2) – The story isn’t all that thrilling so far (though I have a long ways to go), but it’s one of the best-looking PS2 games and the gameplay mechanics are pretty good. It cribs a bit from MMORPGs, with real-time (though pausable) combat integrated into the zone maps. Party members are handled by letting the player set up ‘gambits’, which are sets of rules that control how they behave (e.g., if the target is weak to fire, cast a Firaga spell; if a party member is at less than 40% health, cast a heal, etc.).