Best games of 2007; Wii rain checks for Christmas

News from the virtual world:

- BEST OF 2007: It has been a terrific year for video games, and boiling it down to a top 10 list was difficult. But here are the games I enjoyed the most in 2007.

1. "BioShock": My AP colleague Matt Slagle called it the game of the year, and I have no argument. Ken Levine's undersea epic combines a thought-provoking story, compelling gameplay, dazzling visuals and a lush soundtrack to create one of gaming's true masterpieces.

2. "Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction": Everyone's favorite lombax-robot team returns in this delightful space-faring romp. The animation is movie-quality; the action, whether you're swinging between platforms or blowing up aliens, is consistently satisfying.

3. "Super Mario Galaxy": Just about every planet Mario visits in his latest adventure provides a new kind of challenge, giving "SMG" more "how'd-they-think-of-that?" moments than a dozen of its competitors " combined.

4. "Mass Effect": BioWare's latest role-playing game lets you explore one of the most elaborate science-fiction universes ever created, in a fascinating galactic chase that requires you to make some real moral choices.

5. "Rock Band": Add drums and a microphone to the "Guitar Hero" formula and you have the best multiplayer game of the year. Huge props to developer Harmonix for landing songs from an excellent cross-section of real-life rockers, from Metallica to The Clash.

6. "Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3": I'm a sucker for old-school, turn-based role-playing games, and this was the year's best, adding a disturbing story and " of all things " a dating simulator.

7. "Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare": The venerable combat series leaves World War II behind and moves into the 21st century " but still sets the standard for first-person shooters.

8. "Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords": Mixing a puzzle game with a role-playing fantasy sounds like a terrible idea until it's 4 a.m. and all you want to do is just fight one more ogre.

9. "Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure": Don't let the cute characters fool you: This throwback to the graphic adventures of the '80s and '90s offers some of the toughest brainteasers around.

10. "The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass": Nintendo showed everyone else how to make a great DS game with another brilliant chapter in its "Zelda" cycle.

- THE REST OF THE BEST: A few other games that didn't make it into my top 10 deserve some mention:

Best game that almost seems like an afterthought: "Portal," the innovative puzzle game that rounded out Electronic Arts' "Half-Life 2" omnibus, "The Orange Box."

Best Xbox Live Arcade game: "Catan," Big Huge Games' slick adaptation of the classic board game "Settlers of Catan."

Best TV-based game: "The Simpsons Game."

Best game-based TV: "South Park," for its tributes to "World of Warcraft" and "Guitar Hero."

Best new character: "Eternal Sonata" protagonist Frederic Chopin " yes, the legendary Polish composer.

Best trend: Games go mainstream, thanks largely to Nintendo's Wii and DS. Even your grandma has joined a Wii bowling league.

- THANKS, SANTA: Of course, a lot of Christmas shoppers are still having trouble finding the Wii. So Nintendo is offering the next best thing: a rain check that will ensure buyers that they get the hot console before Jan. 29. GameStop, the nation's largest chain of video-game stores, will be selling the rain checks at the regular Wii system price, $249.99, this Thursday and Friday.

GameStop has also opened its first "tournament store," a 4,000-square-foot facility in San Jose, Calif. GameStop said the store, which features 24 networked gaming stations connected to plasma televisions, will host tournaments most weekends. It opened with a "Madden NFL 08" competition, with the winner receiving a $1,000 GameStop shopping spree.

- NEW IN STORES: The last major game of the holiday season is "Nights: Journey of Dreams" (Sega, for the Wii), the long-awaited sequel to the cult favorite "Nights Into Dreams." ... Electronic Arts and MTV Games' "Rock Band" comes to the PlayStation 2. Now where's the Wii version? ... And THQ delivers the latest edition of its off-road racing series, "MX vs. ATV Untamed" (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PS2, PlayStation Portable, Nintendo DS). No sleigh-driving option, alas.


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