GAME OF THE YEAR: Okami delivered.
1. Okami | PlayStation 2 | Okami’s lush, watercolor-like visuals were the hook, but the underlying action-adventure game was varied and expertly paced. Comparisons with Zelda are both fair and accurate, but Okami blows Twilight Princess — and every other 2006 release — off the map.
2. Gears of War | Xbox 360 | The most-hyped game of the year was not without its flaws, but the total experience was so visceral and immediate that it felt almost real. Gears delivered on the buzz.
3. Half-Life 2: Episode 1 | PC | Nobody does it like Valve Software. Gordon Freeman’s latest adventure took him to the limits of City 17 and an agonizing cliffhanger ending. When does Episode 2 come out?
4. Bully | PlayStation 2 | The most controversial game of the year was also the smartest. Besides being a blast to play, Bully was also a thumb in the eye of everyone who had condemned it sight unseen.
5. New Super Mario Bros | Nintendo DS | Samus Aran, Fox McCloud, and Link all embarked on new adventures in 2006, but Mario showed why he’s still Nintendo’s big dog with this immaculately designed platformer.
6. Guitar Hero II | PlayStation 2 | Guitar Hero II improved on its already stellar predecessor by adding a sorely needed practice mode, plus cooperative play that lets each player wail on a different instrument.
7. Yakuza | PlayStation 2 | In a year overflowing with gangster games (including The Godfather, The Sopranos, and Scarface), Yakuza’s gripping narrative and fanatical attention to detail set it apart.
8. Final Fantasy XII | PlayStation 2 | A rag-tag band of adventures find themselves drawn together to confront an epic evil. That’s Final Fantasy in a nutshell, but within that framework the 12th installment made room for experimentation.
9. Black | PlayStation 2, Xbox | Many gamers were put off by Black’s short length and lack of multiplayer, but it provided some of the purest shooting thrills in ages. It’s already part of the $19.99 Greatest Hits collection — what are you waiting for?
10. Rockstar Games Presents Table Tennis | Xbox 360 | What was a bigger surprise, that the makers of Grand Theft Auto released a ping-pong simulator or that its multiplayer component was more addicting than crack?