GAME OF THE YEAR: Okami delivered.
| 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.
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.
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?
| 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.
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.
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.
| 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.
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.
| 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?
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?