Actors get Oscars, singers get Grammys and video games get awards from Boys’ Life: THE BOYSIES. The Boysies are dedicated to the age-old proverb that video games don’t have to be gross to be cool.
CATEGORY ONE: Best New Console
This special category only happens once every five or six years and is strictly reserved for the likes of Nintendo Wii, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.
It’s not as powerful as Xbox 360 and not nearly as powerful as PS3. It doesn’t have as many games as Xbox 360 or play movies like PS3. In short, in an age of technological miracles, Wii is something of a step backward.
But Wii has a lot to offer. First, Wii is all about innovation over technology with its nifty new controller that replaces button mashing with hand motions. Tennis, bowling and golf are all old video game standards, but thanks to Wii Sports, they’re fun all over again. Now bowl by swinging your arm and volley in tennis with snaps of your wrist. It’s almost like playing the real sports.
And Wii is the only new console created with families in mind. Xbox 360 has been out for over a year and Microsoft only recently published a game specifically for younger players. Sony hasn’t released any. With Wii, you have access to familiar favorites such as SpongeBob and Rayman, plus Nintendo classics like Mario, Starfox and Yoshi.
CATEGORY TWO: Best Portable Game
This has been a terrific year for portable games. Sony and Nintendo both stepped up the heat making great games for their portable systems. Electronic Arts and Konami also did some nice work. Here are a few of the best.
Winner: New Super Mario Bros.
(Nintendo for DS)
There is next to nothing DS about New Super Mario Bros. It plays on a single screen with no real touch screen usage. It’s pretty much like the original Super Mario Bros., which was released 20 years ago, except that it has better graphics and a few new tricks.
But being like the original Super Mario Bros. only improved is a good thing! The original was, is and always will be one of the most important and best-made games of all time. In this case, Nintendo did a good job pumping up the best parts.
(Sony Computer Entertainment for PSP; Rated E10+ for Everyone 10 and Older)
Daxter looks like a deranged mongoose, but he makes a pretty good hero. In this funny and fast-paced adventure, Daxter and his electric fly swatter go after bugs and hives of all sorts.
Daxter is a constant wise guy, and this game gives players plenty to laugh about along with some pretty good action. Tapping into that impressive PSP screen, Daxter has beautiful graphics.
But Daxter also stands out for its gameplay. Constantly giving players one main objective plus a to-do list of lesser chores, Daxter keeps gamers on their toes.
Runner-up: Club House Games
(Nintendo for DS)
Club House Games offers 40 games ranging from hearts to darts. It has chess, checkers, backgammon and an unlicensed version of Stratego. And has it ever got multiplayer options: If one player has the game cartridge in his DS, he can play games against three opponents using WiFi. And those opponents don’t even need to have the cartridge — the game spawns.
Club House Games is exceptionally addictive, but not especially exciting. It’s a quiet game that can go on and on and on.
CATEGORY THREE: Best Console Game
Wii and PS3 launched so late in the year, they had only a few games in the running. And surprisingly, Nintendo didn’t rule the roost when it came to console games for family players.
Winner: LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy
(LucasArts for GameCube, PS2, Xbox, Xbox 360, DS, Game Boy Advance, PSP, PC; Rated E10+ for Everyone 10 and Older)
We always knew Darth Vader was a blockhead. In LEGO Star Wars, everybody’s a blockhead!
Whether you’re battling with light sabers in the streets of Mos Eisley or piloting the Millennium Falcon in a chase through an asteroid belt, this game gives and keeps giving. It has levels re-enacting nearly every scene from the movies. It has superior graphics, especially on Xbox 360. It has enough action to wear out the most hardcore gamers. It also has enough Easter eggs and jokes to keep players laughing.
There’s no other way to put it: This is a wonderful game.
Runner-up: FIFA Soccer 07
(Electronic Arts for GameCube, PS2, Xbox, Xbox 360, DS, Game Boy Advance, PSP, PC)
This year, Electronic Arts invested heavily in re-creating its FIFA line with better graphics and smarter virtual players. Yes, the teams you’re playing against will be smarter and harder to beat than ever before — and that’s saying a lot — but the players on your team will carry their own weight. While the game is much improved, it’s not terribly harder, just more exciting to play.
CATEGORY FOUR: Best PC Game
Winner: GTR 2
Not just the best PC racing game of 2006 but very likely the best racing game of 2006, GTR 2 lets players take their driving skills online to compete. If you have the PC power — and this game wants a very powerful PC — you can race against 27 other drivers at once.
New to the GTR games is a driving school that prepares you for the challenges of driving these fast and ultra-responsive cars. And learning a few tips about turns can keep you from tipping too far in them.
Once you develop your skills and start winning weekend races, you can start tuning your cars. The options are wide open.
Runner-up: Sid Meier’s Railroads!
“Rule the railways and you run the world.” That is the goal of Sid Meier’s Railroads!, a wonderful remake of a classic game from one of the finest minds in computer games: Sid Meier — who gave the world Civilization. Sid knows how to find the right balance of strategy, history and humor.
In Railroads!, players must build routes to connect cities and farms. Think of model trains with a purpose. Pay virtual money to lay down your tracks. If your routes don’t become money-makers, your company becomes … derailed.
CATEGORY FIVE: Best Non-traditional Game Platform
In 2006, we saw the emergence of many new devices such as the Mattel Hyperscan and DreamGear’s wireless table tennis.
Where else can you get 35 games for $39? Not all the games on Caplet are spectacular, but among the 35 are some pretty good ones. Caplet also features three excellent arcade hits: Space Invaders, Bust-a-Move and Burger Time. (Caplet is worth it just for Bust-a-Move and Burger Time alone.)
The most startling aspect of Caplet is its incredible screen. Caplet’s tiny 2.5-inch screen offers better resolution than PSP or DS. It’s backlit and bright. That’s the good news. The bad news is that Caplet is a virtual battery vampire that runs through AAA batteries lickety split.
CATEGORY SIX: Most Happening Game Platform
“Most happening game platform” means the system with the most and best games.
In 2006, DS got a much-needed facelift. When the original DS gave way to DS Lite, the casing got smaller, the screens got brighter and the sales got hotter.
Then there are the games: New Super Mario Bros., Elite Beat Agents (rated E10+ for everyone 10 and older), Club House Games and many more. This is the game system you’re most likely to catch your parents playing.
Technologically, DS is still behind PSP. It doesn’t have that single great screen, and its games are smaller. But Nintendo has proven, once again, that console games made smaller aren’t necessarily what people want when they think about games on the go.