Each year has its video games, and each game has its moments. Or at least one hopes each game has its moments. Like a great script that makes an actor eager to play a role, great game moments can make a game worth playing.
The year that was had its share, and 10 are presented below. What follows is not a list of 2005′s 10 best games, but a rundown of some of the freshest and most surprising moments that made games worth playing this year.
Arguing With The Panda King: “Sly 3″ (PlayStation 2)
The third adventure of Sly Cooper, PlayStation’s anthropomorphic, thieving raccoon, sent players on a series of brazen heists. The varied capers involved everything from dogfights and platform jumping to climbing giants and steering pirate ships to battle. One of the most intriguing episodes tweaked the conventional multiple-choice approach to video game dialogue. Midway through the game players take control of the Panda King, a “Sly 2″ villain wracked with doubt about his allegiances in the new game. To sort things out, the player must take control of the Panda King, point him at a mirror and make him win an argument with his own reflection.
Assisting Digestion: “WarioWare Twisted” (Game Boy Advance)
The “WarioWare” formula throws players a random succession of five-second “micro-games” with the swiftness and surprise of cascading “Tetris” blocks. Some micro-games are drawn from classic game moments; others showcase concepts too bizarre for full games. The latter describes one of the most peculiar micro-games in “Twisted,” a title already made strange by the game cartridge’s rotational sensor, which allows the Game Boy Advance to be controlled like a steering wheel. During the micro-game in question, a cross section of a man appears on screen, his digestive tract clearly outlined. Rocking the GBA left and right, players can steer a morsel of food into his mouth, through his throat, stomach and intestines, sending it all the way to its inevitable exit.
Battling A Virtual Chef: “EyeToy Play 2″ (PlayStation 2)
The first “EyeToy” game got plenty of mileage out of using a special camera to project players into their TVs for quick challenges like swatting bad guys and washing windows. The 2005 sequel offers more substantial tasks including a cooking contest that gives players equal screen space with a mad chef during challenges to grate cheese, smash tomatoes and chop pickles.
Clearing The Screen: “Lumines” (PSP)
A game can achieve greatness simply by presenting an action that feels good to commit, the virtual version of real-life pleasures like connecting with a pitch or hitting a chord at just the right moment. For some, nailing Mario’s triple jump in “Super Mario 64″ or launching a 720-degree spin off a ramp in “Tony Hawk Pro Skater” fit that bill. Add to that list the immense satisfaction of landing a screen-clearing combo in the rave-meets-”Tetris” styling of the PSP’s “Lumines.” In the game, squares comprising four variously colored blocks drop from above, charging players to rotate and slide them to create contiguous masses of the same color. Timed to the music, a vertical line rhythmically sweeps from the left, eliminating sufficiently large clusters of color as it passes. Action that initially seems complex becomes meditative. Eliminating all of the blocks in a single sweep is bliss.
Climbing A Giant’s Beard: “Shadow of the Colossus” (PlayStation 2)
“Shadow of the Colossus” presents the big-sky journey of one quiet hero who, in the course of the game, faces just 16 conflicts. Each fight is waged against a towering enemy who must be climbed to be killed, presenting Everest-type challenges (if only the real mountain tried vigorously to shake its climbers off). One bearded giant initially seems un-scalable, but the player who clambers to refuge under a rocky crag will find the titan lowering his face in search — just enough that his beard is within reach. Once clutched by the hair of his chin, the giant rears up and the player gets a lift more precarious and possibly more heart racing than the one King Kong gave Ann Darrow.
Rolling A Rainstorm: “We Love Katamari” (PlayStation 2)
Like the first “Katamari” game, the sequel has a wild time with a simple idea: rolling an initially miniscule ball over thumbtacks, paperclips and other small objects which stick to the ball and make it big enough to attract larger things, like cats, cars and eventually continents. Tasked with finding something new to roll, the “Katamari” sequel includes one level that starts the ball atop a cover of storm clouds raining on Manhattan. Rolling the weather pattern attracts lightning bolts, rain showers and assorted clouds shaped from a child’s imagination, each radiating from the growing clump. The clouds adhere and the sky brightens, the sun eventually shining on the city below.
Sketching One’s Own Wanted Poster: “Indigo Prophecy” (Xbox/PC/PlayStation 2)
Whether a player is exploring a haunted mansion or hostile jungle, one’s video game objectives are usually pretty clear. This isn’t always the case in “Indigo Prophecy,” which lets players take turns controlling a murder suspect and the detectives tracking him down. The goals of escape and apprehension naturally conflict. So what is the player to do when, in a detective level, they are given the task of drawing an accurate police sketch of the wanted suspect? Who is supposed to be winning this thing?
Feeling Guilty: “God Of War” (PlayStation 2)
Few players have ever shed tears for the pilots downed in “Space Invaders” or the gangsters wiped out in “Grand Theft Auto.” Woe is the designer who asks the player to think about the means they use to accomplish the end. Initially “God of War,” led by the angry protagonist Kratos, seems no exception. But then comes a level when rampaging beasts can be stopped only by killing panicking commoners for energy. Another sends a damsel in distress running from horror at Kratos (and the players’) actions — right off a ledge to her death. And one keeps the player from progressing unless he or she sacrifices a captured soldier in a wall of fire, even as the soldier begs for mercy. This game, for one, doesn’t want the player to feel at ease about what they’re doing.
Training A Sheepdog: “Nintendogs” (Nintendo DS)
The DS was expected to prove its worth with a game that mastered the system’s unusual dual and touch screens. That left everyone a little surprised when the DS’ biggest game in the U.S. this year turned out to be “Nintendogs,” which proved its worth most effectively in its use of the DS’ seldom-discussed built-in microphone. Tapping a button to get a game character to do something is one thing. Getting a dog respond to the name you called it and roll over on command — that experience has been a winner in the real world for quite a while. It works well virtually, too.
Waiting For The Washing Machine: “World Of Warcraft” (PC)
Technically a 2004 game, “World of Warcraft” didn’t hit its massively multiplayer stride until 2005. The online game’s shared world of Orcs, beasts, magic and swordplay attracted 5 million paying citizens by year’s end, according to “Warcraft” developer Blizzard. Going on group raids was fun, but it was the unexpected quirks of human interaction that made the game so irresistible. Take the time when a stranger agreed to help one player forge into a dangerous cave, only to bail out because, he or she typed, a very real load of laundry demanded attention. That didn’t happen in “The Lord of the Rings.”
That’s some of what 2005 wrought. Next up: 2006, a year with a PlayStation 3 and a Revolution. More fresh moments surely await.