Muramasa: The Demon Blade (Wii)
From the same artisans who hand-crafted the PS2 beauties Odin Sphere and GrimGrimoire %26ndash; which were also criminally underloved %26ndash; comes this lavish 2D action title. We could talk about how captivating the myth-filled feudal Japanese setting is or how there are more than 100 swords for the two main characters %26ndash; an amnesiac ninja and a demonically possessed princess - to collect. But really, it%26rsquo;s all about the graphics. Muramasa feels like you%26rsquo;re playing the most gorgeous fantasy painting in the world come to life. And if (more likely, when) it gets outsold by the latest collection of big-headed mini-baby-games, we%26rsquo;re going to go on a murder rampage. Buy it %26ndash; you%26rsquo;ll save lives.
Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood (360, PS3, PC)
Yes, there%26rsquo;s a whole platoon of solid-looking shooters this year %26ndash; Modern Warfare 2, Halo ODST, Singularity, Wolfenstein %26ndash; but they%26rsquo;re all set between WWII and the sci-fi futureverse. Real fans should also be loading their six-shooters for this gunslinging Western tale.
For one thing, it%26rsquo;s visually striking %26ndash; most everything%26rsquo;s brown because it%26rsquo;s the Old West, but scenes like one shootout we had in a burning cornfield are still impressive. Plus, there%26rsquo;s variety. In one half-hour session, we shot up a bar, stormed out of town on a stolen stagecoach, traded hot lead with the sheriff%26rsquo;s posse as they galloped alongside us, and used a cannon to blow up a riverboat. Plus, it%26rsquo;s the only shooter this year that let us fan the hammers of two pistols at once. Physically impossible in the real world? Maybe, but exhilarating in a game.
Split/Second (360/PS3, PC)
We%26rsquo;re about to say something that might rile you: screw Forza and forget Gran Turismo. They%26rsquo;re boring. Our E3 racing game of choice is destructo-combat racer Split/Second. It looks as hot and feels as fast as any other racing game out there, but buries the needle on the excite-o-meter by giving each driver the power to trigger environmental hazards. BIG environmental hazards. In the airport level we raced, the lower-tier items were things like exploding roadside gas tanks. But build up enough power (by drifting, jumping, or having close shaves) and you could first demolish the control tower, revealing a new shortcut, and then bring an entire jetliner crashing down into your opponent%26rsquo;s grill. Best of all, the game tells you when your enemies are in range of a hazard, so you can watch the carnage happen in front of you instead of glancing at it in your rear-view mirror.
Dementium II (DS)
The first Dementium was a surprisingly successful attempt to make a spooky first-person game on the DS. The setting, a psychiatric care facility stuck in an alternate reality and crawling with various ghosts and zombie fleshbeasts, was chilling. It looked better than a DS game has any right to look. The controls worked well %26ndash; heck, even the real-time in-game flashlight was well handled. Little is known about this sequel outside of a cryptic trailer advertising a mental health hospital (most likely the setting for the game), but it only has to be as good as the original to be one of the year%26rsquo;s best DS titles.