Xbox's Greatest Hits

The magazine Electronic Gaming Monthly used to be cool. That was when I read it. One section that survived through the years was Desert Island Games, in which a famous person or some other fool was asked what games he would take with him if left on an island with nothing else on it. I can't remember how many games, but it was certainly 3 or 5, that the interviewee was allowed. Here are my compromised 4, yeah, to play on a coconut-powered 15-inch Wega with my fiber-optic controller which is composed of a large seashell with pressure-sensitive barnacles, while keeping my foot on the Xbox to stop it from crawling away, digging a nest in the sand, laying its eggs, and departing for the ocean where it will die from pollution or a stray fishing net if I so let it.

1. Jet Set Radio Future.
Let me quote the wise DJ Professor K: "I'm gonna bust in your head through your cute li'l ears and blow your minds with my sexy voice and out-of-sight sounds! Those of you prone to nosebleeds should keep those tissues handy, suckas!"
He is referring, of course, to the pirate undercover radio broadcasts from Jet Set Radio, a punk-pop station that speaks to Tokyo's oppressed youth. Said youth has divided itself into gangs who have set out to claim their territory by burying the whole city in graffiti. Have I mentioned they're doing this on magnetic rollerblades? You recruit more street soldiers for your gang with challenges from City Rush (a race) to Tag Battle (spray-paint your opponent before they do it to you!) and when you've beat rival gangs and tagged all the buses and billboards in the terminal, that's when the man comes for you. If they have helicopters, get in the halfpipe or wallride to spray the windshields; if they jump on you, skate 'em off. The music is quirky at first but grows on you (I've downloaded Concept of Love and Like It Like That just to relive the good memories!) , the character designs are stylish and the Cel-Shading effect (think of Budokai 2) puts you in mind of this comic-book-esque story. What more could you want from a game? Too bad, because there's more; every character has a signature dance that they do after winning a challenge, or even if you stand still for a while.

2. Shenmue II
It's 1987. Ryo Hazuki, searching for the dude who can lead him to his old man's killer, arrives in bustling Hong Kong, full of interactive people, shops you can buy from, jobs you can have, places you can gamble at, and the martial arts-related plot hooks that tug the story. Want your palm read? The Chun Li chick will do it for a small fee. Want to play classic games that Yu Suzuki, the creator of this game, made earlier such as HangOn and Outrun? If you unlock them in the main story, you can play them from the menu. And on the street are various wrestlers you can beat for money. The cast of characters, whether they help or harm, is diverse and interesting; Joy the fearless motorcyle punk chick, Xuiying the martial artist lady who kicks your ass (Girl Power!), Ren the sexy street gang leader who shares several of your misadventures; and of course, Dou Niu, the fat gangster (and I mean FAT) whose Yellow Head Gang is working for your father's killer.
The intriguing blend of mystery, martial arts, and Asian culture pulled me through, but this game's hidden world (I unlocked hidden mini-comics by taking in-game pictures of people) is the amazing part. You can play darts with various people in clubs, and their styles all differ. You can buy Sonic the Hedgehog toys from Capsule Toy machines. You can buy scrolls of different techniques at a martial arts dojo, and learn new ones from the unlikeliest of people.
This game isn't for everyone. It's painfully slow at times, the controls feel dated (it's a port from the Dreamcast, after all) and the short action sequences can piss you off. But stick with it, because if you're a writer it'll teach you a thing or two.

3. Blinx the Time Sweeper.
Why didn't time control hit video games sooner? Blinx is a cat who leaps into the most dangerous region of time to clean it up. He can pause, rewind, fast-forward, slow-mo, or even record himself to accomplish the same action twice as he battles maniacal pigs who kidnapped some princess. The levels get steadily more complex as you're forced to avoid specific problems using time; the bosses are fun if not breathtaking; and you can buy Blinx different outfits, including a pimp-style zebra suit that comes with an ear piercing.
The gorgeous concept put a whole new puzzly spin on the platformer. It has flaws--the unlockables suck ridiculously--but it's a keeper. I want to play the sequel. Unlike the two previous titles, I never managed to beat this one. It gets too damn hard in the 5th world!

4. Dead or Alive 3
This one's sexist. All the chicks have very revealing costumes, but Jann Lee is the only dude who takes his shirt off. But you can smash your opponent out of skyscraper windows. And destroy old-fashioned temples. And Brad Wong, the wino who looks like he lives to pick fights in bars, has the most unpredictable, interesting fighting style. The two ninjas--Ninja Gaiden hero Hyabusa and Hayate--need to be less emo and more shirtless. It's the most gorgeous fighter I ever played, but like certain celebrities it could live to be uglier and deeper.

I don't think I'll get the Xbox 360 even if I get rich...I'd rather have an Mp3 player for tennis and a Nintendo DS Lite, plus some nice food and clothing. But I'll always remember how good I got at JSRF (I unlocked the villain!) and how Wong steals your cash in the start of Shenmue II, then brings your unconscious ass back to his boat for patching up after the Heavens Gang takes you out.

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