10. Resistance: Fall of Man (PS3; $59.99)
This post-apocalyptic tale allows you to save the world as a mutant in bombed-out Britain. It won’t justify your purchase of the PS3, but if you somehow manage to get one, this is as good as the system gets.
9. Call of Duty 3 (multiple platforms; $49.99–$59.99)
WWII was never so fun (with apologies to Clint Eastwood).
8. Bully (PS2; $39.99)
It’s no Grand Theft Auto, but Rockstar Games’ latest title makes the most of a brilliant premise—you enroll in a violent prep school and learn to fight back.
7. Prey (PC and Xbox360; $59.99)
This cinematic sci-fi hit starts off in a honky-tonk bar and ends up on alien spaceships. The fights feature more cool tricks (involving zero gravity, creature-feature weapons, and transporters) than a half-dozen lesser shooters.
6. Legend of Zelda: The Twilight Princess (Wii; $59.99)
The Wii isn’t just for jumping around your living room like an idiot: This reinvention of Nintendo’s classic eighties franchise applies a sweet-natured, old-fashioned touch to a vast interactive world.
5. Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (multiple platforms; $49.99–$59.99)
An immense sword-and-sorcery universe, in which almost anything seems possible. Well, anything except holding on to that last scrap of dignity that proves you’re not a nerd.
4. Okami (PS2; $39.99)
The year’s most visually arresting game is a fantasy based on Japanese folklore. Its beautiful animation is done in the papery-textured style of antique watercolors.
3. Guitar Hero II (PS2; $49.99 for game alone; $79.99 for game and guitar)
Tenacious D should endorse this rock-god game, which allows you to play a plastic guitar along with your favorite hair-band hits, from Motley Crue’s “Shout at the Devil” to the final level’s “Freebird.”
2. Gears of War (Xbox360; $59.99)
The most advanced video game on the market stresses cooperative play, strong storytelling, and visuals that will blow your mind long before aliens blow your brains out.
1. Tie: Rayman Raving Rabbids (Wii; $59.99), Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz (Wii; $59.99), and Wii Sports (Wii; included with Wii console purchase)
The new Nintendo Wii system and its wireless, motion-sensitive controllers make players look like morons as they punch and swing at air. So it’s logical that the console’s best games let you flaunt the moron within. In Rayman Raving Rabbids, players are asked to whack bunnies with plungers and compete in cow-throwing contests. In Super Monkey Ball, you get to roll your monkey—in a ball—through candy-colored mazes. And Wii Sports, which comes free with the Wii, is such an easy introduction to the system that I soon found myself boxing against my sixtysomething mother-in-law. She knocked me out.