Format: Xbox Publisher: Microsoft Developer: In-house Price: pounds 39.99
Worldwide, more than 1.4 million people play games through the Xbox Live network and there are more than 200 online-enabled games to choose from. If you have an Xbox but haven't summoned up the courage to investigate the live possibilities, this new Starter Kit is a great way to get gaming with players across the globe. The Kit contains an Xbox Live voice communicator, so you can talk to the poor strangers you're planning on beating, and one year's subscription to Xbox Live and demo games (OutRun 2, Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six3 and FIFA Football 2005). Not bad for pounds 39.99, but you'll need to have an existing broadband connection to make it work.
DEAD OR ALIVE ULTIMATE
Format: Xbox Publisher: Microsoft Developer: Tecmo Price: pounds 39.99
The last Dead or Alive title was a mixed bag of busty babes, beaches and slightly pointless volleyball matches. It was easy on the eye, but rather too typically Japanese in style to make much impact with die-hard gamers here. For players who want a bit less T and A and more action, Ultimate is a welcome return to Dead or Alive's fighting form. While this beat-'em-up isn't quite in the same league of sophistication as Soul Caliber, Tekken et al, it is a lot of fun to play, even if the appeal of endless button-bashing combinations can quite quickly wear thin. The online options are excellent and add real value to the appeal of this simple-but-deadly title.
ARMIES OF EXIGO
Format: PC Publisher: EA Developer: In-house Price: pounds 29.99
Real-time strategy games tend to be peopled by an alarming array of imaginary creatures: goblins, orcs and ogres are standard RTS types. Armies of Exigo does not attempt to mess with this time-honoured tradition but, despite its lack of cutting-edge characters, it somehow manages to be a cut above the usual fantasy fare. Armies of Exigo does this by taking the best bits of a range of other RTS games (goblins, tricky tasks and an easy-to-learn gaming style) and using beautiful graphics to bind them all together.
Format: PS2 Publisher: Atari Developer: In-house Price: pounds 39.99
Yu-Gi-Oh! is a card-trading game that has spawned comics, cartoons and lots of playground scuffles. Now comes Duel Masters, a digital version of this brightly coloured and empty-headed card-battle game. As such games go, this one's not bad: the action is restricted to one- on-one card battles but there's a decent smattering of spells and tricky opponents to add some excitement. The game's AI takes a while to warm up, so the first few battles are somewhat limp, but be assured, once you've invested some time in playing this will greatly improve.
SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS MOVIE
Format: PS2, Xbox, GameCube, PC Publisher: THQ Developer: Heavy Iron Price: pounds 39.99
Who is SpongeBob SquarePants? He's a sea sponge who lives with his pet snail, Gary, at the bottom of the ocean. He's one of Nickelodeon's best-loved characters and has a film, an EyeToy game and this new title to show off his talents. Conservative Christian groups in the US hate him, because he's a gay icon, yet he seems innocent enough to me. This game is an innocuous and fun platformer that should be acceptable to even the most cautious parent.