The 2004 holiday season was undoubtedly one to remember, what with big titles and bigger sequels landing on store shelves in droves. While the majority of big-name games are unleashed on the waiting public toward the end of the calendar year, release dates for sports games are not influenced by the holiday rush and are more closely tied to the sports they represent. Because of this, January's slate of game releases is thin. Spring training is still a few months away; March Madness doesn't exist in January; and the NHL season is all but dead. Still, there are a few interesting releases coming out here in the midwinter doldrums, including a couple of interesting racing games, the ubiquitous January billiards title, and the return of SSX (though not necessarily in a form you'll recognize). We start the month, however, in the spirit of those of you who made New Year's resolutions...
Week of 01/02/2005
Yourself!Fitness (PC) Did you load up on ham and mashed potatoes over the holiday break? Have you been gulping gravy out of the Santa Claus beer stein Aunt Martha gave you? If you've got a PC and a few extra holiday inches around your waist, this offering may be your answer. It's hard to call Yourself!Fitness a game, however. It's more of an interactive Denise Austin video starring what appears to be a pixelated version of the actress who played Arnold Schwarzenegger's nemesis in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. The title features more than 500 different exercises (with tutorials) and 4,500 healthy recipes all designed to help you shed those extra pounds. A tip before you install the game: Executing deep knee-bends while holding a gravy-filled beer stein is not advised.
World Championship Pool 2004 (GC) Have you ever seen Jeanette Lee, the Asian American woman who plays pool on ESPN2 all the time? Boy, she's something else. They call her the "Black Widow." If we had a pool-hall nickname, it would probably be something lame like "Thunderknees" or "El Jugador Peor de los Billares Siempre." Still, we can pretend our skills are worthy of a nick with World Championship Pool 2004, which arrives for the GameCube in the first week of the new year.
Week of 01/09/2005
Banjo Pilot (GBA) When we saw the title of this game from Rare, the first thing we thought of was a sort of bluegrass-inspired rip-off of the popular arcade music game Guitar Freaks. Now, how cool would that be? OK, maybe it wouldn't be cool, but it would certainly be just as cool as this airborne racing game starring the nearly forgotten Rare commodity Banjo (of Banjo-Kazooie fame). Originally announced in 2001(!) as Diddy Kong Pilot, Banjo Pilot had to change names (and main characters) once Rare was scooped up by Microsoft.
IHRA Professional Drag Racing 2005 (PC) It's hard to call this one a driving game since the driving portion of an IHRA event rarely take longer than seven or eight seconds per race. Instead, IHRA Professional Drag Racing is all about the preparation it takes to get your rocket sled into optimal race shape before the lights on the track are lit. For those of us who don't necessarily enjoy measuring tire pressure levels and would rather hit the asphalt posthaste, the game's arcade mode should provide a more immediate thrill, with a minimum of car tweaks needed to get off the line quickly.
Week of 01/16/2005
SSX: Out of Bounds (NGE) S-S-X. For fans of the extremely popular next-generation snowboarding title, these three letters are enough to raise the hair on the arms. Fans will be delighted to know that another SSX game has been in the works for quite a while now, and it should arrive on store shelves during the second week of January. They may be surprised, however, to learn that the game's coming out for the Nokia N-Gage. If EA Sports Big can capture that open-ended sense of exploration, along with the hip soundtrack, fun characters, and slick visuals found in the console versions of the SSX series, Out of Bounds may just be the best reason to get an N-Gage yet.
Tokyo Xtreme Racer World (GBA)
Week of 1/23/2005
Midnight Club 3: Dub Edition (Xbox, PS2) What do you get when you combine the elder statesman of street racing console franchises with one of the most popular auto lifestyle magazines in the world? A really long title in Midnight Club 3: Dub Edition. Developed in concord with the folks at Dub Magazine, Midnight Club 3 has a roster of rides that should appeal to car aficionados and speed freaks alike, as well as an even bigger line of upgrades for each car in your pimped-out garage. Of course, all these details don't matter if the game doesn't perform when the rubber meets the road. So be sure to stay tuned for our full verdict on it when it's released near the end of the month.