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Holiday Leftovers

Bad news for the gaming industry: I was right.

According to market watchers the NPD Group, sales for November were down an unthinkable 18% from the same time last year. Up until this point, the worst projections ? and I do mean the absolute most dire ? analysts had previously ventured was a 16% drop.

Call it bad luck. Label it a fluke. Chalk it up to another troubled transition year. However you choose to look at the situation, one thing’s certain: What we’ve got here on our hands, folks, is nothing short of a slaughter. And no, the launch of the Xbox 360 wasn’t any rosier; the console moved a piddling 326,000 units, as compared to 550,000-strong sales of Microsoft’s original set-top system, in its debut week.

For the record, as an independent publisher myself, I get zero satisfaction ? not to mention a painful knee in the jimmy in many ways ? from reporting this. It means that you, the consumer, have voted with your wallet, and found myself and my brethren wanting in every meaningful way.

It’s OK? I can live with that. Like the wife says, a little cry every now and then does a body good. Therapy bills might go up over the coming weeks, but hey ? that’s what Prozac (and a straight vodka chaser) is for. Therefore, in the spirit of letting bygones be bygones, I’m going to share a little secret with you as part of the healing process. Now is the time to kick us while we’re down.

To put it gently, the sector’s piddling performance at retail doesn’t directly reflect the quality of software currently at market. Or, in plain English, just because a game’s sales suck so far doesn’t mean the title itself does. Look closely and you’ll see that across the board, the caliber of offerings in all genres and categories improved tremendously throughout 2005. Essentially, dozens of great games were released this past holiday season ? they’re just languishing on store shelves.

Which, of course, means only one thing: Post-season price drops are inevitable. Desperate to salvage their investment, manufacturers and merchants are slashing prices on even the most critically acclaimed smashes. Got a few bucks still burning a hole in your wallet? Speed for the local mall or electronics outlet and see what great deals you can score on unsung heroes like these?

Note: All prices are current as of press time. Be sure to check sites like and eBay for the most up-to-date bargains.

Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones

From: UbiSoft

For: PC, PlayStation 2, Xbox

Behold the third, final and arguably best installment in the famed trilogy of acrobatic Arabian adventures. Fast-forward or rewind time to get the jump on opponents as you take command of two separate personalities ? including the titular regent and his barbed chain-equipped evil alter-ego ? and fight to reclaim Babylon. Added features like chariot races and stealth mechanics might not justify a $50 price tag, but the outing’s current $30 asking fee is an absolute steal.

Guitar Hero

From: RedOctane

For: PlayStation 2

Perfect for any aspiring virtuoso, this inventive offering lets gamers strum along in time with on-screen indicators using a full-sized plastic guitar controller. Rock out to tracks by Audioslave, Sum 41 and Franz Ferdinand while working five fret buttons and a whammy bar. Note: Don’t pay more than $69.99 for the bundle. And, at $39.99 per replacement unit, consider resisting the urge to bury that axe in your TV.

WWE Smackdown vs. RAW 2006

From: THQ

For: PlayStation 2

Over 100 match types, more in- and out-of-ring drama and a new momentum system that tracks grapplers’ performance make THQ’s latest wrestling sim a world championship contender. Still, coughing up $49.99 every year for the chance to don pastel tights and apply atomic wedgies to flamboyant opponents may strike you as a little excessive. Save a few bucks for Vince McMahon’s pay-per-view specials ?’s already offering a $10 minimum discount.

Call of Duty 2: Big Red One

From: Activision

For: GameCube, PlayStation 2, Xbox

Forget springing for a high-end PC or Xbox 360. While next-generation cousin Call of Duty 2 is definitely a thrill ride, you can enjoy just as much harrowingly authentic first-person World War II shooting action for current-gen consoles on the cheap. I’ve already spotted this gem (previously $49.99) going for $34.99 and under. Note to Hitler’s ass: Here my Army boot comes?

Civilization IV

From: 2K Games

For: PC

Be advised: The first fully 3D edition of the acclaimed empire-building series, which tasks you with building a dynasty to stand the test of time, is also the franchise’s finest hour. Between streamlined play, brilliant multiplayer options and first class support for user-created content, the title’s as fun as it is infinitely entertaining, given that there’s always something new to see or do. So treat yourself ? score a copy for only $39.99, the lowest price advertised yet.

Peter Jackson’s King Kong

From: UbiSoft

For: PC, PlayStation 2, Xbox, Xbox 360

Audiences are going just as bananas for the box office blockbuster’s interactive edition as they are its big-screen counterpart. And why not ? a joint effort between the film’s director and Rayman creator Michel Ancel, the game expands upon the movie while simultaneously immersing viewers in one of the most atmospheric adventures ever. Run through the jungle from murderous natives and rampaging T. Rexes as Jack Driscoll, or crack heads as the giant ape. Present sales prices top out around $5-10 off the original SRP, but hey ? that’s almost enough to buy yourself a ticket to a matinee showing.

Star Wars: Battlefront II

From: LucasArts

For: PC, PlayStation 2, Xbox

It’s a Jedi junkie’s dream come true: Finally, you too can fly through space in an X-Wing or TIE Fighter or stride living battlefields with blaster or lightsaber at the ready. Hop into AT-STs and speeders on the fly, test your mettle against hundreds of enemies during each encounter or just chill out by conquering the galaxy or following a clone regiment’s exploits. Battling buddies online and directly controlling heroes like Yoda and Darth Vader during both trilogies’ most meaningful conflicts rocks; doing it for as little as $34.99 now, even more so.

Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time

From: Nintendo

For: Nintendo DS

Arcade-style role-playing with a liberal dose of humor ? that’s what you’ll enjoy from the latest escapade to star everyone’s favorite Italian stallions. Regardless, the opportunity to solve puzzles and stomp on adversaries’ heads alongside baby versions of our heroes is best enjoyed at a discount. Swing by certain mass-merchants’ online portals to knock a few dollars off the otherwise universally fixed asking fee.

The Movies

From: Activision

For: PC

Run your own motion picture studio, hiring and firing talent, not to mention green-lighting films that would make Ed Wood blush. Balancing budgets, constructing sets and pandering to critics not your bag? No sweat ? just make your own comedy, horror or romance film shorts using built-in tools and upload them to the Web for others to admire. Look closely, and you’ll find various specialty retailers offering visionary designer Peter Molyneux’s masterpiece for $39.99, a sawbuck less than most competitors.

Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel Without a Pulse

From: Aspyr

For: PC, Xbox

From key members of the team behind Halo comes a hilarious, literally gut-busting romp that flips the script on traditional action and horror games, casting you as the brain-munching zombie. Gnaw on opponents’ craniums, create an army of the living dead from fallen foes’ corpses, and use face-peeling flatulence to terrorize the population of Punchbowl, PA. I’ve already spotted online liquidators hocking the horrifically entertaining PC version for only $29.99

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