Video games have come a long way since the golden age of “Pong” and “Space Invaders.” What began as simple entertainment for children and young adults has turned into a vast media empire, worth an estimated $9 billion. The video game industry is indeed a serious business these days, surpassing the profits of even Hollywood. The year 2002 in video games got off to a sluggish start, but ended with a flurry of excellent titles on all three gaming consoles. After careful deliberation, here are the best offerings from the past year in gaming.

Paul Wong
One of the characters in the bizarre “Animal Crossing.”
Paul Wong
“A Link to the Past,” good, but not as good as “Zelda 2.”

Courtesy of Nintendo

Paul Wong
Here is Justin Bailey from “Metroid.”

10. NBA2K3 – Sega – PS2, Xbox, GC

The competition between Sega and EA in the sports market has greatly benefitted the basketball video game genre, and “NBA2K3” is the best one yet.

9. Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance – Konami – Game Boy Advance

If only all portable games were this good. “Harmony” is another worthy entry in the prestigious lineage of “Castlevania” titles. While last year’s “Circle of the Moon” was dark and muddled, “Harmony” brightens up things with sharper graphics and splashes of color.

8. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City – Rockstar Games – PS2

Perhaps the most anticipated video game since “Super Mario Bros. 3” debuted on the original Nintendo system, “Vice City” followed up the mecha-popular “Grand Theft Auto 3” in retro style, transporting its hero to the neon-filled streets of Miami. Sadly, the game feels more like a rehash of “GTA3” than a true sequel, candy coating the same gameplay in a faux new ’80s package.

7. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4 – Activision – PS2, Xbox, GC

You would think after the perfection of “Tony Hawk 3” Activision would have hit the glass ceiling of extreme sports simulation, but the fourth installment of the best-selling skateboarding series manages to stay fresh while maintaining the fundamentals of its predessors.

6. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past – Nintendo – Game Boy Advance

Yeah, it’s cheap to put a port of a Super Nintendo game in the top 10 of 2002, but when that port is “A Link to the Past,” arguably the best in the “Zelda” series, such declarations are warranted. The inclusion of the multi-player game “Four Swords” is an added bonus for those who have already mastered the original SNES game.

5. Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance – Konami – Xbox

“Substance” is little more than a redux of last year’s “Metal Gear Solid 2” smattered with various supplements to substantiate another purchase of an espionage adventure. Thankfully, the hundreds of VR missions and the aptly titled “Snake Tales,” exclusive side quests featuring Solid Snake, offer enough new material for hardcore fans of the series.

4. Mario Sunshine – Nintendo – GameCube

While “Sunshine” is hardly as innovative as the Italian plumber’s last outing, “Super Mario 64,” the game raises the virtual bar for platform gaming, courtesy of Miyamoto’s brilliant level design.

3. NCCA Football 2003 – EA – PS2, Xbox, GC

EA’s acclaimed college football series gets better with each passing year, and “NCAA Football 2003” manages to even surpass the quality of EA’s other pigskin simulation, “Madden 2003.”

2. Animal Crossing – Nintendo – GameCube

At first glance, “Animal Crossing” looks like a hybridization of “Pokemon” and “The Sims,” but once you get past its childish appearance you’ll find one of the strangest and addictive games in recent memory. “Crossing” makes brilliant use of the GameCube’s internal clock to create a unique video game experience at any time of the day.

1. Metroid Prime – Nintendo – GameCube

Simply put, “Metroid Prime” is one of the finest video games ever made. After an eight-year hiatus, Samus Aran returned in her first new adventure since “Super Metroid,” and in grand fashion at that. “Prime masterfully made the difficult transition from the side-scrolling action of yesteryear to the lavish 3D exploration of modern gaming. .

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