LOS ANGELES (CNN/Money) - Calling any one particular title at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) "the best" is never a winning game. So much of that decision relies on individual tastes, age, and favorite genre that there's no way to make a fair assessment.
Still, there are certainly titles that stand above the rest each year. And there are breakout games that seem destined to be monster hits at retail in the coming holiday season. That's what we mean by "ones to watch."
Before we list those, though, a couple of caveats. First: Deadlines mean even less to game developers than they do to reporters. They'll promise a title by a certain date, then blow past that date without batting an eye. (Several developers, to their credit – and gamer frustration – have stopped making predictions, only saying the game will ship "when it's done.") So there's no guarantee these games will be in stores in time for the holidays this year.
Second: Early looks at games can be deceiving. There are thousands of games on the show floor, so we obviously didn't have time to thoroughly test them all. What's fun for five or 10 minutes at E3 can be tedious or confusing in the living room.
That said: Here's what we think you'll be hearing a lot about in the months to come.
Blinx, The Time Sweeper (Microsoft Xbox) – Microsoft needed a hit game at this show – and it could have one with Blinx. The major hurdle will be trying to describe the game. (The company's first attempt at its pre-show press conference fell flat, but word of mouth began to spread fast once the show began.) Blinx is a cat – and a janitor - who must save the world from time monsters. The curve here is that through power-ups, Blinx can pause, fast-forward and reverse time. Granted, it sounds a little strange, but the gameplay is definitely addictive. And the title has "franchise" written all over it. It won't be the game that saves the Xbox, but it will keep the buzz going for another few months.
The Legend of Zelda (Nintendo GameCube) – The screenshot you see to the left really doesn't do "The Legend of Zelda" justice. And Nintendo knows this, so don't expect to see a whole lot more in the coming months. To see the game in action, though, will convert the doubters. Of course, with the name "Zelda" on it, Nintendo's all-but-guaranteed to see millions of copies. The cartoon-ish graphics are known as cel-shading in the industry and they haven't really worked in most previous games. They do here.
The Sims Online (PC) – "The Sims" is a genuine phenomenon. It's the best selling game of all time – and now it's looking to bring its players together. Gameplay is similar in style to the single-player game, so as not to alienate the core audience, but the community aspects should hold some appeal. The question is: Will "Sims" fans be willing to pay a monthly subscription fee? Online gaming has been a niche market in the PC gaming world. But if any game is going to bring online into the mainstream, this is it.
Wario World (Nintendo GameCube) – You may have heard a lot more about "Super Mario Sunshine," but this title featuring the happy plumber's evil alter-ego is a heck of a lot of fun. Gameplay styles are similar to the Mario title, but "Wario World" will appeal to older gamers as well as younger ones.
Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (Sony PlayStation) – Like "Zelda," the adjacent screenshot doesn't really show the potential of this game. (It was taken a month before E3 and the game has progressed greatly in that time.) Set to release right before the second "Lord of the Rings" movie, the game incorporates elements of 2001's smash hit, "The Fellowship of the Ring," and its sequel and namesake, "The Two Towers." It could be a bit seller simply by riding the film's coattails, but this is a title that could easily be a hit on its own.
Doom III (PC) – Actually, there's no way on the face of the earth you'll see this one on store shelves this year. Publisher Activision is predicting a 2003 release, but there's no guarantee that will happen either. It doesn't matter. id Software has redefined what a gaming graphics engine can do with this title – and the story looks to be a truly spooky one (people were cowering during the demo at the show). Doom III's cinematic-quality graphics and graphic violence are bound to court controversy, but that doesn't diminish the fact that id has once again shown that it's the best action gaming developer in the industry.