News from the virtual world:

— FALL PREVIEW: The video-game industry's holiday season traditionally begins in mid-August, when EA Sports welcomes kids back from their summer vacations with the latest edition of "Madden NFL."

And in the last few weeks, we've already seen two contenders for Game of the Year: 2K Games' "BioShock" (for the Xbox 360) and Nintendo's "Metroid Prime 3: Corruption."

There's much more to come, with hundreds of titles being released between now and the end of the year.

For each console, I've picked out the one game I'm most looking forward to, along with an assortment of runners-up that just about any player would be happy to find under the Christmas tree.

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XBOX 360: Microsoft's killer app is the long-awaited "Halo 3," but I'm more psyched about "Mass Effect," the galaxy-spanning role-playing game from "Knights of the Old Republic" developer BioWare.

Runners-up: Namco Bandai's "Eternal Sonata," a musical RPG starring Frederic Chopin (!); "Project Gotham Racing 4"; and the trivia game "Scene It? Lights, Camera, Action."

WII: The one game every Nintendo fan is waiting for is "Super Mario Galaxy." Runners-up: "Rayman Raving Rabbids 2," the sequel to last year's loopy party game; "Super Smash Bros. Brawl," starring the entire Nintendo roster; and Capcom's original adventure "Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure."

PLAYSTATION 3: Our favorite interstellar explorers make their PS3 debut with "Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction." Runners-up: "The Eye of Judgment," a trading-card game, of all things; "Uncharted: Drake's Fortune," an adventure from "Jak & Daxter" developer Naughty Dog; and Ubisoft's futuristic shoot-em-up "Haze."

NINTENDO DS: Link and his pals finally come to the best-selling handheld in "The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass." Runners-up: Ubisoft's guitar game "Jam Sessions"; Warner Bros.' "Looney Tunes: Duck Amuck"; and a peculiar little mystery-puzzle game called "Professor Layton and the Curious Village."

PLAYSTATION PORTABLE: Will Konami's "Silent Hill Origins" be as horrifying on the small PSP screen? Runners-up: Superspy Gabe Logan returns in "Syphon Filter: Logan's Shadow"; Atari promises more than 200 "microgames" in "Hot Pixel."

MULTIPLATFORM: Who isn't dying to start their own "Rock Band" (Electronic Arts/MTV Games, for the 360, PS3 and PS2)? Well, anyone who doesn't have $200 to spend on the whole guitar/drums/microphone bundle. They'll have to settle for "Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock" (Activision, for the 360, Wii, PS3 and PS2).

Runners-up (all for the 360 and PS3): Ubisoft's historical fantasy "Assassin's Creed"; Activision's "Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare"; and "Skate," EA Sports' attempt to steal the extreme sports crown from Tony Hawk.

— RETURN OF THE KONG: Seth Gordon's documentary "The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters" is the perfect epilogue to a summer in which geeks ruled the box office. (See "Knocked Up," "Spider-Man 3.")

As an unrepentant geek myself, I'll try to say this in the nicest possible way: The misfits and weirdoes in this film make the "Superbad" boys look like George Clooney and Brad Pitt.

"Kong" tells the story of two men who are battling to claim the world's highest score in a game of "Donkey Kong."

Billy Mitchell, a cocky, mullet-wearing hot-sauce magnate, had held the record for more than two decades; self-effacing challenger Steve Wiebe just started playing in earnest after he got fired from his job at Boeing a few years ago.

As he follows Wiebe to retro-gaming tournaments, the filmmaker reveals chinks in Mitchell's armor and discovers an apparent conspiracy to prevent the challenger from receiving the credit he is due.

It's an oddly absorbing, suspenseful and funny movie, but what makes "Kong" poignant is that these men are stressing themselves out over a completely insignificant accomplishment. But even if you have zero interest in "Donkey Kong" and other old-school games, you're bound to get caught up in the war between Mitchell and Wiebe.

"King of Kong" is slowly rolling across the country, so catch it when it comes to your town.

— NEW IN STORES: Cinematic action ace John Woo presents his first video game, "Stranglehold" (Midway, for the Xbox 360). ... Electronic Arts is still fighting World War II in "Medal of Honor: Airborne" (for the Xbox 360).