Thursday, January 31, 2008

Longer Game Bytes are coming to win us; they're coming to win us

"Heroes of Mana"
Square Enix, for Nintendo DS, rated E 10+ for ages 10 and up, $39.99.

Square Enix attempts to go the real-time strategy route with this isometric-styled role-playing game. Unfortunately, what should be a hole-in-one for the company suffers from a number of problems. For one thing, the view of the battlefield is severely limited, to the point that it's often difficult to locate your troops. The bland characters and story don't help matters much either, making "Heroes" a rather dour disappointment.

"Brain Age 2"
Nintendo, for Nintendo DS, rated E for Everyone, $19.99.

Anyone who has played the first "Brain Age" game knows what to expect with the sequel: quick, challenging activities like unscrambling words and performing simple math equations designed to fire up your prefrontal cortex and improve your memory. That, and lots of Sudoku.

Despite the familiarity, the individual challenges are entertaining enough, and the price is low enough, to be worthwhile to fans of the first game or those just looking for a quick fix before they get back to the real world.

"Hot Pixel"
Atari, for PlayStation Portable, rated T for Teen, $29.99.

This is one of the most blatant and derivative rip-offs of the "WarioWare" franchise I've ever seen, only with an annoying urban hipster filling in for Wario.

As with the Nintendo series, you are hurried through a series of oddball mini-games that must be completed before time runs out.

Sadly, and perhaps unsurprisingly, "Pixel" fails to measure up to the genius of its inspiration. While I like the pixilated art aesthetic, the games are too dull to be worthy of your time.

"Mega Man Star Force Pegasus"
Capcom, for the DS, rated E, $29.99.

Despite the new characters, storyline and 3-D battle graphics, this latest "Mega Man" iteration plays virtually identical to every single other "Mega Man" game that's come out for the DS in the last few years. Whether that's a good thing depends on your tolerance for this sort of turn-based, futuristic, kid-friendly rpg. I enjoyed it, but more as a diversion than as an end in and of itself.

"Brave Story: New Traveler"
Xseed, for the PSP, rated E10+, $39.99.

It's kind of shocking how mired in cliche this dull role-playing game is. Every type of character, spell and game mechanic you've ever seen before crops up here, only less well done. The net result is a lifeless, depressing game.

"Surf's Up"
Ubisoft, for the Wii, rated E10+, $49.99.

Ubisoft had the right idea in developing the video game tie-in for the here-and-gone animated film about the surfing penguin and his friends. Rather than try to create a boring platform game that haphazardly follows the plot of the movie, they instead opted to create a kid-friendly version of the "Tony Hawk" games, with lead character Cody and his friends riding never-ending waves, performing a variety of midair tricks in a race for the finish line.

It's a decent enough title for the kids, though the controls make it difficult to aim for the proper rail to grind on or underpass to sail through. Considering that passing to the next level can often require accomplishing such things, it can lead to a bit of frustration. Rent before you buy.

"Honeycomb Beat"
Konami, for the DS, rated E for Everyone, $19.99.

This simple, fun puzzle game has you flipping hexagon-shaped tiles over in "Othello"-like fashion in an attempt to have them all be the same color. There are two modes here. One has you solving prearranged puzzles. The second has you desperately trying to clear lines (a la "Tetris") before the geometric shapes fill up the screen. Though "Beat" doesn't reach the sublime addictiveness of puzzlers like "Lumines," it's clever and simple enough to be worthy of your attention.

Midway, for the DS, rated E for Everyone, $29.99.

Now that Nintendo's Wii and DS consoles have made casual games hip, everyone is jumping on the bandwagon. Midway, for example, recently put together this collection of 23 minigames, divided into such genres as "puzzle," "strategy" and "cards." Classic titles such as solitaire and checkers (albeit with frogs instead of game pieces) make an appearance here, but there are plenty of new games as well, or tweaked variations of beloved franchises like "Crystal Balls," which is only a heartbeat away from Tetris.

There are a few clunkers. I couldn't figure out the rules to "Artifact," for example. But there are enough entertaining, and in the case of "3 Peak Deluxe" completely addictive, games to entertain fans.

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2008



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