But the real magic and wonder of Table Tennis comes with Xbox Online play. You can volley with up to eight players in a tournament online. When you have a rally against someone from, say, Olympia that goes over 100 hits of the ball, your heart starts pounding and you wear the look of grim determination.  You'll probably hear a lot of bragging through your headset. But you can turn that off. 

The upshot? Because Table Tennis is so easy to pick up, it will probably introduce a lot of casual gamers to the Xbox Online experience. That means a more mature crowd, and a more civilized game with fewer moments of Madden-like trash talking. But Rockstar's ping pong game will have some competition soon: Nintendo is creating a table tennis game for its Wii system to be released in the fall. If it works as well as Table Tennis, they should subtitle it "Kranky, Pickled Mario Pong."


Da Vinci Code
Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: The Collective

All the way back, back more than 80 years ago, H. L. Mencken did a telling thing. He had a funeral for the gods, dozens of gods like Furrina, the Roman water goddess, and Enurestu, the Assyrian god of war, gods who were no longer worshipped. He posed, "Where is the graveyard of dead gods? What lingering mourner waters their ground?" It all makes me wonder if our current gods will, centuries later, go that same way. Right now, God is big, the Christian God, the Jewish God, the Muslim God, and you shudder to think that has to do with the horrors of war. But God is popular again, and that's one of the reasons THE DA VINCI CODE became a mainstay for readers in the Western world. Of course, they had to make the book into a game, so game geeks could worship in their button pressing way, too.

Movie-based games have always had a checkered history, and it's rare that these offerings are equal to or better than the hits that preceded them. Still, The Da Vinci Code occasionally has some compelling things going for it.

The Da Vinci Code book has been on the New York Times best seller list for 163 weeks. Despite middling reviews, the movie took in $77 million here in the U.S. last weekend. So everyone wants to play the game, right, in order to live in Dan Brown's world of strange religion and complex quandary?

In its behalf, the DVC game is a kind of throwback to times when adventure games were the big things in the industry. You examine things and pick things up and use them to solve the case. That's because, at its core and beyond the controversies, the book and game are mystery stories.

As you begin, you'll be confronted with a dead body bearing a pentagram in the Louvre museum, just like in the book. As in any mystery that involves a conspiracy, there will be a lot of talking, deduction, and clue finding. All this can be as frightening as Freddie Krueger when dealing with the more fanatical elements in the game. 

At its best, Dan Brown's book lets you learn new things. You can discover interesting aspects about anagrams and ancient history from the game, too, but the conversations among characters do get a little dry—quickly. But it's fun to search around in the museum among the priceless artworks (and you don't get the dreaded symptoms of museum back, either). Although the puzzles can sometimes be a little too simple to deal with (even if you haven't read the book), you do get the feeling of a great mystery: You feel tension and you get the creeps from time to time.  

While you'll explore crypts, find cylinders with messages, and even fight occasionally, there are still two things missing. You don't really get a sense of reward for the accomplishments you make when you solve bits of the mystery. Perhaps that's because the characters act so wooden and so bland.  Finally, you'll wish they would have added more to the game, more puzzles, more plot, more history, more excitement.


Over The Hedge
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Edge of Reality

OVER THE HEDGE is a platformer, not an adventure game. But if you made games from animated movies, you'll delight in the humor that's presented. Here, the characters are never boring. In fact, they feel alive as an old Bugs Bunny cartoon. Everything from the way the animals move to the one liners they spew will make this game sing to its target audience: big-eyed kids with unsullied senses of wonder. 

The movie-based game features a motley crew of animals who are trying to make their forest safe from an ever-encroaching suburbia full of McMansions and uncaring humans. There's even the evil Exterminator, who can get the animals to turn on one another. When you choose a character to play, you'll also have a sidekick, who'll help you on your missions. There are also various mini-games to play, the most enjoyable of which is racing radio controlled cars. While an adult would feel the game is too simple, it will easily capture (and perhaps inspire) the imaginations of children, who'll love the personality-rich characters, the lush environments, and the ever present humor. 

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