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It's the game industry's dirty, little secret: Casual games are exploding. More people play these short online games like PAC-MAN and even BINGO than play the highly touted console games. Yet console games get all the glory because of their high production values and inspired graphics.

Even though the graphics on casual games are decidedly old school, arguably, casual games are more addicting than, say, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Once you find a casual game you like, my bet is you won't stop playing it: Especially after you make friends who play the same game with you online. There's a great variety of these offerings, too, since they cost so much less to produce (thousands, rather than millions, and in some cases, hundreds). In fact, if you make the trip to Garage Games, you can create your own game—if you're focused and have the time (along with a decent idea). I'd make one in which a Mario-like character has to run and jump over all the characters in the Bush administration, and senators like Hillary and Chuck who supported the war in the first place, too. After clearing each level, you get closer to getting the troops out of Iraq. But that's just me.

All of these games are like the classics of yore right in your Web browser, and they play seamlessly. You'll get a quick fix full of visceral thrills, and you'll play easily by using a few simple keyboard controls. For instance, in PRESIDENTIAL KNOCKOUT, you can choose to be either Bush or Kerry, battling it out with boxing gloves on the White House lawn. If you pick Kerry, however, be careful. The embattled president is a pretty feisty boxer.

Tastes like a Starburst fruit chew
Tastes like a Starburst fruit chew

Details

Jaws Unleashed
Publisher: Majesco
Developer:Appaloosa Interactive
Formats: PC, PS2, Xbox
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    The BBC, of all media entities, created a lowbrow game in tandem with its TV comedy show, Look Around You called DIARRHEA DAN. Dan has trouble finding a clean toilet, so you have to help him find one. Part trivia, the game lets you know that the average human spends three years on the throne during his or her lifetime.

    Beyond the quirky, there's the addictive. In BEJEWELED, for instance, you align gemstones horizontally and vertically, level after level. It's easy to pick up, but hard to master, the perfect litmus test for an online game. I found myself addicted to LIGHTNING POOL, in which the designers created so many variations on the classic game that you can't stop playing. Hard core pool players will eschew this game, but I love the playing pool with, say, a golf putter. It's simply one of the most creative casual games on the Web today.

    While there are no print publications devoted to casual gaming, Millions of Games on the Web collects and links to so many new ones each day, you'll likely find it hard to keep up. Start with the site's listing of Top Ten games (currently Lightning Pool leads the pack of the most played games).

    Most of the U.S. TV networks have computer games based on their hit shows. The supernatural mystery show, Lost, in fact, has three of them on the show's official site, the best of which is a short adventure game in which you traverse the island. It's not only compelling, it's as creepy as the show itself. You can also find games based on the TV game shows Jeopardy! and Wheel Of Fortune online.

    Casual games are geared toward busy adults, primarily women. But whatever age you are, once you begin looking, you're sure find casual game that will suit you, one that you can't stop playing. You'll probably meet some pals online when you play, too. Is a MySpace for casual gamers far behind? Probably not.


    Cars
    Publisher: THQ
    Developer: Rainbow Studios

    Some people say adamantly that Disney's acquisition of Pixar was a mistake, that Pixar has seen better days, and that the studio is beginning to pump out the same kind of computer animation time after time. While I don't agree, CARS isn't the greatest Pixar movie of all time. In fact, for all its warmth and cuddly-ness, it's probably the weakest. And that may be because racing cars aren't that cute (Disney's Herbie, The Love Bug being the exception). They can be sexy; they can be strong. But they're not adorable like toys or superheroes or little fishes. Creating an irresistible family story around cars just isn't that easy. Having said that: Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines. There's a lot to like in the video game version of the animated Pixar movie, Cars. There's a fair amount to dislike as well. The question is, does the great stuff that's in the game win the race over the stuff that's not great at all? The answer's yes…with reservations.

    When you put Cars into your drive, you really don't get an alluring opening movie to put you in the spirit of the game. Instead, you're optimistic rookie Lightning McQueen, dropped into a very easy race against the other cars in the vista-filled desert environment of Radiator Springs. Here, you'll get an idea of the unique personalities of the other vehicles when you accidentally nudge them or crash into them. You'll also be able to drift your car, or, as the game calls it, Power Slide.

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