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My guess is when you go to Pogo, you'll find a game you like a lot. And because you like the free game, you won't be bothered by the ads which appear in the game.

On the down side, take the case of Riddler, one of the original casual games sites. These pioneers have been around since 1996. With over a decade to get their act together, you'd think the site would be full of innovation, from games to presentation. If you thought that, however, you'd be dead wrong.

I went to Riddler to play a game called MARIO HALLOWEEN. I'm a big fan of Nintendo's Mario, and of Halloween, which I consider to be the year's most enjoyable holiday. So wanting to play was natural. I just had to do it. And yet, Riddler befuddled me before I got to play. In the process of registration, they tried to get me to fill out a lengthy survey. I even filled out a page of the survey before I realized it was an ad that had nothing to do with Riddler. Instead, it was from some sponsor. In fact, it looked like Riddler wouldn't let me play a game unless I answered these lengthy and personal questions.

Witness the unflinching focus of Legos
image: Courtesy of LucasArts
Witness the unflinching focus of Legos

Details

Lego Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy
Publisher: LucasArts
Developer: Traveller's Tales
Platforms: All
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    Thankfully, when I opted out of the survey, I found I could go back, log in and play the game. Already, my trust in Riddler had been dashed. They were trying to make a buck and they were doing it in an underhanded way. To top it off, the game wasn't worth the bother. Mario Halloween was an overly simplified, side scrolling affair. It had scary background music, but Mario moved like he was in molasses, way too slow. The goal was to collect coins, but it the whole thing was presented badly. I didn't want to continue, especially since there were no ghosts or humorously creepy things in the level that I played.

    The salient thing about casual games and ads is this: because these online sites are still in their infancy, they probably will listen to you. If you don't like the ads, gripe in an email. If you feel they're being unscrupulous, as I did with the shady Riddler survey, shoot them a note. They probably won't lose the ads. But they may get up off their rear ends to make them just a little more palatable. They definitely don't want to lose one thing: you.

    Madden 07
    Publisher: EA
    Devloper: EA

    Marv Levy, the most thoughtful coach the NFL has even seen, said something stirring in his autobiography, Where Else Would You Rather Be? The erudite coach wrote, that on game day, "a wave of ethereal serenity will wash over you, or—at the other end of the spectrum—you will become the victim of a despair so gripping that you can feel it physically."

    This year, Madden 07 lets you feel what Marv Levy felt. That's because the developers paid attention to the details that make football seem authentic. Its high definition visuals are full of cut scenes that make you feel part of a hyper-real football experience. The in-game scenes look like something out of Oliver Stone's Any Given Sunday, except they're better.

    That's right. Some of Madden is better than a highly stylized Hollywood sports film. You see the gritting of teeth as the line strains just before the ball is hiked. You see what goes on in the huddle. One camera angle even looks up at the huddling players from the ground, making them look like mythical gods planning a Grecian war.

    On the Xbox 360 version, the audio makes you feel as close to being in the huddle and on the line as you're ever going to get—unless you're drafted by the NFL. The chatter, the crowd's excitement, the trash talking of the opposition: I've just never heard in-game audio that is this thoughtfully executed. And there are audio options, too. Don't like Madden's folksy charm? Use EA's excitable radio announcer. Don't like him? Try just the stadium announcer and the crowd with the players talking.

    In fact, Madden is all about options. This year, you can control your lead blocker individually at the line. In fact, you can pretty much control any player you like. You can even see the game from their point of view.

    What about Madden, the man? Madden himself makes more sense this year. When he helps you choose some play you've never encountered even if you played college ball, he'll explain why it will work for you. For instance, defensive plays with the word "Spy" in them lets your players keep an eye on a quarterback who has running abilities. No matter what your level of football knowledge you have as a fan, Madden will give you more.

    Want to take a break from the game? There's a virtual Hall of Fame here. Not only do you get biographies of greats like YA Tittle. Many of these player sections have short movies rife with their finest plays. Again, you'll play and have fun. But you'll learn something, too, something you can talk about with your friends.

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