MARIO VS. DONKEY KONG 2 (Nintendo)—The backdrop for this game is an exciting opening day for the Super Mini Mario World theme park. But Donkey Kong, that nefarious ape, has absconded with the pretty Pauline, the park's guest of honor. Here you'll use your DS touchscreen and stylus to control a small army of tiny Mario toys to rescue the damsel in distress. The bonus I like the best? You can create your own game levels and send them to your friends via the DS' Wi-Fi capabilities.

COOKING MAMA (Majesco)—Forget Rachel Ray. If you're into taking the kitchen by storm, check out Cooking Mama. In the game, the stylus is your knife, your fork, your blender—everything you need to create the cool recipes from Mama. Thing is, the recipes get pretty hard, just as recipes in real life do. (Ever try to make a lobster bisque? Darn thing will take you all day.) Cooking Mama won't require all day sessions for your virtual victuals, but with 76 recipes to make, you'll be playing the game for quite some time. Want to kick it up a notch? You can share your recipes with four others like-minded culinary contestants. You can even use your DS microphone to cool down food that's hot from the oven.

MECHASSAULT PHANTOM WAR (Majesco) One of the ever present trends in video games is giant robots that shoot and blow things up. Can you have a blast with such a game on the smaller DS screen? Yes and no. While the variety of Mechs make you feel like a master of this 32nd century universe and the interface is easy to use, the gameplay isn't all that on the small screen. Nor are the graphics.

NHL 07: Feel like the next Gretzky
image: EA Sports
NHL 07: Feel like the next Gretzky

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    MEGA MAN ZX (Capcom) Mega Man has been around since the game industry was in its infancy back in 1987. This particular iteration has beautifully drawn backgrounds mixed with the old side scrolling style that made the sci-fi hero-warrior popular back in the day. Here, you're a human using various robotic suits to accomplish missions and restore peace to your particular universe. The play takes some getting used to and you don't use the touchscreen very much. However, if you want a challenging game based on some rich video game history, give ZX a shot.

    MARIO HOOPS 3 ON 3 (Nintendo) This is basketball Nintendo style, and that means it plays fast, humorously, and magically. Many of the Nintendo characters, including Princess Peach and Bowser, duke it out on the courts with crazy dribbling and powerups that would amaze the likes of Shaq or LeBron. The cool extra? You'll run into characters from everyone's favorite role playing game, Final Fantasy. You can play wirelessly, too, and enjoy a load of minigames.

    Check out reviews of all the latest and greatest games (updated every week), along with past faves in NYC Guide.

    Okami
    Publisher: Capcom
    Developer: Clover Studio

    Ukiyo-e, for the uninitiated among you, means 'pictures of the floating world' in Japanese. It's a name given to a kind of ethereal Japanese woodblock print which gained popularity in Edo (Tokyo) as far back as the early 1600s. In the book, Masterpieces of Japanese Prints, Richard Lane writes that it was from traditional schools of Japanese art that ukiyo-e, "acquired its basic themes, its lovely and harmonious coloring, its sinuous, supple line, and its emphasis on the dramatic relationship between figures."

    OK, this ain't no art class, but ukiyo-e and its celebration of the earthly spirit, the underworld, and the heavens, is part of what makes OKAMI one of the year's best games. Okami, the new action/adventure game from Capcom, is one of the most beautifully rendered games of the 2006. Because of its attention to Japanese myth, ground-breaking game play and graphics reminiscent of Asian ink painting on rice paper, it's in a class by itself.

    In Okami, you're Amaterasu, a sun god who's returned to earth and has taken the form of a snow white wolf. Your mission is to stop the huge and monstrous Orochi, who has unleashed a kind of apocalypse upon the peaceful world of Nippon (Japan). Even as you move through the first level of Okami, you'll marvel at its beauty and shudder at its monsters.

    In Okami, you're no hack-and-slash swordsman, killing willy nilly to progress in the game. What you'll really become early on is a kind of artist of the gods. You'll meet a small god and companion called Issun, a bug who'll teach you how to employ your PlayStation 2 controller's left stick as a brush. You'll be informed that there are 13 gods of the brush, and as you move through these starry worlds, you'll become adept at using the them.

    Sometimes, you'll draw a river to help you pass through a stream. At other times, you'll use the brush as a sword to kill demons in your path. I guess that's why they call the thing a Mystic Celestial Brush. Down the line, you can make a swirling motion to draw the wind, or call up lightning by making a zig zag with the controller stick. Since you have to work at it rather than simply pressing one button, you really do feel as though the elements of wind and fire are in your hands.

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