By Stephanie Zacharek
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Charles Taylor
By Melissa Anderson
By Inkoo Kang
By Amy Nicholson
By Sam Weisberg
You think Meerkat Manor is cute on Animal Planet? Well, hands down, LocoRoco is the simplest, cutest game ever made for the PSP, maybe the cutest pop culture thing this year. And that's saying a lot. You only use two buttons to guide your hungry blobs called LocoRoco through environments so artistically brilliant, you'll get that teenage sense of wonder all over againminus the zits.
You, yes you, can play a guitar with your PSP. Not only that, you'll be whisked into a sci-fi fantasy world in which you defend the universe by playing that axe. You can even do duets with pals wirelessly with the PSP. With anime-inspired graphics and virtual guitar-playing that's pretty darn hard, this one gives Guitar Hero II a run for its money. Play really well and you'll vanquish your strange-looking enemies. No, not Bush and Cheney.
This redone Japanese version of an early Final Fantasy role playing game has been eagerly awaited on these shores. It's a true old school offering that moves slowly compared to today's RPGs. But it does make use of the DS' touchscreen. Complex and difficult, it's full of the stunning beauty and blustery magic that you'd expect from a "Final Fantasy" game.
Yoshi's Island DS
image: Courtesy of Nintendo
Yoshi for the DS is full of lush artwork that spans two screens and features the ever cute Baby Mario, Baby Wario, and Baby Peach. You'll hit objects on the top screen by using the touch screen below. The coolest thing? Baby Peach gives fictional dinosaur Yoshi the ability to fly. I wonder if Baby Suri gives you the ability to have famous parents who believe in a sci-fi religion? Sorry, sometime I mix my media.
Until we get out of Iraq, I won't be the biggest fan of the shooting game, even though it's fantasy. Still, Rainbow Six: Vegas is the best Tom Clancy game ever made. If you're a fan of stealth, teamwork, and wild but thougtful multiplayer modes in your shooters, this one can't be beat. The eye-popping graphics don't hurt, either. And the opening scene on the helicopter must be inspired by Robert Duvall's whirlybird romp before hitting the beach in Apocalypse Now.
KidsSPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS CREATURE FROM THE KRUSTY KRAB (Nintendo Wii, THQ, Everyone)
Scream it loud: SpongeBob SquarePants! This goofy, funny platformer game lets you use the Wii's controller to do everything from open doors to race cars and fly spaceships. Graphically, it's not all that, but if your kids want to laugh and hang with Bob and the gang, the Wii version of the game is the one to get.
VIVA PINATA (Xbox 360, Everyone)Viva La Revolucionin gaming, that is. This graphically lurid game, based on the kids' TV series featuring lovable, living piñatas, is a joy to behold. And if you want to play it at a deeper level with a lot of strategy, it's a compelling game for adults, too. It's part The Sims and part Animal Crossing. If the peacock-colorful graphics don't get you, the endearing, sometimes intense, gameplay will. Lure the piñatas to your garden, breed them, or just watch them. You're the mad scientist god-like creature having all the good fun. RAYMAN RAVING RABBIDS (Wii)
These crazy rabbits look better than Bugs Bunny ever did, even in Michael Jordan's Space Jam. In fact, they look like they could star in their own Pixar movie. The raving ones have all they can handle right now, though. That's because even though they've captured Rayman, you (as Rayman) can beat this fun collection of mini games and try to free our hero. By using Wii controller like a lasso, you can even swing a cow over your head and loft the mooing beast 50 yards.SUPER MONKEY BALL BANANA BLITZ (Wii, Sega, Everyone)
It's all about the balance. The Super Monkey Ball franchise has always been a kind of animated 3D version of the old wooden tilt toy, Labyrinth. Now, with the wireless controller, this balancing game, which starts out easy and gets increasingly harder, is more fun than ever. Add to this the affable chimpanzee characters and you'll have more fun than a barrelful of monkeys. Well, a Playmate cooler-full, anyway.
Movie and TV Based Games
image: Courtesy of Midway
Dance, baby, dance. The ultra-adorable penguin movie with the strangely twisting plot comes to the Wii with the lovable Mumble as the star. In a game that's not as dark as the movie, you'll belly slide, dance, and swim your way through all sorts of slippery mayhem in Antarctica's wondrous ice and snow.
Based on the 2003 book by then 15-year-old Chris Paolini, the game follows the plot of the upcoming December movie (this kid is going to be rich, if he isn't already). In a world full of fantasy and ride-able dragons, you're placed smack dab in the middle of a war between strange races of beings. While the game is available in all formats, I'd buy the Xbox 360 version because it has some extra levels and better graphics. The DS version, with its magical small screen artwork and touch screen abilities, is also a winner.
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