A Soccer Mom's Worst Nightmare
Soccer moms: hide your children. WORLD SOCCER WINNING ELEVEN 9 INTERNATIONAL is upon us and that means no homework will ever be done again. Despite its unwieldy name, WSWE9 is the only choice for action, graphics and a true simulation of soccer. Here're just the facts, ma'am. With 136 club teams, 57 national teams, and over 4,500 players, you'll never lack for variety. Plus, it's not simply kicking the ball down the field and into the goal. This game is hard to play, and that difficulty enhances what every sports game needs: dramatic tension, the hand-wringing, sweat-spewing, bug-eyed kind.
What makes the game even more intense is the so-called artificial intelligence coded onto the disk. From the referee, who constantly and manically runs up and down the field handing out penalties, to the players, who have the same personality traits and physical strengths as their real-life counterparts, you will be challenged so much that the ref would yellow card you in your living room.
You'll have to practice because the moves take precision, but even the worst game player (read: me) will get the idea after about 10 exhibition games. If there's a coach in you, you'll want to play the Master League mode which lets you trade players and basically do all the tweaking you need to do to create a money-making, winning team. There are a few problems: the crowds are gone from the stadium. And the announcers should have their own artificial intelligence because the repetitive banter is annoying. These are minor brickbats, however.
It's a few months old. But I want to tell you about NHL 2K6 now that I've played through a full season in the very difficult Hall of Fame mode on the Xbox 360. First off, I admit I've become addicted to the game, so much so that I have to soak my right hand after playing.
Yet there were drawbacks. The beginning animation of the crowd going into a sports facility made it look like every auditorium in the U.S. and Canada was the same with the same marble floors and same food stands. (I mean, where's the Beef On Weck in Buffalo?!?) Sometimes, the announcers spewed an incorrect fact or score. While the crowd is nicely animated, each fan looks too similar to the other. And once, my goaltender, Kevin Weekes of the New York Rangers, decided to leave the net and hang out near the boards in the middle of play. Plus, Hall of Fame mode didn't seem hard enough: I lost only four games during the whole season (Full disclosure: I admit I cheated: when I lost a game, I'd play it again until I won).
Having said that, I think NHL 2K6 is a terrific game. Each player has his own strengths and weaknesses based on real life stats. And this is a true simulation, not some arcade cartoon where there's a lot of fighting and knocking a player over the boards. You'll find that certain players will be more agile than others. Rangers Jaromir Jagr and Michael Straka, for instance, can grab a rebound off the goalie and backhand it into the net with precision. You can coach and trade players, too, if you like. (Even if you don't want to trade, you'll get messages in the game offering such swaps anyway.) You can deke other players, but if you deke too hard, you'll get a penalty (I never really figured out the soft deke that was powerful enough to knock a puck off the opponent's stick). Everything, even winning a faceoff, requires your full attention.
Ultimately, both games feel real. You truly get caught up in the action, the suspense of the game. And if you're like me, you'll happily waste 20 or more minutes a day playing a complete season. Then, you'll worry that you could have been out in the worlddoing something real.
Developer: Monkey Bar (Torus, GameBoy Advance)
Sure, Curious George has been called racist, yet I don't really believe it is. But I always thought that the monkey from kids' storybooks was boring and a little creepy, too. And I thought of cats as curious, and chimps as rabble rousing, simian noise makers trying to write A Million Little Pieces at a typewriter. (Oh, wait: that actually happened.) Of course, millions of people who bought the best selling children's books penned by the Reys, a husband and wife team, think I'm wrong. The new animated movie made nearly $15 million in its opening weekend, making it number three on the box office lists.
Beyond the movie's success, my question is: Is the game, released on pretty much every platform except the PSP, any good? It's about as good as, say, Hope and Faith is good, a little below good. As George, brought here from Africa by ever-smiling The Man with the Yellow Hat, you have to find a special item to save a museum from the bulldozer. I kind of get the idea of George after playing: it's good to be curious, and a kid needs to know that.
But Namco didn't go far enough with the game. There are only 12 levels, and they're oversimplified so that an energetic kid will tire of the game, and if he or she doesn't, the whole experience is finished too quickly. Also, kids weaned on games full of lurid colors and flash may not really respond to a George video game. And, if you're looking to find the movie stars' voices in the game, they're not here.
You'll find unlockables within like mini-games and George artwork. But why not throw in an actual George book or two as a prize? I realize this isn't done with, say, the Harry Potter games, but that's because they're primarily text. Even if the makers had put in only the first George book, the inclusion would have added value and history to a generally bland game. If you really love George, you'll like this. But if you want a deeper video game experience for kids, go and pick up the original The Incredibles game.
Tamagotchi Connection Corner Shop
Developer: Nana On Sha
Tamagotchi, the virtual pet, was all the rage about 10 years ago. It wasn't as big as the iPod, but it sure was omnipresent. In an effort to revive the brand in the U.S., Bandai has released Tamagotchi Connection Corner Shop for the Nintendo DS. (There's also the successful Tamagotchi Connection toy, egg shaped and on a keychain like the original, but with a kind of wifi capability.)
In the game, the characters are super cute and rendered with a child-like charm. In a move of inspired genius, Bandai hired the makers of the first (and some say the best) rhythm-based dancing game, "PaRappa The Rapper" to make the game. In addition to some wonderfully cheesy music, you'll enjoy the big-eyed but paper-flat 2D graphics that made "PaRappa" so endearing and timeless.
While Corner Shop is endearing, it's in no way timeless. Here, you pick your character and open a shop to become a dentist or do laundry or perform music. Sure, drilling a tooth is fun, especially when a little tooth demon pops out and you have to catch him. And, hey, think the makers, it makes a kid learn about money when a customer pays you. But in my mind, a kid has his or her whole life to work and make money, so why start before one has to? I mean, there are so many reruns of Toy Story and Shrek to watch.
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