Someone wake up Alexey Pazhitnov. LUMINES is the best thing that’s happened to the Tetris concept in 10 years. There’s so much emotion involved in play that you feel like you’re drinking high-grade iced sake mixed with Penguin caffeine mint-enhanced-Red Bull. Everything’s a whirl of media, like watching TV while listening to MP3s while playing PlayStation 2. Make a move and your Tetris-like blocks add music to an already rich soundtrack full of everything from new age music to electronica. Don’t be seduced by the screen’s ever-morphing background art. For instance, one level shows a space station view of our angry blue planet spinning from space. Then, the earth changes color. Then . . . well, forget that particular Harpie of computer code. There’s a game to play, bucko, one that wants to defeat you as each second passes. You gonna let a little processor get away with that?
This is your brain on crack. There’s so much constant reasoning here that even math geniuses will find POLARIUM challenging (albeit fun). Polarium‘s tones are subtle monochromes, not surreal Pokemon colors. While it’s your mission to eliminate blocks as in the classic Tetris, Polarium is less a race against time than a game of head-fracturing logic. Using the DS’s innovative touch screen and stylus, you have to find a way to flip the tiles on a black and white grid so that they become the same color. And if you think that’s easy, I got a book called Cryptnomicon for you that you can read in one minute flat.
LEGO Star Wars
For: PS2, PC, Xbox
Developer: Traveller’s Tales
Leggo my LEGO! Don’t groan. The newest Star Wars video game gets its inspiration from LEGO, the manufacturer of those decidedly low-tech toy blocks, the ones I wanted to grind into the head of the local bully when I was a kid. LEGO STAR WARS is actually more creative than some of LucasArts’ recent Star Wars titles. They don’t converse much, these toys that have become video game heroes; in fact they don’t say anything. It just goes to prove that the Star Wars plots, although sappy and predictable, are so action-packed, you don’t need dialog to move the story along. Sure, the game could have been longer. But they’ve stuffed so much story and action in this puppy, it’s a terrific way to bone up on series plot points you may have forgotten—and to get ready for the big movie premiere. Go ahead, play: You’re not too cool for this.
NFL Street 2: Unleashed
Publisher: EA Sports Big
Developer: EA Canada
Forget the fact that the affably manic but ultimately uninspiring Jeremy Shockey is the cover athlete. Even if you already bought the console version of NFL STREET 2, this is different beyond the fact that the game plays in wide screen wonder. You get modes like Street Slalom, Style Point Challenge and Style Standoff to make it almost worth the price of admission. You can even climb up walls to catch a pass. Too bad you can’t unlock last year’s cover guy/retiree, Ricky Williams, and have him practice some Ayurveda on these Bluto-like defensive ends. That would’ve added some sardonic glee to the humor already in the game.
Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell Chaos Theory
For: PS2, Xbox
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Forget Crichton and King when it comes to games. With his Ghost Recon, Rainbow Six and Splinter Cell action series, Tom Clancy’s games rule the video game roost. He’s even got four cell phone games on the market. In SPLINTER CELL CHAOS THEORY, you’re the solo agent, alone if not a little lonely, on ten mammoth stealth missions to save the world from terrorism. Hey, better you than W. The year: 2008. Not that that matters. You may even hate Clancy’s writing, as I do. That matters . . . a little. Thing is, if you’re into stealth games, you can’t get much better than this. Sure, you can kill to complete your objectives through ten expansive levels. But Chaos Theory also allows you the harder, more professional way to act by using no lethal force and offing no one. Yeah, OK, you can kill a little for fun, too, but just for those times when you need to be the sadist.
MX vs. ATV Unleashed
For: PS2, Xbox
Developer: Rainbow Studios
What a wild potpourri. If you’ve ever wanted to drive anything in competition, MX vs. ATV UNLEASHED‘s for you. You can drive motocross bikes, monster trucks, bi-planes, helicopters, even golf carts. There are so many modes to play here, it makes the head spin. The detailed career mode is a winner, but designers had a sense of humor, too. You can find Santa Claus in one of the winter courses, (and run that bearded marketing machine over). The advanced physics of the vehicles (think GM genius, not Stephen Hawking) make you think you’re driving the real things. Still, some of the vehicles are hard to maneuver, making this a very good game, but not a great game.