They just don’t make comic strip/cartoon heroes like Popeye anymore; Popeye simply ain’t PC, punching out people to protect his seemingly anorexic gal pal, Olive Oyl. Then there’s Wimpy, the virgin gorda slob of a burger moocher, who’d never even think of enduring even a modified South Beach diet. But here in Namco’s POPEYE: RACE FOR SPINACH they’re all somewhat updated in hilarious side scrolling races, bumping and grunting to the finish line, balancing and tricking on skateboards, jumping on pogo sticks and straddling high speed rockets, all the time nudging each other out of the way like true New Yorkers. Each race gets harder and harder, although each level isn’t that refined or unique. But by the end, you’re ready for some spinach, not just the virtual in-game cans that make Popeye speed up like Roger Ramjet. Missing are hairy-ankled Alice Da Goon, Jeep, Pappy and the Sea Hag, but maybe they’ll appear in a more thoughtful console version down the line.
Even if war games aren’t your thing (they usually aren’t mine), PATHWAY TO GLORY is enticing as a technological marvel of wireless cell phone gaming. The scene: war-ravaged Italy, circa WWII. The gritty goal? Lead a Special Forces platoon of Allies through a long hard slog of mini-screen combat action (minus any massive bloodshed) toward European freedom. The real challenge: Play wirelessly. It may take a while in the N-Gage arena to find an opponent somewhere in the world, but you can plot your strategy while waiting. You can even record a short message such as, “You’re an asshole,” and send it to your foe over the ether. And, hey, the single player game (in which the historical research is top notch) is no slouch, either.
For: Xbox, PS2
Developer: Inevitable Entertainment, Inc.
What in the name of Gillian Anderson was David Duchovny doing when he made the bomb Connie and Carla? Thankfully, AREA 51 is no such nonsense and even though it’s derivative of Halo and Doom III, it still proves the truth is out there, way out there. Here in his best role since The X-Files, Duchovny is kind of like Mulder meets James Dean, brooding but brave, at times witty. With a sometimes industrial soundtrack courtesy of former Nine Inch Nails drummer and programmer Chris Vrenna, the game rocks when you’re surrounded by your HAZMAT band of brothers, seeking to clean up an alien-infested government installation. It’s when you go on alien-finding missions alone that the dang thing becomes an ordeal: Less like The X-Files and more like “The X-Trials.” The game picks up at the end, though.
Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory
Developer: Gameloft ESRB
While the N-Gage still has its problems as a phone, there’s no better mobile for playing video games. Case in point: TOM CLANCY’S SPLINTER CELL: CHAOS THEORY. It’s a 3D wonder with enemies that seem to have their own artificial intelligence (no small feat on a system that uses an MMC-like card). Yeah, it’s sometimes old school in that you’ll get text in a box to move the story along and the controls are sometimes slow. But these levels are all brand spanking new; Stealthy ole Sam still has a bad attitude and you gotta love the way he rappels, just like in the Xbox game. If you loved Chaos Theory, you’ll relish the new stuff in the N-Gage version, too.
Developer: Q Entertainment
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?
For: Nintendo DS
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.