Plan 9 from Outer Space was probably the first so-good-it’s-bad sci-fi film. Sadly eternally etched within my gray matter is the line, “Modern women. They’ve been like that all down through the ages.” Inspired by Ed Wood and other crappy B flick directors, the makers of DESTROY ALL HUMANS! have outdone themselves with a brilliantly, beautifully designed game about a Beavis and Butthead-looking alien who comes down to earth to harvest brain stems. His race has no mojo at all down there, so a DNA strand is as good as 10cc for these miscreants. There’s so much here: an unlockable of Plan 9, witty writing (at its best when you read the minds of the dumb humans in the game), a flying saucer with a kick-ass death ray, and satire that’s sometimes only a notch or two below the writing in the seminal Dr. Strangelove. Of course, for you Ernest Goes to Camp fans, there’s an anal probe to examine those holier-than-thou heartlander farmers and their desperate housewives. As one of the housewives wails, “Ouchie, ouchie, ouchie!”
Aw, look at all the pretty animals. Hey, don’t just look at ’em. Raise apes. Care for ailing gators. Shovel the mammoth poop of elephants. Add waterfalls and do it freestyle. Make a pile of cash from your overly expensive gift shop. Also, you’re not bound to observing animals from above: ZOO TYCOON 2 offers first-person views should you want them so you can walk among your wildlife. Forget the San Diego Zoo, baby, you can be the Frank Gehry of zoo designers. There’s even a half-decent DVD from the National Geographic Channel included in the box. And it’s all a lot more fun than the damn suburban Sims.
For: PS2, Xbox
Publisher: EA Games
Developer: Eurocom Entertainment Software
Along with the dark, moody movie comes the game BATMAN BEGINS from Electronic Arts. This is a decent enough action-adventure game with shadowy, stealth elements. You get to save pretty Katie Holmes, too (but too bad you can’t save her from Scientology, which is really scary). Speaking of scary, this game is not. Chris Nolan’s movie touches on the nature of fear, and actually has some frightful moments. The game talks a lot about fear, but never inspires it in the gamer when danger is imminent. I’d suggest that all game producers the world over read about fear in books aside from the notes in a screenplay. The first chapter in American Purgatorio is a good start. For something more pop, try The Stand. Next time, please, scare me, make me shudder insanely, make me tremble, just one damn goosebump, I beg of you.
For: Nintendo DS
Developer: Q Entertainment
If you mooned over the frantic, electronica-inspired Lumines puzzle game for the PSP, you’ll probably become addicted to METEOS for the DS. Meteos is kind of like a Tetris—only it blasts off. By that I mean, line up the Meteos blocks with your stylus until you fill a column. Whoosh! Up they go, usually with more oomph than that solar sailing thing that Mrs. Sagan invested in and watched fall to the ground. If, however, you’ve let too many Meteos gather, getting them to launch is hard, like skinny David Spade trying to bench press 400 pounds. There’s also a goal here, to save your world, as you zip to different planets in the “Star Trip” mode. It’s a nice little extra that’ll keep you coming back for more.
For: Nintendo GBA
I keep hearing young parents, faces scrunched and cooing, telling their kids that food is “delicious.” It’s a cloying ploy and kids should rebel. Yet in KIRBY’S CANVAS CURSE, the new Kirby, that ever-rolling ball of caffeinated wonder with the Charlie Brown smile, is actually delicious in its creativity. On the DS’ touch screen, you draw lines with the DS stylus that make rainbows, rainbows that not only glow but protect Kirby from attack, rainbows that take Kirby into flight and even let him loop-the-loop if need be. In a way, each level is like the final chapter in D.H. Lawrence’s The Rainbow, except the revelation of bondage is more visceral than cerebral. But the adventure is somewhat literary nonetheless.
For: Nintendo GBA
Nintendo has created a mini-franchise with WarioWare, the blink-quick avalanche of mini games that take three seconds each to play and become increasingly difficult as you go along. The twist in WARIOWARE: TWISTED is a motion sensor in the cartridge. Tilt, rock, and twist the GBA instead of pressing controls. The upside is it’s more formidable to play than just mashing buttons. The downside is you’ll probably whack someone accidentally when you play in the subway or on the bus. It took me some time to get a hang of how to, say, shave a man’s face in three seconds with the motion detector, and I’m not sure the motion detector works that well all of the time. Twisted is not a life altering game. Instead, it’s a commendable, if slightly flawed, addition to the WarioWare library.