Not since Psychonauts, has there been a game this crazy interesting. FLIPNIC makes pinball so wacky, so other-worldly, so jazzed up and caffeinated, that it’s like a trip to an amusement park designed without the constraints of money, safety . . . or gravity. The way these programming artists have imagined pinball is a source of constant surprise. Yeh, they’ve learned some from Sierra’s old 3D Ultra Pinball and from Nintendo’s Mario Pinball Land, but the stuff here, which can be like Pachinko meets Super Monkey Ball meets your favorite roller coaster ride, is simply genius. I know, the voiceover isn’t excited or funny enough. And the cut scene animations aren’t all that, but it’s the Steven-Hawking-inventiveness of the bumpers and shoots and UFO’s and butterflies on the playfield that keep you coming back. All this for $19.99. Aside from the free mod that lets you open sex scenes in San Andreas, this is the gaming deal of the summer. But FlipNic is the truer ass like that.
SOAKED!, Atari’s expansion disk for RollerCoaster Tycoon 3, lets you create the most twisting, turning, plumber’s nightmare of water parks with rides that are limited only by your gray matter. You don’t just mope nerdily and gaze longingly at the rides. You are the god-like designer who can make them as surreal or as scary as you want them to be. If you want to reconstruct something akin to Six Flags’ overly chlorinated Hurricane Harbor, you can do that, too—and make it better. One of the wonderfully vertigo-inducing features within Soaked! is the “Coaster Cam,” which offers you a first-person view on whichever kind of water ride you make.
Destroy All Humans!
For: PS2, Xbox
Developer: Pandemic Studios
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!”
Zoo Tycoon 2
Publisher: Microsoft Games
Developer: Blue Fang Games
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.