These are the dog days of summer for gamerheads. Until mid-August, the releases are serious woofs, woeful pieces of mongrel doo shoveled your way just in case you think a new game will divert your mind from the raging heat. And then there’s GRAFFITI KINGDOM, a quiet little child’s game with a twist. You can draw your own characters. Add wings, tails, legs, sexual organs, whatever you like via the left, analog stick. Even if you’re no Miyamoto (and who is?), the quirky function adds verve to a fairly common RPG with platformer elements. In the game, you’re young Pixel, who comes upon a magic wand/paint brush, but also lets loose a devil and his minions who want to take over the local kingdom. Everything here is cute, even the monsters. Yeah, it all makes you think about the real meanings of cute: From baby-Olsen-twin too-cute to Pokemon-animal-huggable cute to manufactured-Aaron-Carter cute. But there’s one important thing that wide-eyed kids and jaded adults will take from GK: the paint brush is mightier than the sword. That, in itself, is enough to buy it and play.
There’s no story to NANOSTRAY, just shooting. Yet I can’t put it down that easily. It’s not that the lurid graphics are equal to anything on the DS, even if they are. And it’s not that the techno music lulls me into a dance floor-like submission, but it does. The real point isn’t just shooting; it’s methodically arcing along, rhythmically and alertly avoiding bombs and rays from other flying vehicles. The weapons are varied and the DS’ touchscreen keeps me informed with weapons and radar and info on big boss ships. Shooting hordes as a single agile flying fighter is a game format that’s been around since the 80s. Yet these eight stages on planets set within some odd, foreboding solar system have me coming back for more. Is there such a thing as game pheromones?
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.
Developer: Frontier Developments
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.