Sure, CURIOUS GEORGE has been called racist, yet I don’t really believe it is. But I always thought that the monkey from kids’ storybooks was boring and a little creepy, too. And I thought of cats as curious, and chimps as rabble rousing, simian noise makers trying to write A Million Little Pieces at a typewriter. (Oh, wait: that actually happened.) Of course, millions of people who bought the best selling children’s books penned by the Reys, a husband and wife team, think I’m wrong. The new animated movie made nearly $15 million in its opening weekend, making it number three on the box office lists.
Beyond the movie’s success, my question is: Is the game, released on pretty much every platform except the PSP, any good? It’s about as good as, say, Hope and Faith is good, a little below good. As George, brought here from Africa by ever-smiling The Man with the Yellow Hat, you have to find a special item to save a museum from the bulldozer. I kind of get the idea of George after playing: it’s good to be curious, and a kid needs to know that.
But Namco didn’t go far enough with the game. There are only 12 levels, and they’re oversimplified so that an energetic kid will tire of the game, and if he or she doesn’t, the whole experience is finished too quickly. Also, kids weaned on games full of lurid colors and flash may not really respond to a George video game. And, if you’re looking to find the movie stars’ voices in the game, they’re not here.
You’ll find unlockables within like mini-games and George artwork. But why not throw in an actual George book or two as a prize? I realize this isn’t done with, say, the Harry Potter games, but that’s because they’re primarily text. Even if the makers had put in only the first George book, the inclusion would have added value and history to a generally bland game. If you really love George, you’ll like this. But if you want a deeper video game experience for kids, go and pick up the original The Incredibles game.
Tamagotchi, the virtual pet, was all the rage about 10 years ago. It wasn’t as big as the iPod, but it sure was omnipresent. In an effort to revive the brand in the U.S., Bandai has released TAMAGOTCHI CONNECTION CORNER SHOP for the Nintendo DS. (There’s also the successful Tamagotchi Connection toy, egg shaped and on a keychain like the original, but with a kind of wifi capability.)
In the game, the characters are super cute and rendered with a child-like charm. In a move of inspired genius, Bandai hired the makers of the first (and some say the best) rhythm-based dancing game, “PaRappa The Rapper” to make the game. In addition to some wonderfully cheesy music, you’ll enjoy the big-eyed but paper-flat 2D graphics that made “PaRappa” so endearing and timeless.
While Corner Shop is endearing, it’s in no way timeless. Here, you pick your character and open a shop to become a dentist or do laundry or perform music. Sure, drilling a tooth is fun, especially when a little tooth demon pops out and you have to catch him. And, hey, think the makers, it makes a kid learn about money when a customer pays you. But in my mind, a kid has his or her whole life to work and make money, so why start before one has to? I mean, there are so many reruns of Toy Story and Shrek to watch.
Mega Man Maverick Hunter X
It’s all about the history. That’s gotta be the reason that Capcom released Mega Man Maverick Hunter X for Sony’s PSP handheld device. It’s a redo of a timeless, 16-bit Mega Man X game made originally for the old Super Nintendo Entertainment System. It keeps the old game, but adds new graphics and unlockables along the way. The thing is, I don’t know of any other industry that does this sort of thing. Sure, movies on DVD are given added scenes or ending. But that’s not the same. Mailer’s certainly not going to re-write The Naked and The Dead. The closest parallel I can make is an analogy to pop music, not digitally enhanced old stuff, but those duets CDs, everything from Sinatra to Notorious B.I.G.
What’s Mega Man? The cartoon-looking sci-fi robot has been around since 1987. Created by Keiji Inafune just after he designed the seminal “Street Fighter,” Mega Man was originally a lab assistant robot called Rock. (His sister was called Roll.) But he was transformed into a fighting robot by his boss, Dr. Light, in order to save the world from marauding robot armies. Later, Dr. Light created Mega Man X, an advanced robot who’s intelligent, powerful, and wily.
In Maverick Hunter, X tries to save the world from Reploids, robots who are very much like him. To put it simply, they’ve become criminals and X is the cop. Now, when I heard this was a side-scrolling game, I had my doubts. I’m happy to play a game like Drill Dozer for the Gameboy Advance, but on the souped up PSP, I want a game that’s state of the art.
The thing is, Maverick Hunter is as state of the art as a side scroller can get. From the moment the UMD disk boots up, you’re privy to some nice-looking anime which sets the story: Robots and humans work together in the future. But some robots have become criminals because there’s irregularity “in their central processing core.” In other words, some of these robots have gone nuts. Mega Man X is like a super cop: think one-man SWAT team on steroids drinking Red Bull.
Once you get beyond the anime, the graphics become a mix of classic 2D characters combined with lush 3D backgrounds. These backgrounds can be stunning at times. The city environments, full of traffic and chaos, look like a computer game update of the classic 1927 silent film by Fritz Lang, Metropolis.
Even as I played the first level, I found the game challenging—and that was in normal mode. Once I got to the boss fights, the challenge was occasionally maddening, perfect for the game geek inside that vows, “I will win at any cost.” After finishing the first stage, you can choose from eight different environments in which to fight robots, and, ultimately, the big, nasty bosses. Along the way, you’ll acquire lots of weapons and abilities, like fast feet with which to dash around quickly. You’ll also have to figure out which weapon kills which boss.
You’ll be playing levels over and over to eliminate bosses like Chill Penguin (who fires shotgun ice) and Vile (the cuckoo robot with the problem in his central processing core. In fact, once you complete the game, you’ll have the opportunity to play the game again, this time as Vile). You also be able to watch all the cut scenes in the game at once—over a half hour of anime. And you’ll be able to play a demo of the next Mega Man for the PSP, Mega Man: Powered Up.
Maverick Hunter proves that classic games can still be compelling games. They’re part of essential gaming history and they should be embraced and enjoyed just as the latest Resident Evil 4 is treasured and talked about. Maybe I sound like some haughty professor here, but it’s true . . . right down to the last repeated cracks of gunfire.