Grim Reaper Catches Worm; the Next Pokemon


Sanguine, I head into the post-Labor Day doldrums because the most wonderful time of the year, Halloween, is near. Believing the early Grim Reaper catches the worm, Konami released the first of the Halloween games, DEATH JR., and I played it with alacrity. It showed early, great promise as the opening movie showcased a kind of Nightmare Before Christmas meets Addams Family feel. Your creepy friends are in turmoil, thanks to Death Jr.‘s Pandora’s Box jones, and DJ’s gotta fix it. The limited edition I was sent looked cool, with a soundtrack and a comic book on a separate disc. DJ even moves with personality, as if his scythe is just a bit too heavy for this skull-faced little tyke. But after all that, the thing becomes a not-that-compelling Ratchet & Clank meets Devil May Cry. It plays without a lot of story and DJ doesn’t even talk. This is a slightly above average game that, with some more work, could have been a great game for the PSP. Instead, after a dozen hours of play, Death Jr. heads to the scariest of graveyards, the used game pile. Too bad.

Who let the dogs out? Nintendo, Nintendo. If the company can get the new Pokemon generation on board, NINTENDOGS, the latest in virtual pets, could be the killer app for the DS. After all, this thing sold 700,000 copies in its first three weeks in the Land of the Rising Sun. Not only are these cute critters close to the real thing in a photorealistic sense; the mind says they feel real. That’s because you can pet them on the DS touchscreen. When you do they squint and almost smile, bark and look at you Stepford-ly, like Katie gazes at Tom. (Which is not to say Katie’s a dog or a Nintendogs’s a Holmes.) Because the Nintendo DS has a microphone, you can name your dog, call him and teach him tricks. Nintendogs won’t help keep you warm on a three dog night, but you won’t sneeze, either. These are hypoallergenic dogs, you see.

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EyeToy Play2
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: SCE Studios London

You’re going to look like the love child of Billy Elliot and Billy Banks when you give EYETOY PLAY2 a spin. The gimmick? Use the EyeToy camera peripheral (included!) to put yourself in the game so your flailing hands, not a gadget, become the controller. At first glance, this offering seems to be a dance of a thousand games (or a hundred) with its 75 minigames and dozen mainstays. Even though the minigames aren’t all that, the baseball game rocks if you hit the ball with a hand chop and alacrity (channel Gallagher whacking a watermelon here). And the ping pong game is fun, too, if only to watch the opponents fold, chagrined in defeat. Then, there’s the air guitar thing. OK, I’m a rhythm-challenged nerd, but you seem to have to have the chops of the Edge to play the thing. I prefer the boxing game, in which I knock over big bruisers with my bare fists (which ain’t never gonna happen in real life). But splash some sake on my face to wake me, because this punching feels pretty darn real.

Hello Kitty Roller Rescue
Publisher: Namco Hometek Inc.
Developer: Namco Hometek Inc.

Hey. I’m talking Badtz-Maru here. If you think HELLO KITTY ROLLER RESCUE is for kids, then you probably think Entourage is for poseurs from Hollywood. Look, this isn’t the newest, most creative game in the world, but the idea of controlling Badtz, one of the cutest, baddest, won’t-take-no-bull characters in modern history (Chloe from 24 being the other) is just irresistible. And the plot is positively insane, in a good way: This lunatic called Block-o sees that after kids get gifts, they throw out the boxes. Since he looks like a box, he perceives a serious dis. He won’t bug wannabe Supreme Court Justice John Roberts about it, but he will destroy the earth. Play 20 of the most popular Sanrio characters to set Block-O straight. Did I mention the game has Badtz-Maru?

Madden NFL 2006
For: PS2
Publisher: EA Sports
Developer: Electronic Arts Tiburon

The New York Times‘ Matt Richtel was probably right in taking MADDEN NFL 2006 to task for not having enough brand new features to rationalize the $50 price tag. Yet if you’re a football nut in the way embattled Nobel Prize Winner John Robert Schrieffer was nutty about theories of superconductivity, you just have to have the game. Yeah, the new QB Vision is hard to work. So turn the damn thing off, if you like. What’s cool? You get to create a player from the genes on forward. (Don’t tell those pesky, so-called pro-lifers, OK?) And whether you want to crack his head or laud him for his individuality (I prefer the latter), the game has prodigal Ricky Williams, who has returned to the Miami Dolphins. Run, Ricky, run!

Gumby vs. the Astrobots
For: PS2
Publisher: Namco Hometek, Inc.
Developer: Torus Games

GUMBY VS. THE ASTROBOTS is cooler than The Fantastic Four’s Reed Richards in the stretching department. (Wouldn’t you love to see a Celebrity Deathmatch with those two?) Here, you wander across Toyland because those infernal Blockheads have hired these things called Astrobots to imprison Gumby’s pals, say it ain’t so, books. Here, you get to move from book to book, running, jumping, stretching and morphing (’cause you’re clay and you can) to check out the various worlds inside the tomes. Too bad The Kite Runner and In the Hand of Dante aren’t included. But I’m real glad My Old Man and The Historian aren’t.