April 05, 2006

Game Dork

Go, Go, Gadgets

How To Waste Money On Game Gear

My 40-something sister loves video games, but she doesn't like to play today's complicated titles. She's a fan of easier, older games like "Moon Patrol" and "Pac-Man." That's why she plays Nintendo DS, the handheld game system that offers such fare.

But there is another machine I think she and gamers like her would enjoy. It's called Atari Flashback 2 ($30). It's a throwback to the early 1980s, when anyone could play simple little arcade games. It revives dinosaur titles like "Asteroids," "Pong" and "Missile Command."

Actually, my sis would probably rather own the first Atari Flashback ($20). It has better graphics, and it comes with "Asteroids" and 20 similar games, featuring somewhat better-looking, Atari 7800 graphics.

At any rate, I gave the Flashback a spin while testing a bunch of high-tech and low-tech systems and gadgets. Here are other recommendations for other gaming gear, mostly for hardcore players.

Logitech is my go-to company for gaming extras, because of its reliable high quality. I've wasted $100 on other companies' wireless hand controllers. But Logitech's wireless controllers for Xbox ($50) and PS 2 ($40) behave perfectly, and batteries last unbelievably long, at 30 hours or more.

The company's great little $100 speakers are hooked up to my bedroom TV, on which I play games and watch DVDs using my Xbox 360. But I had to buy a $10 doodad to make the speakers work on the TV since they're designed as PC speakers.

I also have a Logitech "Harmony" TV remote that controls my DVDs on Xbox 360, Xbox and PS 2. As a bonus, it controls every stereo and CD component in my house. It's awesome, but installation requires hours of syncing it up through your PC, and it's crazy pricey at up to $400.

Logitech's wireless PC keyboard ($20-$70; shop around) also works swell. And Logitech's wireless little headphones work fantastically, not just on my handheld PSP but on my iPod. But egads! They're $130!

Another company, Griffin, is now doing for the PSP what it already does for iPod. Plug the PSP version of iTrip ($50) into the PSP and you can listen to games and music on car and home stereos. The iFM ($50) lets you listen clearly to local radio on your PSP. And SmartShare ($15) lets two people listen to the PSP on headphones at the same time. These are great items, but hopefully the $50 price tags will drop in short order.

Alienware Area-51 m7700 – I don't play a lot of PC games, because it's more fun to lounge on my couch and play Xbox 360. But the Alienware company let me borrow this game-specific laptop to see what I'm missing. The verdict: At $2,000 to $3,000 a laptop, these are good machines. But it took me 20 minutes to load six discs that came with "Call of Duty 2," and the game didn't look or play any more fun than it did on my $400 Xbox 360.

Gel Tabz' cushiony thumb pads help save your thumbs from pain while playing Xbox 360, Xbox, PS 2 or GCube. Plus, they're a deal at $6.

Cell phone games: If you've still not delved into cell phone games, you're not missing much. They're not nearly as cool as handheld games for Nintendo DS ($100) or Sony PSP ($250). But if you want to sneakily play a game at work, phone games have gotten good enough to recommend as quick distractions. I played "Tiger Woods PGA Tour '06" on a mobile. It was OK. And it's priced well at $3 per month.

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