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WLNG
April 12, 2006

Game Dork


Mind Benders

Why Kill In A Game, When You Can Do Math?

There's nerdy but entertaining science in "Brain Age: Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day." When you first start playing the game, its Nintendo DS screen flashes pictures of CAT scans. One scan shows the brain of someone watching TV. That brain just sits there sluggishly, like an undistinguished lump on a log.

But another brain is ripe with activity. It's figuring out simple math equations. And another CAT scan shows a storm of activity stirring in the mind of someone who's reading aloud.

What "Brain Age" is doing with these CAT scans is justifying its existence. The game calls on you to rapidly solve math problems, word memorization quizzes, and other brainteasers, all designed by an education expert.

The result isn't supposed to make you smarter, exactly, nor bored by basic schooling. To the contrary, it merely means to sweep some cobwebs out of the mind, and sharpen your day-to-day ability to think more pointedly.

Look, I know this sounds unbelievably dull. But unlike a lot of strategy games, "Brain Age" is an addictive little thing that's not tough to master. Math equations fly around by the dozens but are hard on the level of 9x9 and 15-7.

A more demanding sub-game asks you to memorize 30 words in a few minutes, then recall and write the words on the DS screen with its pencil-like stylus. The most fun is to play "Brain Age's" more than 100 sudoku puzzles.

"Brain Age" is the kind of game that ought to appeal to puzzle lovers and math fans, and I fit both categories. And it is an answer to parents who ask me to recommend kid-friendly games that don't have anything to do with killing soldiers.

"Brain Age" is also the best of recent problem-solving games that have hit the Nintendo DS market. Two others are pretty good, too: "Tetris DS" and "Electroplankton."

"Tetris DS" doesn't need much explaining to those who know "Tetris." There's a big box in which puzzle pieces fall from the sky. You change the pieces' pathways before they hit the floor, and stack them up in ways so they'll magically disappear.

By contrast, "Electroplankton" is a most bizarre and musical, brain twister. It stars 10 levels of music-making fishes. In the coolest level, you place dots under a virtual sea. Bubbles rise up and bump into these dots, sounding musical tones. When enough bubbles hit all the toned dots, this creates your own personal music box.

Unfortunately, these 10 musical levels aren't big enough to hold my interest for long. If you find the game for $10 or $15, and you're a musician or the parent of an aspiring, musical child, it might be fun to pick up "Electroplankton." But that may be the extent of its fun.

The real find among these mind benders is "Brain Age." It might not seem enticing to play brain ticklers billed as "a great way to activate your prefrontal cortex." It is surprisingly engaging, though. And there's not a single shotgun or Pokemon in it.

("Brain Age: Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day" for Nintendo DS — Plays entertaining, if you like brainteasers. Looks OK. Moderately challenging. Rated "E." Three stars out of four.)

("Electroplankton" for Nintendo DS — Plays cool, but too short for long-term gaming. Looks pretty. Easy. Rated "E." Two stars.)

("Tetris DS" for Nintendo DS — Plays addictive, if you like "Tetris" games. Looks OK. Moderately challenging. Rated "E." Three stars.)

NEW TO YOU — USED GAME OF THE WEEK

"Half-Life 2" was one of the most popular PC games ever, and then was transformed into an Xbox adventure that has now dropped to around $15 in used-game stores.

The game is a shooter, but it's filled with cinematic imagery, space aliens and a sci-fi fantasy. It's a big deal. It's rated "M" for blood gore and intense violence.

NEW AND COMING SOON

"Major League Baseball 2K6" is this year's version of the baseball classic. It retails for $60 for Xbox 360. It's rated "E." It comes out for PS 2 and Xbox on April 24.

"Tomb Raider: Legend" marks the resurrection of the best-selling, gun-slinging Lara Croft series. It retails for $60 for Xbox 360, and $50 for Xbox, PS 2, and PSP. It's rated "T" for blood, suggestive themes, violence, and language.

"Battlefield 2: Modern Combat" is another highly stylized war game that has the gamer shoot hundreds of bad guys. It retails for $60 for Xbox 360. It's rated "T" for language and violence.

"Samurai Champloo: Sidetrack" is an anime fighting game in which samurai friends engaged in action with witches, weapons and whooping other fighters. It retails for $40 for PS 2. It's rated "T" for blood, mild language, mild suggestive themes and violence.

(Ratings: "E" for "Everyone;" "T" for "Teen;" "M" for "Mature 17+")

TOP 10 NEW GAMES

Here are the Top 10 best-selling video games, according to retailer Blockbuster. Games are listed by title, company, gaming system, and rating from the Entertainment Software Rating Board.

1. "Kingdom Hearts 2" (Square Electronics) for PS 2; rated "E 10+" (mild blood, use of alcohol, violence)

2. "Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion" (Bethesda Softworks) for Xbox 360; rated "T" (blood, gore, language, sexual themes, use of alcohol, violence)

3. "Far Cry Instincts Predator" (Ubisoft) for Xbox 360; rated "M" (blood, drug reference, intense violence, strong language, suggestive themes)

4. "The Godfather: The Game" (EA) for PS 2; also available for Xbox; rated "M" (blood, gore, intense violence, strong language, suggestive themes)

5. "Kingdom Hearts" (Square Electronics) for PS 2; rated "E 6+" (violence)

6. "Top Spin 2" (2K Sports) for Xbox 360; rated "E"

7. "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" (Rockstar) for Xbox; also available for PS 2; rated "M" (blood, gore, intense violence, strong language, strong sexual content, use of drugs)

8. "The Godfather: The Game" for Xbox

9. "Fight Night Round 3" (EA) for Xbox 360; also available for Xbox, PS 2 and PSP; rated "T" (blood, mild language, suggestive themes, violence)

10. "Blazing Angels: Squadrons of WWII" (Ubisoft) for Xbox; also available for Xbox 360; rated "T" (language, violence)

(Ratings: "E" for "Everyone;" "T" for "Teen;" "M" for "Mature 17+")

TOP 10 RENTAL GAMES

Here are the Top 10 best-renting video games, according to retailer Blockbuster. Games are listed by title, company, the gaming system, and rating from the Entertainment Software Rating Board.

1. "Kingdom Hearts 2" (Square Electronics) for PS 2; rated "E 10+" (mild blood, use of alcohol, violence)

2. "The Godfather: The Game" (EA) for PS 2; also available for Xbox; rated "M" (blood, gore, intense violence, strong language, suggestive themes)

3. "Fight Night Round 3" (EA) for PS 2; also available for Xbox 360, Xbox, PSP; rated "T" (blood, mild language, suggestive themes, violence)

4. "Black" (EA) for PS 2; also available for Xbox; rated "M" (strong language, violence)

5. "Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter" (Ubisoft) for Xbox 360; also available for Xbox, PS 2; rated "T" (blood, language, violence)

6. "The Godfather: The Game" for Xbox

7. "Driver: Parallel Lines" (Atari) for PS 2; also available for Xbox; rated "M" (blood, drug reference, intense violence, partial nudity, sexual themes, strong language)

8. "Black" for Xbox

9. "WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2006" (THQ) for PS 2; rated "T" (blood, language, sexual themes, violence)

10. "Ice Age 2: The Meltdown" (Vivendi) for PS 2; also available for Xbox, GCube; rated "E 10+" (crude humor, mild cartoon violence)

(Ratings: "E" for "Everyone;" "T" for "Teen;" "M" for "Mature 17+")

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