June 07, 2006

Game Dork

Best '06 Games So Far

How To Spend Your Summer Vacation

Even a game dork like me thinks kids should play outside more than they should play video games. But school is out for summer, and idle hands will be antsy indoors. So here's my half-year progress report for children and adults, to kill a few lonesome days and nights. These games are the best of 2006 so far.

For adults who don't like violent games: It's not just parents who ask for recommendations of non-violent games. Some adults, who apparently have zero bloodlust, also ask me for tips. These gamers are in luck. It's a good year for peaceful titles.

The sleeper hit of the year is "Brain Age: Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day" for Nintendo's handheld DS. Anyone who hasn't played it is justified in thinking it sounds geeky and boring. You merely solve math puzzles and sudoku puzzles. But it is crazy addictive. I played it 15 straight days before taking a break. It's rated "E." Three stars.

"Guitar Hero" for PS 2 is about as much fun you can have with an interactive game. It comes with a plastic guitar that has five buttons instead of strings. The game shows you which button to press while a rock song plays. Seems simple, but it's a challenging blast. Rated "T." Four stars. ("Guitar Hero II" comes out this fall.)

Other good interactive games are "Karaoke Revolution" titles for Xbox, PS 2 and GCube (they're rated "E" generally); and "Yourself! Fitness" for Xbox and PS 2 (rated "E," four stars). "Fitness" is a yoga and exercise game that looks similar to workout DVDs but tracks your health progress day-by-day.

"Burnout Revenge" is the standard in car racers, with fairly realistic city streets and slow motion crashes that rock. It's rated "E 10+" for Xbox 360, Xbox and PS 2. Four stars.

"Viewtiful Joe: Double Trouble" is one of the best DS games ever. The DS isn't super-powerful, yet "Double Trouble" has a great cartoon look. As the hero, you smash villains with fists and feet. It's rated "E." Three and one-half stars.

It's been a bad year for sports games, but "College Hoops 2K6" for Xbox 360, Xbox and PS 2 is a sleek, fun and smooth basketball title, though it can be hard to beat. It's rated "E." Three and one-half stars.

Even better is "Fight Night Round 3" for Xbox 360, Xbox, PS 2 and PSP, a superb boxing game with Ali and newer boxers. It's rated "T." Four stars.

For serious gamers: The best two games of the half-year are quite violent. "Call of Duty 2" for Xbox 360 takes place in Nazi trenches and other World War II settings, where you walk, crawl and shoot every bad guy and tank that moves. It's great-looking, intense and engrossing. It's rated "T". Four stars.

"Call of Duty 2: Big Red One" is similar battle, but seems shorter, which is why I gave it three and one-half stars. But it's lots of fun and available for Xbox, PS 2 and GCube. It's rated "T."

"Battlefield 2: Modern Combat" is OK to play alone, but playing the first-person war online is the most addictive experience I've had in five years. It . . . is

. . . insane. It's rated "T" for Xbox 360, Xbox and PS 2. Four stars.

"Elder Scrolls IV Oblivion" for Xbox 360 is a beautiful and huge,fantasy adventure, featuring knights and all the trappings of giant kingdoms. It's rated "T." Three and one-half stars.

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