- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Here’s a look at some hardware and software that’s available:

Taiko Drum Master from Namco for PlayStation 2, rated E: content suitable for ages 6 and older, $59.99. Musician Todd Rundgren’s dream to just “bang on the drum all day” is a reality for owners of Sony’s home entertainment console with this combination video game and peripheral package.

Yes, those wacky Japanese guys known for games such as Mr. Driller and Pacman have brought their ancient art of percussion to the states, delivering an excellent exercise in wrist strengthening.

During the rhythmic action, a player uses a pair of plastic sticks to beat upon an 8-inch cylinder attached to a base. As red smiling icons fly by on the screen, the player must hit the middle of the drum as the icon overlaps a target circle on the left side. A blue smiling icon requires the player to hit the side of the drum; a large frowning icon means to use both sticks; and yellow tubes call for a rapid-fire drumroll.

Frenetic animations accompany all of the music as a cast of colorful characters dances along to the crazy beat on the screen.

Players can choose from 60-second snippets of tunes such as the B-52s’ “Love Shack,” Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, Rossini’s “William Tell Overture,” Queen’s “Killer Queen” and the Knack’s “My Sharona.” Surprisingly, the Rundgren song is not one of the 31 selections.

Having been a drummer for at least a decade, I was amused by the fact that I often had a hard time trying to decipher exactly what rhythm I was to follow in each song. Standard rock song patterns at the easiest levels seemed to require a Buddy Rich finesse, while marches were a much easier exercise.

It also appears that playing along with the songs was not enough stimulation for the Namco folks, so a trio of minigames is included.

I have decided these bizarre challenges reveal that the company either has no idea how to extend the applications of its drumming peripheral to American audiences or some developers recently were released from rehab.

First, I am not sure about the genesis of a game in which the player performs a perpetual drumroll to get a four-legged barrel to eat four watermelon slices and spit out the seeds while trying to keep a blindfolded boy from hitting his backside. I’ll leave that to psychotherapists, but it does offer some degree of fun.

Next, a turtle wearing a purple headband tosses sacks of fireworks on a stand after a drum hit. Then a mutated anglerfish, using the lantern on his head, lights the pile of incendiaries.

Finally, a player must hit the drum to steady an ever-extending horizontal line of dogs wearing babushkas as they attempt to jump toward a helicopter and climb aboard.

Despite the minigame weirdness, Taiko Drum Master delivers a fun family experience as each member, no matter how young, can take out his or her frustrations while honing music skills.

Troy, two-disc edition from Warner Home Video for DVD-enabled computers and home entertainment centers, rated R, $29.99.One would think that a movie production with an estimated $185 million budget might take a few bucks and throw it into the DVD release, especially when it boasts being a two-disc set.

‘Tis not the case here. The action-packed, Hollywoodized retelling of the “Iliad” with the help of Brad Pitt as Achilles may make the lists for spectacular Cecil B. DeMille action epics, but it does not further the multimedia possibilities of the DVD revolution.

After viewing the 162-minute film, which absorbs all of the space on the first disc, with not even an optional commentary track to be heard, fans can move over to the second disc for a paltry 45 minutes of extras. They include some background on the actors participating in the fight sequences and a bit of history on 12 Greek gods presented in a gallery format that allows the viewer to click around to hear about and see illustrations of his favorites.

No obligatory “making of” documentary. No literary scholars piping in. No exploration of the Greek civilizations. No text-based version of Homer’s famous poem to compare against the film. Not even a link to the rather slick Troy Web site (www.troy movie.com).

Write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002; or send e-mail (jszadkowski@washington times.com).

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