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For players looking for a slicker gaming experience, FutureU will be available for the Nintendo DS with hands-on functionality and the same level of learning.

Game Bytes

Here’s an abbreviated look at a multimedia item for the entire family:

• Drawn to Life: SpongeBob SquarePants Edition (for DS, THQ, $29.99) - In this 11th teaming of the popular Porifera with THQ, the action centers around the episode “Frankendoodle” as the player literally must create his hero and clean up the chaos caused by the evil DoodleBob.

Easily the most inspired SpongeBob game to date, the title has artistic expression take precedence over getting through the 20 or so side-scrolling missions. Not only does a player really draw the character he controls using the DS’ touch screen as a canvas and stylus pen as art implement, but his masterpiece also comes to animated life to help rescue the denizens of Bikini Bottom.

With a decent selection of colors and options typical to a paint program, just creating the hero can be a time-consuming effort. Once he exists, the player can tap into powerful moves and get help from SpongeBob, Patrick and Squidward to convert DoodleBob’s minions to good guys and erase graffiti.

The art challenges don’t stop at assembling the character. A player eventually draws gadgets, vehicles, save points, a house, furnishings, bad guys and almost everything needed to customize his adventure, all enjoyed within SpongeBob’s colorful world.

Better yet, youngsters are given a quick drawing lesson in extras mode where they tackle basic concepts such as facial expression and geometric figures as well as coloring the characters.

The adventure even includes collecting coins to buy upgrades and wireless multicard action for up to four players.

Mystery Case Files: MillionHeir (for DS, Nintendo, $19.99) — The popular seek-and-solve series from Big Fish Games arrives on Nintendo’s handheld system but will feel pretty familiar to youngsters in the family.

Let’s call the action a pumped-up version of “I Spy” as solo players must find objects hidden in cluttered pictures tied to a mystery.

In this case, the detective solves the recent disappearance of Phil T. Rich by locating items (more than 1,000 are hidden) that help him unearth a dozen potential suspects and assemble information.

Action also includes working through some slider and jigsaw puzzles and manipulating or combining objects to meet mission requirements.

The DS’ touch screen enables clicking on the items, managing resources, moving around the beautifully illustrated locations and controlling helpful tools such as a flashlight and mini X-ray machine. Even the handheld’s microphone comes into play to blow away stuff to uncover a piece.

Toss in multiple difficulty levels (the easiest has no time limits and extra clues) and a great price along with a wireless multicard option for four players to enjoy scavenger hunts. The entire package makes for an addictive casual gaming experience that will appeal to multiple investigators in the family.

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