- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 25, 2009

Here’s an abbreviated look at some video games for the entire family:

Flock! (from Capcom, for Xbox 360, 1,200 Microsoft Points) — We are not alone, at least in Xbox Live Arcade land, where an extraterrestrial presence is out to abduct Earth’s precious farm animals.

A player takes command of a UFO and uses its high beams to shine down upon helpless creatures, startling and steering them toward a mother ship where they are sucked up for processing. Meet the timed quota in each level and maybe win a medal or unlock some items as sheep, hens and bulls are collected through 50 ever-more-difficult levels.

Yes, it’s a clever concept embellished with pastoral patches of terrain Grandma might have quilted. Nuances to the mazelike action include sheep shrinking when they get wet (a strategy to get through fences) and using a tractor beam to move objects or a depressor beam to clear a field and even catapult livestock.

However, all is not as simple as it sounds in these three-dimensional pop-up-book landscapes a toddler might embrace. Animals can fall off a map to their doom (a ghost then ascends to the heavens) and don’t overuse the tractor beam on the beasties or they’ll be vaporized.

A cooperative mode will have teammates screaming at one another in minutes, as the creatures, with stubborn minds of their own, get quickly confused with two beams bouncing out at them. It will take the highest levels of cooperation to work through levels, hampered by obstacles that must be removed from the terrain and gates held open by one player as the other herds the flock.

Capcom also includes a map designer for especially motivated types to create their own levels and upload them for others to try and conquer. That little extra helps make the $15 price tag even more digestible.

As addictive as it is hopelessly frustrating, Flock! will charm casual puzzle gamers and the family member with an odd sense of humor.

Rag Doll Kung Fu: Fists of Plastic (from Sony Computer Entertainment for PlayStation 3, $9.99) — Based on the 2005 PC hit, this martial arts marathon humorously exposes the ancient arts of combat.

The player controls a very limber, lethal and acrobatic warrior plucked right from a Bruce Lee movie to conquer eight solo challenges. These frenetic fights include classic multiopponent brawls, occasionally using weapons such as a staff or nunchucks, or silliness such as trying to drop a floppy fish in a basket while being constantly harassed, and a round of explosive dodge ball.

The Sixaxis controller gets an additional motion-controlled workout. Turn it over to drain Chi into your health meter, move it quickly downward to perform a ground slam and shake the controller to produce lighting balls to throw at an opponent.

The use of rag doll physics has the characters bounce around the screen like supermarionated puppets — Thunderbirds fans will get the picture — and multitiered environments allow for plenty of swinging, jumping and dangling during the battles.

The player can even customize up to five characters with plenty of unlockable clothing, head shapes and appendage styles

Completing the value of this $10 high-definition epic, a fists of fury, multiplayer free-for-all allows up to four masters to compete in four events.

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