- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 5, 2009

Jake Power Handyman and Jake Power Policeman (Ubisoft for DS, $29.99 each) bring potential career choices to virtual life using Nintendo’s popular hand-held platform in a pair of fun adventures for the tween set.

Colorful, frenetic action in each title has players helping Jake solve crimes, extinguish blazes and generally being the go-to guy around town. Each offers a Cartoon Network style universe, adds Jake’s prehistoric sidekick, Dino, and requires comparable skills.

Both feature a vehicle (truck or police car) that players must maneuver along a multilane road, avoiding cars, collecting stars and “sirens” as they race to beat the clock. If you can’t beat the driving challenge in each mission, you can’t move on to the minigames.

Following the driving, players are challenged to complete tasks. In Handyman, for example, players must use the stylus to drag down a drill and hit a circle to drill a hole into piece of wood that is moving along quickly, conveyor-belt style. Those same skills are used in Policeman when players must drag quick-moving fingers down onto squares for fingerprinting.

The variety of tasks will have players using the DS’ touch screen and attributes, from screwing screws using circular clockwise and counterclockwise motions and blowing into the microphone to spray bugs.

Each also uses pictures and plenty of instruction to illustrate the sequence for challenges. In Handyman, you might have to climb a ladder, tapping on the hands and pulling the ladder down, hammer in some nails and then blast bug spray on some cute little insects. (They aren’t eradicated, but instead turn into little butterflies that fly away.

This sequence is displayed via a series of icons and a voice-over that clearly explains the objectives.

Learning Time: The only way to master the driving missions is to do so safely. With repetition, players will realize they can’t make certain moves, because they always end in rear-ending the red car. To win, players must solve problems and adjust the choices they make.

I like that all the challenges require developing analytical problem-solving skills and eye-hand coordination. Each presents clues, but not solutions.

The big difference between the two titles is the amount of reading involved. Policeman requires a considerable amount of reading; it also has more difficult challenges to solve. Additionally, the urgency and dangers associated with each career path — handyman versus police officer — can warrant further discussion between parent and child.

Age range: Jake Power Handyman is going to keep the younger player, those 5 to 8 years old, happy, teaching the skills they need to move up to Jake Power Policeman, a much more difficult adventure. I would not start any player on the Policeman version, and then expect them to be wowed by Handyman.

Final advice: The Jake Power games, which also include Jake Power Fireman, are quiet enough to be played in the car without driving mom and dad crazy, yet fast-paced and active enough that those same parents will enjoy watching the younger player in action.

Send e-mail to jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com.