Here's an abbreviated look at some multimedia titles for the entire family.
The Tale of Despereaux (for Wii, Brash Entertainment, $49.99) — The fearless toothpick-wielding mouse with big ears moves from the big screen to Nintendo's interactive console to star in a brutally mediocre adventure.
Based on Universal Pictures' latest animated movie (and Kate DiCamillo's fine book), the game requires a player to navigate through 15 levels of a dimly lit castle to save Princess Pea from a bunch of rats.
In the finest of Prince of Persia maneuverability, the hero can straddle and run along walls, climb books, hang on and scurry across ledges, and jump between candles as he follows trails of cheese and collects buttons for his hard work.
Sounds good, unfortunately, the action will cause a player to grunt and groan as much as the hero he controls.
First, this painful platformer is doomed thanks to a fixed camera angle making it difficult to determine jumps. Furthermore, unforgivable game mechanics (especially for a kids' title) literally can get the mouse stuck in places and force the player to restart a level — it happened to me three times.
Also, the Wii functionality is miserable. Relegated to wildly swinging the remote to fight enemies, including large hornets, spiders and a nasty cat, the player won't have a wrist left to raise his hand in surrender.
The only moments worth savoring have nothing to do with the action. The cut scenes that introduce each chapter of the game are an artistic pleasure, blending an image that transforms from a simple line-art drawing to a three-dimensional scene one might find in a pop-up book.
Here's a no-brainer tip for parents. If your youngster loved the movie and he needs to try the game, go with the cheapest rental possible to satisfy his curiosity. However, get ready to help when the tears of frustration begin to roll.
Backyard Football '09 (for DS, Atari, $29.99) — The youngest of sports fans currently entrenched in enjoying this year's NFL playoffs have an easy way to take part in some of the action.
The Backyard franchise's latest handheld game fumbles on design but does manage to sneak in a couple of field goals of fun, especially for a pair of players.
The good news is the game offers five-versus-five contests within 11 arenas mixing kiddie versions of NFL superstars (Peyton Manning and Brian Urlacher to name two) with some of the regular Backyard gang. Rules are slightly skewed (first down in 20 yards, for example), a limited selection of realistic plays is available and the addition of goofy powerups such as super-high-speed moves or catapulting tackles will elicit some giggles. Also, the serious solo gamers get to play a 15-game season and view stats compiled on their personally chosen squad.
The bad news is actually playing the game. In single-player mode, the computer-controlled opponent attacks relentlessly and obviously has snuck a couple of bucks to the refs. A laughable amount of fumbling from my boys, an opponent almost always going for the two-point conversion and obviously missed kicks counting for the other guys raised aggravation levels.
Even worse, the already-miniaturized action shrinks on the lower screen of the DS, making the on-field stars the size of dirt specks. The developers need to seriously explore DS Madden for clues on design.
The game has the most promise for a pair of 7- or 8-year-old players (who each need a cartridge) playing via Nintendo's wireless connection.