- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 11, 2009

Here’s an abbreviated look at some multimedia titles for the family.

Pangya: Fantasy Golf (from Tomy Corp., for the PlayStation Portable, $29.99) — Anyone who wants to know what it’s like to challenge a genius magician in love on the back nine gets his chance in this role-playing golf game.

In action where customizing a Japanese anime-style avatar is as important as sinking a birdie putt, the game features 1,300 ways to tweak 18 playable characters as they compete on nine 18-hole courses.

A silly story helps hook the nongolfer in the majority of the action where the player follows an avatar’s life through rounds of the sport.

Specifically, the magical Pangya Island was dying due to sorcery from the Dark Lord. A hero from Earth used a magical ball and staff to plug a hole leaking magical energy. This tradition is now celebrated in island tournaments.

Besides playing rounds in some pretty environments, players get a tutorial from a fairy who controls space and time, use a living shopping bag named Papel to store and access powerups, and compete against the likes of a pirate, a well-dressed tennis celebrity and corporate buffoon.

Much like many a golf game, hitting a ball requires the player set the power and accuracy of a shot by clicking at the right time within a moving meter.

As his wins and successes mount, he gets Pang, the currency used to buy items, including new equipment, clothes and powers.

Those bored with the story mode can win licenses to unlock tournaments and up to eight players in the same room can compete wirelessly.

If Hogwarts had a golf curriculum, it would be on Pangya Island.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: The Video Game (from Electronic Arts for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Wii, $49.99). I have controlled the boy wizard through various entertainment consoles over the last seven years, and his latest adventure ranks only slightly above magical mediocrity.

With a bare-bones tie-in to the latest film’s major plot points — Voldemort causes more trouble and Draco Malfoy is a bigger nuisance — a player again manhandles Harry Potter to explore and interact with students and staff during his sixth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Getting around is much easier thanks to Nearly Headless Nick, a great-looking floating apparition, who, with the click of a help button, can lead the hero through very complex environments, including winding staircases, the herbology classroom and Professor Dumbledore’s office.

When not talking to Ron and Hermione, triggering events such as becoming a member of the Dueling Club to push the plot, collecting crests (150 big ones and 626 minis), spell casting or pining for Ginny Weasley, three major tasks absorb Harry’s time.

First, creating potions offers a clever diversion. A player must follow a series of illustrated directions for each concoction as he selects ingredients and pours them into a caldron. Along with great-looking nuances that extend the realism, such as turning up the heat on the caldron and shaking bottles, the mixture smokes with every mistake.

Next, quidditch matches require maneuvering Harry on a broom to chase down that pesky golden snitch. Bumping opponents out of the way and flying through an obstacle course of lighted stars to gain speed eventually will give team Gryffindor the win.

Best of all, dueling is back and more refined. A player easily can cast six spells with the controller’s analog sticks and move the character around to duck attacks. It takes many a duel before the action gets old, though I could have used some Sixaxis motion controls here for the PS3 version.

Additionally, a pair of players can pick characters and duel in a welcome versus mode. It’s a weak attempt at multiplayer action, but better than nothing.

The overall experience boils down to more minigame mania rather than sandbox-style epic. It feels more like a taste of the Potter world, suited for the fan who just saw the movie, but it’s never deep enough for the hard-core gamer or wizard fanatic in the family.

The big hiccups in the game are the uneven character models, which go from fairly lifelike (Ginny Weasley and Luna Lovegood) to zombie robotics (Professor Dumbledore and Draco Malfoy). EA boasts a major upgrade to motion and facial capture technology, but it’s nothing to be proud of.

Wii owners get much-less-impressive graphics but can use their Wiimote effectively as a wand in duels and casting spells and will find it much easier to grab crests hidden in difficult places.

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