- The Washington Times - Friday, November 25, 2011

With gift-planning strategies in full swing, here are a few items from the vast selection of peripherals, controllers and devices that extend the hands-on possibilities of mobile devices and entertainment consoles while making the gaming addict in the family smile this holiday season.

iPad

Cars 2 AppMATes (Spin Master, $19.99 for two vehicles, solo vehicles $7.99) — The iPad becomes a virtual play mat with help from some slick software and famous vehicles out of Pixar’s animated universe. After purchasing some of the micro-sized Matchbox cars — including Lightning McQueen, Holly Shiftwell and Francesco Bernoulli — simply download the Cars 2 app and its virtual characters and activities will interact with the actual versions of the toys as they rest and move around the screen. This is a high-tech magic trick a pre-tween will never get tired of.

Game worthy of the gadget: The free, augmented reality game involves zooming around Radiator Springs, collecting hubcaps to upgrade vehicles, kart-style races with tracks filled with powerups, and purchasing extras, including spy-vision goggles, a trail of purple smoke and undercarriage missiles (that are positioned under the real car as it moves around). The best eye-popping moment is placing the car on the screen in a nighttime adventure and watching its lights turn on and illuminated the on-screen environment.

Joystick (Logitech, $19.99) — Sure, Apple’s magical tablet offers easy touch-screen functionality that works well with many a virtual analog-stick-based challenge, but how about some help for those of us still stuck in old-school video game land. This translucent controller uses a pair of really effective suction cups to stick to the iPad screen and makes guiding, moving and directing on-screen action a breeze. The Joystick package includes a drawstring pouch for easy storage.

Games worthy of the gadget: Jump into a 10-chapter adventure as John Slade, a mercenary out to stop the evil Dr. Edgar Simon in the impressive third-person shooter Shadowgun (Madfinger Games, for players 12 and older, $7.99). The action features graphics as impressive as some Xbox 360 releases and plenty of firefights to impress the older gamer in the family.

Also, one of the slickest, portable role-playing space shooters around returns to the iPad in the high-definition spectacle Galaxy on Fire 2 HD (Fishlabs, for players 12 and older, $9.99). Take a few minutes to position the joystick on the screen (it’s worth the effort) and help Keith T. Maxwell maneuver through more than 20 star systems and engage in battles using 30 customizable starships in a war-torn universe.

Soulo Microphone (Seven45 Studios, $69) — Grab the microphone and get ready for some portable karaoke action with a complete solution for a harmonious session of live or social-networked humiliation. Download the Solo app, register the singer and mic, and start crooning. The system includes a speaker to plug into the mic cord.

I also would add a sound boost with Logitech’s Tablet Speaker ($49.99) built for the iPad. Attach the cigar-shaped speaker to the top or side of the tablet using the clip and rubber pad and plug it in to the headphone jack (or in the case of Solo, the mic plug). The dual speaker setup comes with a soft case and USB cord to recharge the battery for roughly eight hours of use.

Game worthy of the gadget: Owners can download 10 songs from the Solo music store for free, including the Go-Gos’ “We Got the Beat,” Men Without Hats’ “Safety Dance” and Pat Benatar’s “Heartbreaker,” or they can use their iTunes library to sing along. Additional songs are 99 cents each and cover the spectrum from rock, pop and country to hip hop, alternative and classic rock. Features of the karaoke software include scrolling lyrics, real-time pitch enhancements, vocal effects (reverb, echo and tone) and, amazingly, the ability to instantly upload your incredible performances as video (with help from the iPad 2 camera) or vocal tracks on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

Xbox 360

Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventures (Activision, rated E10+ for players 10 and older, $89.99) — The famed purple dragon returns to video game realms with a bunch of new friends in an adventure that mixes statue collectibles with on-screen action. Plug the castle-tower-shaped Portal of Power into the Xbox 360, place 2[1/2]-inch-tall characters (or a location and magic statue in combination) on the base and they magically appear in the game for one or two players (cooperatively or in battles) to control. Customizing the hero and leveling up his abilities during the game is saved into the statue and it can be taken to other console and handheld gaming systems. By the way, the detailed, plastic statues (the package comes with Spyro, the pistol-packing gremlin Trigger Happy and fishy Gill Grunt) look pretty cool in a display case with their other pals. (I’m just saying …)

Game worthy of the gadget: Packaged in the Portal of Power set, Spyro’s latest third-person platforming saga mixes puzzle-solving, collecting items, shooting and miniquests. Up to 32 heroes, each with their own special powers, can be called upon to Defeat Kaos in the Skylands — as long as parents are willing to pony up the extra cash for Adventure Packs ($19.99, includes a Skylander figure, location icon and two magic items) or Character Packs ($19.99 for three Skylanders, or $7.99 for a solo statue). Despite the piggy-bank-busting potential, it’s a great, familiar game style for the tween looking for something special in his virtual, multimedia adventures.

uDraw Game Tablet (THQ, requires three AAA batteries, $79.99) — Shaped like a standard computer-drawing pad and the size of an e-book reader, the wireless tablet mixes game controller buttons, touch-screen functionality and motion sensors for tilting. Just use the tethered pen to interact with the device’s surface and watch it react in high definition on the television screen. Users can even employ the familiar iPad trick of pinching or expanding two fingers on its surface to zoom in or out on the images. Now, take a deep breath and imagine the gaming and artistic possibilities.

Game worthy of the gadget: The tablet comes with the uDraw Studio: Instant Artist software disc to give visual craftsmen the chance to produce masterpieces suitable for uploading to the World of uDraw website (www.worldofudraw.com). This robust program melds 15 art lessons, an Art Camp (including coloring books, tilt mazes, paint-by-number and connect-the-dots activities) and a generous supply of freestyle tools and options (from custom color palettes to brush sizes to fill buckets and effects) that will bring out anyone’s inner Rembrandt.

Kinect (Microsoft, $149.99) — This Xbox 360 peripheral (featuring 3-D depth sensors, RGB camera and motorized tilt base) turns Microsoft’s entertainment console into a motion- and voice-activated interactive multimedia center with no need for a traditional controller. The basic Kinect system includes the bar sensor, cables and Kinect Adventures disc (loaded with five exhausting minigames, such as rafting and popping balloons in space).

Game worthy of the gadget: First, the 7-year-old in the family will absolutely love Disneyland Adventures (Microsoft Game Studios, rated Everyone, $49.99). One or two players control customized avatars by their real movements and explore the legendary Anaheim theme park. Besides meeting, hugging, high-fiving, dancing with and getting autographs from characters one might find in Disneyland — including Mickey Mouse, Goofy and Donald Duck — each of the 18 famous attractions at the park turn into multilevel minigames to conquer. For example, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is now a joyride through a mine using a handcar (pump the handles to move and slap signs to change tracks) and Space Mountain is an on-rails maze and shooter set in deep space.

Next, an adaptation of a body-breaking classic comes to light in Twister Mania (Majesco Entertainment, rated E for everyone, $49.99). It’s not exactly like the original Hasbro game, but still uses the spinner as up to four two-player teams bend their bodies in 16 minigame variations. The challenges mainly require matching shapes displayed on the screen by carefully holding a position for the Kinect. Besides mimicking silhouettes and squeezing through wall cutouts, players use their bodies to create a shape and challenge opponents to duplicate their efforts. It’s quite the silly party game with no alcohol required.

PlayStation 3

PlayStation Move Sharp Shooter (Sony, $39.99) — Owners of the motion-sensing Move system (packaged with an Eye Camera, Motion Controller and Navigation Controller, sold separately) can turn their entertainment room into a shooting gallery with help from a peripheral shaped like a futuristic submachine gun. Place both controllers in their cradle (when the Motion Controller’s bulbous top glows, it really kicks in the sci-fi factor) and access features such as a digital trigger, adjustable shoulder stock, firing-mode selector (single shot, multishot and automatic bursts), pump-action grip and reload button to take out any terrorist, zombie or extraterrestrial threat.

Game worthy of the gadget: For my top pick, check out Resistance 3 (SCEA, rated M for mature, $59.99), a the first-person shooting epic that concludes a three-part trilogy tied to an alien species trying to conquer earth. The Sharp Shooter takes some getting used to in the complex game, but delivers a pretty immersive, hands-on experience.

For the very adult arcade lover, the pick has to be The House of the Dead Overkill: Extended Cut (Sega, rated M for mature, $39.95). In the finest traditions of “Planet Terror” and any 1970s Grindhouse movie scares, this gory rail shooter involves liberally shooting hordes of gross undead creatures and bosses tied to the legendary Bayou County outbreak. Warning: Serve no food during the playing of this game.

Batarang Controller (Power A, $49.99) — So it’s not shaped exactly like one of the Dark Knight’s famed weapons (it’s more like a fat, slightly finned batarang) but this weighty, gray-and-black wireless controller more than makes up for it with some cool style and comfort. Owners with big hands will appreciate the Xbox 360-shaped controller (meatier than the PS3 models) that features dual rumble motors, soft rubber grips, a Bat signal icon plopped right in the middle, and, get this, a choice of seven colors that illuminate the handles and front of the device. The controller comes with a cord for recharging and a gray USB RF receiver to plug into the PlayStation 3.

Game worthy of the gadget: Of course, any self-respecting junior crime fighter will immediately use this controller with what may be the best video game of the year — Batman: Arkham City (Warner Bros. Interactive, rated T for teen, $59.99). For bat fans living under a rock, this third-person spectacle finds the Caped Crusader fighting a collection of his most dangerous adversaries — including the Joker, Penguin, Two-Face and Clayface — within a superprison five times larger than Arkham Island. The gorgeously designed action even incorporates levels controlling Catwoman.

Wii

Bass Pro Shop’s The Strike: Tournament Edition (XS Games, $49.99) — Packaged with this definitive fishing simulation is a rod-shaped peripheral about the same weight and size of Ronco’s Pocket Fisherman. Load the Wiimote and Nunchuk into the rod, swat the imaginary flies, and cast, jiggle and reel your way to the fishermen’s Hall of Fame with help from the motion-sensing, feedback-producing controller setup.

Game worthy of the gadget: Use the rod to enjoy the package’s namesake, The Strike: Tournament Edition, which features a serious career mode (break out one of your boats, a GPS, fish finder and radio for help) and minigames to hone skills. Just remember: There’s no sunburn, no messy worms, no sharp hooks, no stinky water splashes — just relax in your living room and toss a virtual line in 10 realistic North American lakes and hook more than a dozen species of fish using more than 100 lures from the Bass Pro Shops lineup.

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