- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Here’s a look at some hardware and software that’s available:

• Tak 2: The Staff of Dreams from THQ Inc. for Xbox, PlayStation 2 and Game Cube. (Rated E: Content suitable for ages 6 and older, $39.99)

The pint-sized hero of the Pupanunu people returns in a third-person, three-dimensional adventure that will please the eyes of gamers as much as stimulate their noggins.

Developer Avalanche Software delivers a wonderfully rich tale that mixes humor, action and quirky characters as the loin-cloth-garbed Tak tries to recover the Nightmare Scepter and defeat the evil shaman Tlaloc.

The solo player controls Tak and journeys down a waterfall in a barrel, climbs upon spinning wooden gears and swings over lush green environments. As the player does these, he will not only appreciate the minute detail applied to his surroundings but add skills to his character while mastering mighty Juju magic.

With the power of Juju in hand, the hero can easily wield a mighty staff, fling energy balls, toss charged bolas and, by collecting various crystals and fruit, complete recipes to unlock more mystical mayhem.

Of course, to ultimately complete the epic requires that he pester a variety of animals.

Be it bouncing on the bellies of bears to reach giant mushroom platforms, getting purposely sprayed by a skunk to ride a boar or delivering a swarm of aggravated bees to distract alligators, the game never disappoints as the variety of interactive encounters continues to propel the story.

The developers could have easily gotten away with just offering a gorgeous-looking game with mediocre seek-and-find missions. However, multiple points of immersion never allow that to happen. The player discovers nuances as bizarre as innovative during his quests.

First, the player has the ability to precisely throw Jibolba, the shaman of the Pupanunu people — who has turned himself into a flea. What an odd and really amusing concept.

Yet his help in biting a squirrel and have it pummel an evil shaman with nuts, or putting a boar to sleep, is paramount and requires the player use a first-person perspective and targeting system to launch the bug at the critters.

Second, the developers present a story that relies on conquering two distinct types of worlds to succeed.

I love the lush forest and murky swamps filled with hordes of Woodies, but a dreamscape also plays an important role in the game. It looks like one of Tim Burton’s nightmares complete with multitentacled creatures that must be destroyed.

Third, the detail never stops dazzling: walking on a platform being sprinkled with water and watching droplets emerge from footsteps; entering a planetarium and looking up to a breathtaking sky; driving a wooden catapult through rocky terrain as fireballs are showering down upon me.

I was mesmerized to the point of distraction with trying to accomplish the tasks at hand.

Finally, extra goodies such as figuring out how to retrieve Tiki icons, acquiring the power of transforming into an animal, bartering with a purple, obese, twin-mouthed entity who loves candy, and unlocking two-player modes (via mixing Juju recipes) make the title just so much more spectacular.

I will not label Tak 2 an innovative breakthrough in gaming, but it packs a powerful amount of entertainment for any averagely skilled member of the family.

• “Shrek 2” from DreamWorks Home Entertainment for DVD-enabled computers and home-entertainment centers. (Rated PG, $29.99)

Everyone already knows William Steig’s green ogre collected another obscene amount of money at the box office this year, and the DVD release of the hit animated film will only continue to line the pockets of DreamWorks honchos.

So, let’s dispense with the plot specifics and gratuitous gushing over the humor and animation techniques and just get to what makes this DVD not quite as special as the one devoted to the original “Shrek” film.

I will throw kudos to the trivia test, the interactive map of Far Far Away and animators assembling a wicked parody of “American Idol.” Eleven characters from the film compete for the title in a delightful animated segment featuring Simon.

Pinocchio’s version of Styx’s “Mr. Roboto” was especially satisfying.

Family members who pop the disc into a PC will be rewarded with a Web browser-based presentation with links to the DreamWorks Kids (www.dwkids.com) and Shrek 2 (www.shrek2.com) Web sites, both loaded with online games but hardly original for the DVD connoisseur.

The only interesting PC content comes in the form of links to 19 PDF documents containing multiple pages of printable activities based on the film and Far Far Away Idol segment that requires a color printer to do them justice.

I cannot fault DreamWorks for just using its Web sites to embellish its DVD, but I sure do miss the days of an audio recording studio and Shrek Pinball that really made the 2001 release so innovative.

Write to Joseph Szadkowski at The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send an e-mail message (jszadkowski@ washingtontimes.com).

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