- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 30, 2005

Trio of treats

• Miss Spider’s Sunny Patch Friends: All Pupa’ed Out and Miss Spider’s Sunny Patch Friends: A Cloudy Day in Sunny Patch, from Lions Gate Home Entertainment for DVD-enabled computers and home entertainment systems, $16.98 each. Gorgeous computer animation and wonderful life-lesson stories distinguish this Nick Jr. cartoon series based on author David Kirk’s beautifully illustrated children’s books about an arachnid family living and learning among their bug brethren.

A pair of digital video compilations give preschoolers the chance to watch the exploits of characters such as Bounce the blue bedbug and the spider twins Pansy and Snowdrop on demand as each single-disc package offers eight episodes and a couple of desktop challenges.

Episodes such as All Pupa’ed Out,” which finds Shimmer and Squirt baby-sitting a Monarch butterfly caterpillar, and “Something’s Stinky in Sunny Patch,” in which Stinky the detective tries to catch a mysterious bark eater that has munched on Mr. Mantis’ house, will captivate younger viewers.

My official tester’s favorite game on the discs, Super Bug Mom, had him delivering Miss Spider’s children to their favorite activities and watching animated clips as a reward for successfully completing the task.

• Fantastic Four, from Activation for Game Boy Advance, $29.99. Marvel Comics’ legendary superhero family stars in one of the year’s hottest films and also has found a home on Nintendo’s hand-held gaming system in a challenge that will thrill 10-year olds.

A single player eventually is able to control Mr. Fantastic, the Invisible Woman, the Human Torch and the Thing through a story based on the movie but extended to include missions to stop comic-book archenemies such as Diablo, the Mole Man and Blastaar.

The action through 3-D environments is mainly of the button-mashing, platform variety while each hero uses familiar powers — the Human Torch, for example, shoots fireballs to pummel hordes of nasty robots, thugs and dinosaurs.

Characters often must work together — the elastic Mr. Fantastic can act as a bridge for the Invisible Woman to cross, or a trio of heroes can protect the Thing from missiles as he lifts a fire engine away from danger — to give junior a lesson in teamwork.

The quick-paced game even manages to include images of the film’s actors along with streams of humorous text-based dialogue.

• Herbie: Fully Loaded, from Disney Interactive for Game Boy Advance, $29.99. Despite the slick-looking 3-D environments and potential charm of Lindsay Lohan driving the world’s most famous Volkswagen, this mediocre driving challenge, loosely based on the new movie, will only frustrate younger gamers.

A single player plows through eight tracks, driving against NASCAR-type vehicles while controlling a moody metallic movie star that can spit tires, jump and turbo-speed past the competition.

Disney developers need to remind themselves that replayability as well as multiplayer options (especially in race simulation) and giving players a chance to win instead of just spotlighting licensed characters are the ingredients for successful games.

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