Wednesday, November 1, 2006

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

Snoopy vs. the Red Baron, from Bandai Namco Games, for PlayStation 2, rated E10+ for players 10 and older, $29.99. The epic struggle between Charlie Brown’s beagle and a German World War I flying ace has become a wonderful aerial combat challenge loaded with nostalgia and action. Assuming control of the imaginative pooch, a single player flies him through more than 20 missions as he roams the skies to protect allies; destroy enemy aircraft, vessels and vehicles; and discover the secret lair of the legendary Red Baron with help from the Peanuts gang.

The fun begins in Snoopy’s neighborhood, atop his doghouse, as he gets some quick flight instruction from resident brain Marcie. At the lesson’s conclusion, the new pilot is rewarded with the famed Sopwith Camel and is ready to start his adventures. The player tackles missions that could involve protecting a convoy of trucks from German attacks, chasing Rerun through an obstacle course or destroying a massive battleship with help from Woodstock as the gunner.

Easy-to-master controls enable the pilot to perform barrel rolls, sudden stops and 180-degree flips with the click of a button, and forgiving missions allow for a learning curve to match all levels of players.

Snoopy’s favorite drink, root beer, restores his health, and he can collect Paws coins, letters and balloons along his journeys to use at Pigpen’s Shop to unlock other fliers and a crazy selection of weapons. Easily the most impressive armament is the Woodstock bomb that, once released from the plane, is guided to the target by the player who controls the little bird.

I was a bit surprised by the violent tone of the action as players blow things up and can blast enemies out of the sky to brilliant pyrotechnic displays. However, every defeated combatant parachutes away from his craft to fight another day.

The game comes to life through a combination of two-dimensional cartoon-strip images that are used for menu, load and instruction screens and three-dimensional computer-designed cut scenes. The action is a blend of both.

This is a great cross-generational title that maintains the spirit and humor of the cartoon legacy while delivering true dogfights for lovers of arcade-style games.

Monster House, from Sony Home Entertainment for DVD-enabled computers and home entertainment centers, rated PG, $28.95. An animated film gave moviegoers an early Halloween treat this summer, and it arrives on DVD to help continue the spooky season.

A trio of young heroes, D.J., Chowder and Jenny, attempt to defeat a demonic dwelling owned by crabby neighbor Horace Nebbercracker in this 91-minute effort, which uses the latest computer-animation performance techniques (first seen in “Polar Express”) to bring the adventure to life.

Extras explore the magic behind the film through a 25-minute documentary, an optional commentary track with director Gil Kenan and other production staff, as well as a multiangle option that takes the opening scene from story reel animatic to final film shot.

Those brave enough to pop the disc into a PC are rewarded with an interface that allows them to click on the house’s door and enter an online activity area. Content includes a virtual game of Horse, the classic side-scrolling challenge Thou Art Dead, scary stories read by the film cast and the ability to insert a photo of one’s head into a still from the movie to create a poster that can be printed or e-mailed.

Write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002; or send e-mail (jszadkowski@washington

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