- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 3, 2008

Here’s a look at some of the latest video games available:

WordJong (Destineer, for DS, rated E for everyone, $19.99). An online gaming sensation has made its way to Nintendo’s hand-held wonder in a brain-exercising puzzler that mixes mah-jongg with Scrabble.

The premise is irresistible, especially for the wordsmith in the family. Stacked tiles containing one letter each are combined to form a word and collect points. When a word is created, the used tiles disappear, revealing new game pieces.

As with Scrabble, letters have various point values and multipliers, but the game is even more engaging than Scrabble. Forming longer words can be a bonus (such as earning a wild-card tile or a bomb to blow a difficult letter off the board) and cashing in coins to add to point totals.

A computer judge taps into a dictionary containing more than 100,000 words to check entries, and spellers are not penalized for word-guessing.

Variations of WordJong include a daily puzzle for the solo player, with access to more than 700 dated boards, and a Temple Challenge that incorporates rankings and medals.

The best part of WordJong is its multiplayer functionality with customizable matches. The player can challenge computer-controlled characters culled from the Chinese Zodiac, compete locally with a pal who can be given a game (or use his own card), or use Nintendo’s Wi-Fi connection to take on opponents around the world.

Pain (Sony Computer Entertainment for PlayStation 3, rated T for teen, $9.99).Now for something completely different: a human projectile that abuses a French mime and knocks down chimpanzees.

The developer who came up with this sophomorically irreverent game is either a genius or a madman, as he has beautifully tapped into the male demographic’s primordial need to destroy.

This insane exercise in physics is almost too much to believe. A player uses an oversized slingshot to launch a living test dummy into a destructible urban cityscape. The bigger the mess caused and pain inflicted, the greater the number of points awarded.

It is not presented as a bloody, graphic experience, but rather a Tex Avery-Three Stooges-Evel Knievel-style ballet of devastation, almost as jaw-dropping for the casual observer as the player.

For example, a quick fling might cause Jarvis (the first rag doll available who sounds a bit like Tom Hanks) to smack into a hotel sign, knock down letters, fall into a fuel tank, explode past a complaining sunbathing beauty, fall through an apartment’s glass skylight and bounce onto a track to get hit by a train.

Get the picture?

Now, throw in the ability to grab objects, pose while in midair and “Ooch” across the ground (a way to push Jarvis just a bit farther with the Sixaxis controller) to bang into more stuff and collect maximum points for mayhem and pain style.

Game variations include a solo challenge to grab a French mime and throw him into plates of glass and multiplayer fun such as using Jarvis as the ball to play Horse and bowling.

The beauty of the controlled chaos is that it has an infinite number of possibilities, thanks to its affordable, downloadable construction. Sadists can buy Santa or one of his naughty female assistants for 99 cents and relieve years of Christmas frustration. It’s just matter of time before more new characters or environments are available to make the game feel completely new.

Pain also happens to be one of the better games for the PlayStation 3. It’s a pretty sad statement when Sony keeps touting the brilliance of its power-packed entertainment console, but I’m getting my kicks with a $10 demolition derby starring an indestructible man.

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

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