- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 11, 2009

Here’s an abbreviated look at video games for the entire family.

Monsters vs. Aliens (from Activision for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, $39.99) — It’s the time of the year when blockbuster films bud and licensed video games attempt to ride their coattails.

One of the first transforms DreamWorks Animation’s hit into a platforming action adventure geared toward the 8-year-old in the family.

Based loosely on the movie, the player explores locales such as the monster containment facility and an intergalactic mother ship while using the heroes of the film to battle Gen. W.R. Monger’s soldiers, Gallaxhar and his robotic minions within more than a dozen levels of action.

The controllable cast is quite the eclectic bunch. Clearly the most innovative is the gelatinous blue blob named B.O.B. — Bicarbonate Ostylezene Benzoate. He can stick to and seep through and around obstacles and even swallow and spit out enemies.

The others include 50-foot-tall Ginormica who uses cars as skates for high-speed racing levels while the green and scaly Missing Link (half man/half fish) takes care of the brawling with some slow-motion “Matrix”-style attacks.

Extending the action requires collecting molecules to use in a laboratory to unlock DNA strands and extras, including art from the film, minigames and a chance to replay levels with a commentary track from a character.

Players also get a different kind of cooperative mode where a pal can jump in any time to control Dr. Cockroach. The bug-headed hybrid never appears on screen and the second player becomes more of an ethereal protector as he moves a triangular target around environments to blast enemies or move items with his laser/tractor beam. It’s the perfect role for a parent to help his youngster progress in the game.

The overall adventure offers action that’s slightly above normal, but a bit too repetitive, with mediocre graphics balanced out by the humorous dialogue from the movie’s voice stars, Seth Rogen, Reese Witherspoon and Will Arnett.

The game is still worth renting for those who haven’t seen the movie. Heck, what young kid doesn’t love the irresistible combination of monsters and aliens?

On another note, game developers need to work even closer with Hollywood. It seems to me a scenario where junior watches the film in 3-D and can come home with his glasses and enjoy Monsters vs. Aliens the game in the virtual third dimension should be a no-brainer as the technology continues to mature.

Rhythm Heaven (from Nintendo for DS, $29.99) — The wise guys responsible for consuming hours of my kid’s time in the Wario Ware universe offer a new type of toe-tapping lunacy. Now I’m consumed, too.

The beat is king in dozens of minigames that will wear down a player’s touch screen, and his patience, if he is not musically inclined.

Hold the DS on its side and perform tapping or flicking actions with the stylus to bring hand-drawn characters or scenarios on the left-side screen to life.

For example, a song’s rhythm sets the stage for a player filling up mechanical robots with fuel. A tap drops the nozzle down, a tap and hold fills them up, then release to let them move along a conveyor belt.

Players who can tap, tap and hold, and master that flick (a movement of the wrist that quickly drags the stylus across the screen) will succeed and even win medals. Watch out for counter-rhythmic moments that initially will stymie even a jazz musician.

One of my favorite games early on found me helping an Easter Island statue to sing along with his brother. If my timing was off, birds were ready to drop a pile of their disapproval on my head.

Unfortunately, in too many of the games, it’s easier just to close one’s eyes and “feel the Force” to get through. I highly suggest using earphones to get the maximum edge in meeting the beat.

Replayability soars as collecting medals leads to trading for unlockables and more games, including guitar lessons and also hanging out in a coffee shop, listening to music and talking to a barista.

Despite the catchy songs and cute animations, the fun, addictive challenge is also very unforgiving and will frustrate some younger players.

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