- The Washington Times - Monday, December 28, 2009

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

The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks (from Nintendo, reviewed for the DS, rated E10+ for players 10 and older, $34.99) - Building upon the elfin Link’s last adventure on the hand-held, this game takes children on another inventive journey, testing puzzle solving, role-playing and virtual combat skills.

A story finding a disembodied spirit of the Princess Zelda teaming up with our pint-size hero involves the pair stopping the evil Chancellor Cole from resurrecting the Demon King, restoring the Spirit Tracks and reuniting the Princess with her body.

Although role-play has its moments throughout, defined by flexible resource management, item collection and character discussions, players will be giddy with the beefier game mechanics as they control Link and, to a degree, the Princess.

One of the more complex actions allows Zelda’s spirit to possess suits of armor found within the many dungeons of the Tower of Spirits. Drawing a path on an environment now leads the powerhouse around to help Link by, for example, lighting his path and carrying him.

Link also happens to have just received his engineer’s certification and can drive trains around the kingdom. That layer of action requires controlling an engine’s speed, drawing on more maps to plot out courses, switching rails, and occasionally blowing the whistle to clear animals off the tracks or blasting a cannon to attack enemies.

Blowhards will appreciate the DS microphone. Use lung power to play notes on a spirit Flute and unlock secrets or unleash a whirlwind to knock down items or enemies.

And let’s talk combat. As the player leads Link around by touching the stylus to the DS screen, he gets into plenty of battle against creatures and minions. Our hero eventually wields a sword, boomerang (draw a path and let it fly), whip and bow.

A multiplayer wireless mode (single and multicard play) further extends the game and gives up to four Links a timed gem-collecting hunt filled with hazards.

The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks is a fun, time-consuming affair that will keep youngsters, especially ones new to the franchise, busy and delighted by their successes as they travel deeper into the rich, colorful world.

MX vs. ATV Reflex (from THQ, reviewed for Xbox 360, rated E for everyone, $59.99) - Racing enthusiasts get down and dirty in this latest extreme motocross challenge boasting control and customization of off-road motorcycles, ATVs, UTVs, sport buggies and trucks.

Using stars of the sport including Ricky Carmichael and Josh Grant, players traverse a selection of tracks mixing natural terrain and constantly degrading manmade obstacle courses while using a wide selection of licensed gear and vehicles to help take the checkered flag.

For those itching to compete, jump into the Motocareer mode and start building a champion rider. Tweak vehicle attributes such as suspension, braking and wheels, upgrade models in the garage using credits won on the six pro circuits and even watch replays for help with future competitions.

Races offer use of every type of vehicle and, although driving the off-road battered trucks were fun, I’m betting most will jump aboard the cycles for more “in your face” visceral experiences.

Reflex’s mix of free-roaming challenges with traditional races and trick competitions that take place from Hillsgrove, N.Y., to Lynchburg, Va., will keep the serious players busy while newbies will appreciate taking bone-jarring rides in expansive country sites.

New from last year’s Untamed, players can stabilize a rider’s body with the right analog stick to balance weight and positioning on a vehicle for avoiding crashes and flowing to the rhythm of jumps or sharp turns.

Additionally, up to 12 players can race online and take part in minigames such as Tag (hold the ball the longest without getting touched) or Snake (avoid touching opponents’ colorful trails to win).

Younger gamers fresh to the MX vs. ATV brand will be mesmerized by the graphics, especially during the stunts. Getting riders to perform a handstand in motion, click their heels above the handlebars or back flip with a twist is easy and visually spectacular.

Parents might choke on the price, but will shake their heads in disbelief, wondering whether humans actually do this stuff for real, and even get paid for it.

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