- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 4, 2009

Here’s an abbreviated look at some multimedia titles for the entire family.

• Neopets Puzzle Adventure (for DS, Capcom, $29.99) - A popular virtual pets universe offers a casual gaming challenge for youngsters who have Nintendo’s hand-held system.

Transported to the world of Neopia, a player picks from 12 too-cute avatars and explores locations to help his brethren with a variety of tasks. After moving around a map and settling in a spot, the action involves talking to characters, getting a mission and taking part in rounds of a strategy board game to gain experience points while meeting the objective.

The classic Reversi/Othello homage requires sandwiching opponents’ same-colored coins with your own pieces on a grid horizontally, vertically or diagonally so they flip to your coin color. The character who controls the majority of the coins after all have been placed on the board wins the match.

Twists add using a selection of 25 Petpets found along a journey that deliver various powerups during turns and Shockwaves that flip multiple pieces.

The slightest hint of a role-playing element, mainly character interactions and collecting experience, elevates the adventure from simply a pure puzzler.

A small selection of minigames will further entice the player, along with the discovery of unlockable codes tied to the Neopets Web site (www.neopets.com/puzzleadventure).

Crisp, colorful and cartoony illustrations of species such as the Kacheek, Grarrl and Ruki will keep the Neopets fan mesmerized, but let’s call this one Puzzle Quest’s junior brother. It’s not as well-developed, but is still fun for the targeted tweens.

• Crash: Mind over Mutant (for Xbox 360, Activision, $49.99) - A video game legend debuts on Microsoft’s console to give players who love platform challenges a sarcastic adventure loaded with monstrous helpers and a visual lesson in cartooning.

The frenetic orange furball is still spinning and smashing crates. He finds himself back on Wumpa Island to help free its citizens of a mind-controlling device concocted by the evil Dr. Cortex and Dr. Nitrius Brio.

Anyone who has played this genre of game will have little trouble climbing, jumping, skating, digging and crashing through missions. Its primarily linear style follows the familiar format of defeating foes and exploring along with collecting - in this case, loads of Mojo crystals to level up heroes.

Fans of the 12-year-old franchise will fondly appreciate interactions with the bandicoot’s wooden mask spiritual guardian Aku Aku, Crash’s younger sister Coco (available to control in the cooperative mode), Dr. Cortex’ niece Nina and the chronic bit character, Tiny the tiger.

I had to laugh at a secondary minion who mumbled because he didn’t think I wasn’t important enough for him to form words (don’t think I won’t use that strategy at my next social gathering).

Mind over Mutant features free-roaming worlds and the ability for the hero to dig underground and, best of all, take control of some monstrous mutants. Crash rides these long-of-tooth beasts that can harness ice and fire with some slick powers.

Besides the often humorous, sarcasm-rich dialogue, my favorite part of the experience is the cut scenes that celebrate a diverse style of animation. Tweens probably won’t get all the visual references, but different segments pay homage to such classics as “South Park,” “Dragon Ball” and even the great 1960s ‘toons touting the Marvel Comics’ universe.

Crash has some issues, such as a player being unable to control the camera, but he’s worth at least a rental for youngsters to appreciate his warped universe and so parents can join the action.

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