- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 7, 2009

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

Boom Blox Bash Party (from Electronic Arts for the Wii, $39.99) - Let’s call this the supersized edition of Steven Spielberg’s favorite video game. The famed director had a large hand in the initial concept for the game’s debut last year and this sequel not only easily surpasses its elder but also should quickly consume the time of the family that puzzles together.

Although the idea remains the same - destructive and often explosive Jenga-style concoctions are manipulated with the Wiimote - an avalanche of more than 400 interactive levels twinned with deeper multiplayer action and downloadable content makes it a case study for how to build a great Wii franchise.

Players enter a theme park and select from areas devoted to outer space, pirates, a circus and superhero antics. The object is pretty consistent - use tools to move and destroy collections of blocks to win a bronze, silver or gold medal. Life, however, is now more complicated with geometric shapes, gravity-defying cubes, a slingshot that catapults blocks, a sinister Virus Blox to infect and disintegrate other blocks and a cannon that can fire away at structures. Once again, a line-up of blocky characters assists and eggs on the player.

I loved dismantling towers by shooting paint blobs at shapes to match three touching, like-colored blocks and jumping into new underwater levels that require a player grab as many blocks as possible and yank them to the surface before hitting the ocean floor.

If a level proves too difficult, a player can buy his way into the next set of puzzle variations using Blox points accumulated by successfully completing other challenges.

Up to four players take part in cooperative, versus and team modes with matches that might involve coloring blocks and then capturing them or targeting a shooting gallery’s worth of shapes using a laser beam.

Anyone bored with the myriad puzzles can build their own in an overloaded level editor featuring the molding of 10 different Blox types and placement of props, characters and tools into worlds.

Most impressive, every time a player gets past the first challenge of an area, he can easily download any levels created by the burgeoning Boom Blox community.

With the highly addictive and family-friendly Bash Party, Mr. Spielberg can add another - lame pun alert - blockbuster to his resume.

Up (from THQ for Xbox 360, $39.99) - The movie-license curse of gaming mediocrity nearly rears its ugly head in the latest effort based on Pixar’s new animated film.

A pair of players cooperatively (soloists also may apply) is thrown into a level of complex and convoluted action to control the main characters, curmudgeonly old coot Carl and Wilderness Explorer Scout Russell, as they travel around and destroy parts of South America.

The adventure begins with a midair dogfight as the player controls a biplane piloted by the talking pooch Dug out to protect Carl’s abode from attack by villain Charles F. Muntz. It’s a tough battle for the younger and even older demographic that will immediately frustrate them.

Life gets much more mundane as the game turns into a routine platformer mired in collecting everything from coins floating under balloons to butterflies and beetles. The pair of characters often is tethered to the floating house, which becomes a bit distracting while in the midst of a crisis.

Each gets some difficult-to- execute power ups collected as icons, including feedback from Carl’s hearing aid as a way to scare dogs away or using Russell’s water bottle to replenish health.

Collecting a required amount of coins, bugs, artifacts and mementos earns merit badges that open an avalanche of extras, including everything from new locations to concept art and clips culled from the movie and game.

Reinforced ad nauseam is the lesson of teamwork in the cooperative mode as players direct Carl to help Russell to higher levels using his walker while Russell can pull up Carl with a rope. However, expect lots of arguing between players as strategies are decided.

I like the team action, but am not sure I want junior taught it’s a good idea to squash bugs and bust up flora and rock structures of the Amazonian Tepuis mountains.

The visuals do achieve a pleasing three-dimensional animated quality but never quite match Pixar’s computer-generated vision. However, the voice-over work of legendary actor Ed Asner (reprising his role as Carl) and appearances by the bird Kevin and dog Dug help propel the film-to-game translation. I bet the 79-year-old Mr. Asner never thought he’d be in a video game.

The best part of the interactive Up harkens back to the opening adventure. A trio of aerial combat minigames gives a quartet of foes (who can break up into teams) the chance to shoot each other down, pop balloons and protect and destroy a dirigible.

As always, fans of the film willing to digest the learning curve and often-repetitive dialogue snippets will temporarily appreciate the video game. Those not into “Up” will find better ways (Boom Blox Party Bash for example) to spend their parents’ gaming dollars.

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