- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 7, 2009

Here’s an abbreviated look at a multimedia title for the entire family.

Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon (from Nintendo for the DS, $29.99) — Remaking movies is a widely accepted way of introducing new generations to classics, so why not apply that concept to the burgeoning catalog of video game titles?

A turn-based legend for the original NES released decades ago in Japan has been downsized to Nintendo’s handheld system for American audiences.

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Now loaded with stylus and touch-screen interactivity, online multiplayer modes, and upgraded visuals, it retains the same strategy and charm of the original.

This typical fantasy tale finds Prince Marth and his ragtag band of heroes in a war to avenge the death of his father and free the lands of Archanea from the tyranny of the Shadow Dragon.

Amid gridded battlefields, the player takes control and positions characters to challenge enemies and must also find time to forge weapons, finagle unit classes (from paladins to sorcerers to dragons) and convince foes to join the cause.

Once the chosen units are in position and armed, the top screen plays out the battle in decent anime form with colorful strikes and angst-ridden sound effects. The bottom screen mainly lays out the maps and handles the navigation minutia down to statistical comparison of combatants and the ability to quickly swap or equip weapons.

The unforgiving action will frustrate younger players as once a unit/hero falls in battle, it cannot be resurrected for the rest of the game without restarting the level.

The tutorials, shown as story prologues, will please the serious young commander as he learns the finer points of winning in the campaigns that offer six levels of difficulty and hours of action.

A nice touch during wireless multicard play (local and online) is the ability to loan armies to another player, use the DS microphone to chat and shop through an online armory.

Coraline (from D3Publisher of America, $29.99) — Neil Gaiman’s dark children’s fantasy novel made for great cinematic material in Henry Selick’s recent wonderful stop-motion animated film. Unfortunately, such is not the case for its mediocre video game adaptation.

Considering the innovative source material, it’s hard to imagine why developers stick younger players in such a rut as they take control of curious Coraline. She spends plenty of time collecting buttons, constantly burdened with scavenger hunts as she moves from the boredom of her normal life into the tedium of the fantastical Other World filled with button-eyed doppelgangers and rats.

A couple dozen minigames ranging from picking off ripe apples with a slingshot to a round of Go Fish and tic-tac-toe help the effort, and the button collecting.

Surprisingly, the game offers little motion control for the Wiimote with the Nunchuk able to handle most of the workload.

The biggest problem is who should play the game? The activities skew for about a 7-year-old girl, but some scary elements in the Other World won’t sit well with children. The E10+ rating means it should gear toward tweens, but they will have little patience with Coraline’s plodding movements and activities.

The game features voice-over work from some of the film’s stars, including Dakota Fanning, but short of a scene from the actual movie, the design has few visually dynamic moments. I felt trapped in 1995 as the clunky game mechanics and visuals unfolded.

Only the bravest of fans will venture into the darkness of rental land to seek out Coraline the video game. I suggest taking the money and seeing the movie again instead.

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