- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 10, 2009

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

ExciteBots: Trick Racing (from Nintendo, for the Wii, $49.99, includes Wii Wheel) — This high-speed, frantic franchise returns to test drivers’ skills as they control vehicles one might find in an episode of “Beast Wars: Transformers.”

Racing is a bit of a misnomer here. Yes, the player controls the likes of high-performance, mechanical bats, turtles, beetles and centipedes and zooms around courses trying to take the checkered flag. However, ExciteBots is to racing as miniature golf is to golf.

Pulling off stunts while handling minigame fodder such as driving through bowling pins, launching a dart at a target or tossing a pie at a giant clown head is more important than the actual place of finish. That’s because it’s all about showing off to collect stars, moving on to other locales and unlocking items. Although collecting 10,000 stars to “buy” a black paint design seems excessive, there is plenty of other stuff to buy.

While competing over the snowy lands of Finland to the sun-drenched beaches of Mexico and through the sands of Egypt, the player also pulls off stunts by spinning in the air, walking though forests and swinging around poles.

The Wii Wheel is liberally pushed, twisted and turned to accomplish the feats, guaranteeing sore arms and wrists.

Although the solo competition can get a bit boring as the player conquers five circuits, dozens of tracks and 10 minigame courses, the game really shines through its online multiplayer option. Up to six drivers can compete in an easy-to-connect and lag-free environment. Betting stars on the races adds to the fun and, for the most part, just competing will guarantee that more stars are won, even when finishing last.

Topping off the action and extending the absurdity of ExciteBots is the high-speed Poker Race. Try to run over cards to form a poker hand and win stars. Just watch out for speedier drivers trying to grab cards to complete their own hands at the same time.

Of course, using the included Wii Wheel makes for a better feel of the action, but using the Wiimote alone works as well. So feel free to buy just the game (for 10 buck less) and still get excited over ExciteBots.

Patapon 2 (from Sony Computer Entertainment for PlayStation Portable, $19.99) — Those willing to toil through broadband realms will find a strategic epic available to download into their PSP. Capture this sequel on a memory stick housed in the hand-held to open the familiar rhythm-based world where one-eyed warriors are controlled through drumbeats.

To succeed, the player must select and arm his troops carefully then command them by using eight types of button combinations, matching Earth’s rhythms of course, to march and battle his minions through 80 missions.

The game features boss battles with the likes of fire-breathing beasties, new troops such as bird bombers and mech bots, customization and evolution of Patapons using items found on the battlefields, and use of hero masks to enhance powers within the colorful, side-scrolling landscapes. Additionally, the tribal music mixes well with the two-dimensional “Samurai Jack”-style animation, which is helped by the constant toe-tapping to deliver the drum fills.

Basically, it’s like the first game on steroids. Although I could have used a pause button during the lengthier levels, that’s a minor annoyance when compared with the richness of overall design.

To round out the game’s value, up to four players can wirelessly share part of the action as they work together as heroes to protect and hatch creature eggs. Sounds a bit weird, but it’s a riot when a quartet of musically challenged individuals combine talents.

Patapon 2 keeps the PSP relevant, at least for the next month, and delivers a charming, family-friendly adventure. Just keep the headphones handy, be ready to concentrate and carefully time bladder breaks.

Take note: This is the most complex of the games Sony has made available in the online PlayStation Store and will take players about 45 minutes to get the 362 megabytes downloaded and installed.

It’s worth the work, but I would be willing to pay the extra cash to just pop in a universal media disc and enjoy the game immediately. I know the future is downloads, but patience is not one of my stronger suits.

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