- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 30, 2009

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

Punch-Out (from Nintendo, for the Wii, $49.99) - A welcomed refresh of a classic 15-year-old boxing game gives tweens an aggression release and older gamers a nostalgic knockout.

Punch-Out stars a pint-size pugilist loaded with heart named Little Mac. His goal is to work through three circuits, become a champion and continue his title defense.

Along the way he squares off against 13 ridiculously typecast opponents. They include a massive, near-toothless Samoan named King Hippo who puts refrigerator repairmen to shame, Glass Joe from Paris (Mac literally can knock the croissants out of him) and Dancing Disco Kid from New York who choreographs (and telegraphs) his punches.

A player’s strategy is to work on their midsection, strategize their tendencies with trainer Doc Louis, mix in the occasional devastating uppercut and deliver a knockout.

What should be a near perfect fit for the core Wii peripherals does not quite work out. The player can use a punching motion with Wiimote and Nunchuk while standing on the Balance Board to dodge and duck blows. But even though that leads to one heck of a workout that can reduce a 46-year-old into a quivering mass of perspiration and younger players into lean, mean fighting machines, a more traditional control is required for ultimate success. Quick punches decide matches and using fingers on a Wiimote held like a standard controller works much better that an unfit human body.

I loved the cartoony, three-dimensional characters that brilliantly pay homage to their past incarnations while the action tends to elicit an occasional laugh.

Additionally, a welcomed versus mode allows a pair of players to box as versions of Little Mac. When one begins to dominate, he turns into a much larger Giga Mac. I still haven’t figured out how this is fair to the less-skilled challenger.

Even with the very cartoony violence, parents should be warned, lots of virtual hitting happens. The “monkey see, monkey do” experience might lead to some sore sibling feelings and shoulders.

Magician’s Quest: Mysterious Times (from Konami for DS, $29.99) - Another exhausting but very satisfying role-playing game takes youngsters into a world Harry Potter would admire.

If you don’t already know the RPG drill, a player creates a bulbous-headed avatar - mine looked a bit like a young Austin Powers - and controls the character as he performs a bunch of tasks, interacts with characters, goes on missions and collects stuff.

In this case, he heads off to a private school within a Hogwarts-style environment and learns the wizard trade.

Eventually armed with a wand that unleashes magical spells and doubles as a watering can, shovel, fishing pole and insect net, the student finds himself embroiled in the daily activities of living on campus, down to setting up his dorm room, taking classes (including having to answer questions) and visiting the local town’s shops.

The player uses the stylus to draw a circle around his student to transform him into a wizard when spells are required and can reach into a bag of tricks to use magic linguistics when communicating.

Speaking of which, eccentricity runs high for the characters and students here. It’s a collection one might find the first week of college hanging out at a fraternity party.

Their streams of audio gibberish are accompanied by reams of text to read as they expound on their philosophical beliefs. The player eventually must use spell speak and persuasion to cajole this bizarre crew into friendship and even a very preliminary romantic relationship.

Other features include action that takes place in real time coordinated to the player’s DS clock, the use of more than 1,600 customizable items and in excess of 100 spells with more than 50 mysteries to solve.

An added benefit offers a total of four players the chance to wirelessly explore the same town and tackle adventures together.

For youngsters not privy to the likes of Nintendo’s Animal Crossing, Magician’s Quest offers a fresh, deep experience that will make their free time, er, magically disappear.

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