- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 3, 2009

Here’s an abbreviated look at video games for the entire family.

Cloudy With a Chance of Meat Balls (from Ubisoft, reviewed for the PlayStation 3, $49.99) — Inspired by author Judi Barrett’s popular children’s book and the Columbia Pictures’ animated film, this barely digestible third-person action game ultimately offers little on-screen inspiration for younger players.

First, a couple of tips. Never play the game on an empty stomach or if you’re older than 8.

A player controls young inventor Flint Lockwood after he has turned the town of Swallow Falls into an environmental buffet disaster. His Dynamic Food Replicator has caused all sorts of delicacies to fall from the sky and the mess needs to be cleaned up.

That means exploring locales such as Ice Cream Falls, Restaurant Row and the Bait Shop while slushing through 20 levels of repetitive action. The hero uses industrial-strength inventions to melt, move, punch, poke, slice and dice massive popsicles, sugar cubes and hamburgers.

Between “suckulating,” “forking,” decapitating gummy bears and avoiding large pools of steaming marinara sauce, he also must drive the Outtasighter truck to clean up spills and can even use spaghetti as a rope and spray honey on a large piece of bread to climb over it.

As Flint moves from his research headquarters to a mission, he always carries a single device to handle a job. His arsenal of odd tools includes the Upsucker Plus (port-a-vac) and Bigacious Pow (great for busting through nacho chips and crushing cheese puffs).

A half-hearted attempt at a cooperative mode allows a pal to drop in or out (most likely a quick exit for most) as Flint’s furry pal Steve the Monkey. A team, however, will quickly fly through levels.

Although the game has its moments, it looks so mediocre players could mistake it for a PlayStation 2 title. There are no cut scenes from the movie and murky character models hurt its impact. It definitely can’t compete with other eye-popping licensed movie game titles from this year, including “G-Force” and “Up.”

Cloudy with a Chance of Meat Balls sure sounds like a great idea for a video game but the developers’ lack of execution will leave fans of the film starving for entertainment.

Toy Story Mania! (from Disney Interactive Studios, reviewed for the Wii, $49.99) — Youngsters who have enjoyed the 3-D shooting gallery attraction starring Buzz, Woody and the gang in person at Disney’s California Adventure need to clear their palates before jumping aboard its not-so-spectacular video game equivalent.

The good news is there’s no waiting in line as up to four players compete within 10 interactive arenas and 20 games that mix kid-friendly shooting with many challenges seen on a carnival midway.

A story mode requires a player conquer a certain number of objectives in each game to move to the next — earn 20,000 points and pop six cloud balloons, for example — while a free-play mode has a player using a toy crane arm to carefully choose unlocked games to enjoy.

A typical round starts with throwing pies at Buzz and Woody before more serious shooting at Bo Peep’s Baa-Loon Pop, pitching rings at rockets in Tossed in Space or breaking plates at the Green Army Men Camp.

Not all the action requires shooting, and challenges range from Space Pinball starring the evil Zorg, knocking down wood block structures with a ball in Army Air Raid and a Tea Cup Switch akin to three-card monte.

The visuals are the highlight of the action as the CGI-animated characters pop in from time to time — Rex looks great — to offer encouragement. The colorful cardboard cut-out galleries also really come to life.

Unfortunately, many of the games are just too simple and repetitive and aren’t worth revisiting. An automatic save and navigation system will confuse even parents.

Of course, the Wiimote is a perfect controller for the experience as shooters carefully aim at the screen and hold down the “A” button to send out a constant stream of projectiles. That, by the way, is the secret to success in all of the shooting games.

The Wiimote functionality is well-utilized in other games, such as for powering up a hammer to strike a target, sending a green alien into space, or for flicking frogs into cups.

Those especially proficient at the challenges will accumulate tickets and eventually can buy all of the games they cannot unlock in the story mode. They also can purchase a 3-D version of some of the shooters and play with help from two pairs of included glasses.

Regrettably, the same 3-D problems seen in the game version of “G-Force” apply here. Using technology from the 1950s in gaming while films are using the latest technology simply leaves the player eye-strained and aggravated.

Toy Story Mania! fits comfortably within the lower echelon of Wii games, but considering Disney Interactive Studios, Pixar Animation Studios, Walt Disney Imagineers and the Disney Parks designers collaborated here, I was expecting so, so much more.

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