- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The video game’s deep reach as a form of entertainment is indisputable  67 percent of American households play games, according to the Entertainment Software Association.

Here’s a rundown of the greatest titles and latest console technology options this holiday season for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Wii.

Sony PlayStation 3

What is it? Still the only entertainment console boasting a Blu-ray experience, the PS3 gets a boost to its multimedia interactivity arsenal this year with the release of PlayStation Move, a magical motion-detecting controller. Working in tandem with a miniature videocamera, the wireless, rechargeable, lighted wand acts like a Wiimote on steroids to track movements in three dimensions. Simply add on to an existing console with the PlayStation Move Starter Bundle ($99), which includes one controller, the Eye camera and Sports Champion (with six games, including archery, table tennis, bocce and gladiator duel) or snap up this year’s deal for PlayStation admirers. The latest PS3 configuration boasts ab320 gigabyte hard drive, a dual-shock controller and everything from the Move bundle ($399).
Price: $39.99 to $59.99 for suggested games

For those ready to be Moved

* TV Superstars (Sony Computer Entertainment, rated T for teen, $39.99)  Starring in a reality show has never been easier, thanks to this wacky party game. After capturing images of players’ faces, a couple of expressions and an audio catchphrase using the Eye camera and its microphone, the four players come to frighteningly animated life to compete for fame and endorsement deals by beating opponents in five television series. Among the motion-controlled possibilities, use the Move to saw wood in the house-remodeling show “DIY Raw,” apply the perfect makeup combination to a mannequin in “Frockstar” or cook up some fajitas in “Big Beat Kitchen.”
 * EyePet (Sony Computer Entertainment America, rated T for teen, $39.99)  Youngsters take control of a baby creature reminiscent of a distant cousin of “The Land of the Lost’s” Pakuni in the incredibly deep virtual pet simulation, which mixes live action with animation on the owner’s television screen. Just letting this little fellow roam the on-screen floor (that means clean it up, Junior) while performing basic interactions such as petting or grooming is really magical. (Just look into your kid’s saucer-size eyes.) The new pet also can take part in activities such as bowling, bubble blowing and dress-up. A second level enables owners to draw objects (either with paper and marker or with the Move) that will come to life, such as a plane used to fly and pop balloons. A tip for parents: Set up the simulation in advance because of its finicky requirements or pay the price with some very impatient offspring.
* Time Crisis: Razing Storm (Namco Bandai Games, rated T for teen, $59.99)  One of the kings of the arcade rail shooters translates to the PlayStation 3 to give fans plenty of target practice in a first-person perspective using the Move within three games. Join the special-ops team in a South American country to stop a terrorist threat in Time Crisis: Razing Storm; take to the seas in Deadstorm Pirates; or go back to 2007 and prevent a biological weapon from falling into the wrong hands in Time Crisis 4. I gladly plunged into Deadstorm Pirates and felt as if I were part of a Jerry Bruckheimer movie while blasting away at swashbuckling skeletons, fighting off a Kraken and even steering a massive wooden ship. An optional shooting attachment that looks like a 1950s ray gun cradles the Move (sold by Sony separately, $19.99) and enhances the experience.

For those not Moved

* NBA 2K 11 (2K Sports, rated E for everyone, $59.99)  Sports gamers are perennially thrilled by this professional basketball simulation franchise, but there is something very, very special in its latest release. You can control legendary Chicago Bulls superstar Michael Jordan. Have his champion Bulls, with rosters from all of their glory years, challenge the NBA’s greatest teams or take control of him as a rookie and help turn “His Airness” into a legend. It’s an awe-inspiring virtual homage to a guy who always delivered on the court. The only match-up missing is Michael Jordan vs. the 1985 Chicago Bears  sounds perfect for NBA 2K 12. This game is Move-compatible but works way better with a traditional controller.
* Sims 3 (Electronic Arts, rated T for teen, $59.99) Those unable to control their own lives get a chance to create and micromanage a virtual family in this console version of the popular simulation. It’s not enough simply to customize and care for these humans and shape their personalities and their neighborhoods; this version offers the collection of points to unleash Karma Powers to affect a Sim instantly. Maybe bring back to ghostly life a fallen comrade or generate an earthquake to terrify. Add online exchanges of Sims content, Twitter and Facebook integration and more than 300 challenges, and expect these “creators of life” to take longer than seven days and never leave the entertainment room.
* Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit (Electronic Arts, rated E10+ for players 10 years old and older, $59.99)  Have a career as a cop or an illegal street racer in this adrenaline-fueled driving extravaganza built for reckless family members. In scenic Seacrest County, populated by exotic sports cars such as the dazzling Pagani Zonda Cinque and where perilous pursuits are as spectacular as crashes, the player, armed with spike strips and radar-jamming equipment, finds himself constantly looking for high-speed challenges. Mainly, though, he’s out for dangerous joy rides masquerading as races. An eight-player online free-for-all race punctuates the action in the only place in the world where destroying a Lamborghini LP 670-4 won’t cause the owner to jump off a bridge in despair.

Microsoft Xbox 360

What is it? Kinect, a radical hardware development this holiday season, turns the hard-core gaming and entertainment console into a controller-less, motion- and voice-activated wonder one might find Tom Cruise dabbling with in “Minority Report.” Gift givers either purchase the basic Kinect system ($149.95) to get the sensor (it must rest above or below the television monitor), cables and Kinect Adventures disc (loaded with 20 games, such as popping balloons in space and stand-up rafting) and plug it into their current Xbox 360 or take the plunge with a new 250 gigabyte Xbox 360 system that includes the Kinect ($399).
Prices: $59.99 to $149.99 for suggested games

Santa’s picks for those ready to Kinect:

* Kinectimals (Microsoft Game Studios, rated E for everyone, $49.99)  This wonderful virtual pet simulation is probably the only chance youngsters, or any human for that matter, will have to interact with an exotic baby cat such as a black panther, royal Bengal tiger or cheetah. The new furry friend lives in the gorgeous on-screen world of Lemuria and reacts to an owner’s hand movements and vocal commands. Feed him, pet him and take care of the everyday minutia involved with owning a sort-of-tame wild animal. Dripping with cute and loaded with activities, including playing fetch, running the cub through an agility course and exploring the island for treasure, it’s a required purchase for a young child with a Kinect system.
* Your Shape: Fitness Evolved (Ubisoft, rated T for teen, $49.99)  Feel the burn, and I really mean it, in this brutal exercise program, which will seriously test the will to live of the pudgy 30-something gamer who’s usually tethered to the recliner. The technology carefully tracks an owner’s body movements in hundreds of exercises built upon routines from Men’s Health and Women’s Health magazines, while a virtual personal trainer delivers tips on keeping focused. Those bored with the rigors of repetition, cardio boxing or Zen Yoga can burn calories through minigames such as punching through blocks and working a virtual hula hoop.
* Dance Central (MTV Games and Harmonix, rated T for teen, $49.99) The creators of Rock Band dare gamers to dance away their inhibitions to more than 30 classic tunes, such as the Commodores’ “Brick House” and Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” in this stylish musical party experience. Full-body tracking helps one or two dancers perfect 600 moves and 90 routines developed by professional choreographers. The goals here include practicing hard, with help from in-game characters, and following flash cards to perfect the moves and eventually compete against a human opponent for the highest score. Of course, the booty-shaking action can be captured with the Kinect for the world to appreciate. Now if they only add singing to this spectacular, the North Pole elves will give the cast of “Glee” some serious competition.

Santa’s picks for those not Kinected:

* Call of Duty: Black Ops Prestige Edition (Activision, rated M for mature, $149.99) Thank goodness games are still made that work with a standard controller. This gritty first-person shooter (stereoscopic 3-D compatible, no less) may be the king of cool gaming this holiday season, thanks to the gritty realism delivered in the combat, a riveting single-player campaign, a cooperative Nazi-zombie-killing challenge and a generously refined online multiplayer experience that will suck away at a gamer’s time. More impressive, the Prestige Edition boasts a working, carefully crafted remote-controlled vehicle based on the explosive, controllable minirig seen in the game (complete with working video and audio feed sent back to the remote) and tosses in a medal housed in a display case as icing. Any virtual firefight veteran will weep for joy to own this set.
* Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock (Activision, rated T for teen, $99.99) It’s still about rhythmically matching the notes on the faux guitar to collect stars and points, but this version of the musical game also incorporates an epic battle between good and evil using Guitar Hero’s famed characters, each sporting special powers, as they tackle a musical genre. It’s narrated by Kiss’ own Gene Simmons with help from Rush as a player goes on a quest to save rock ‘n’ roll. With more than 90 tracks available to conquer, most of which maintain the anthemic qualities of the game, such as Black Sabbath’s “Children of the Grave” and Slayers’ “Chemical Warfare” and a few for the less metallic, such as R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion,” the action demands finger-fretting maelstroms of precision delivered using the winged, battle-ax-shaped wireless guitar peripheral and not taking the world so seriously. For the whole family to take part in the musical explosion’s party mode, purchase the Super Bundle ($179.99) which includes drums, microphone and guitar.
* Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood (Ubisoft, rated M for mature, $59.99) Master assassin Ezio Auditore da Firenze continues his struggle against the Templar Order in a sequel to last year’s critically acclaimed third-person historical fantasy masterpiece. The player uses 15th-century Rome as his sandbox while controlling the acrobatic hero and his burgeoning team of assassins. With help from Leonardo da Vinci, he learns new ways to survive and kill while rebuilding Italy’s corrupt capital. The game boasts cinematic cut scenes, a wide range of stealth attacks and dynamic combat. By the way, this year’s game offers online multiplayer action loaded with distinctive modes, such as Hunter (a player must take out a target while his opponents find and stop him) and Wanted (eight players attempt to assassinate one another without being seen, but never knowing when their killer will strike, thanks to similar-looking, nonplayable characters propagating the filed of play).

Nintendo’s Wii

What is it? Nintendo’s groundbreaking entertainment console with a wireless, motion-sensing controller celebrates its fourth year and remains firmly entrenched in a family’s entertainment room. One of the latest hardware bundles offers the core system, one Wiimote with the Wii MotionPlus accessory and a nunchuck (all in black) and includes the games Wii Sports Resort and Wii Sports to keep players sweating ($199).
Prices: $49.99 to $149.99 for suggested games

Santa’s picks:

* Wii Party (Nintendo, rated E for everyone, $49.99)  A balanced collection of more than 80 minigames keeps the entire family more than thrilled to interact around the holidays. Up to four players use their customized Mii characters to compete in challenges that encompass virtual board games, button-mash contests and in-room competitions that even use the Wiimote’s speaker. For example, in Time Bomb, players hold a remote that acts as a ticking “hot potato” and must carefully press buttons and not shake it while passing it to an opponent to succeed. In Animal Tracker, players must grab the remote that’s emitting a specific animal sound. The action also includes quizzes (how well do you know your buddy), hide-and-seek (hide some remotes for players to find) and a standard selection of vegetable-chopping, maze races and target shooting.
* Sonic Colors (Sega, rated E for everyone, $49.99)  The legendary speedy blue hedgehog returns in a hue-saturated adventure and sets out to free an alien race abducted by the evil Dr. Eggman. Mixing 2-D and 3-D action within an interstellar amusement park, the game basks in ring collecting, spin attacks and rail-grinding frenzies. In addition, Sonic finds and collects colorful Wisps to get a new set of powers, ranging from drilling into the ground to skyrocketing up to the heavens to moving at laser speeds. Although primarily a solo campaign, two players can work together in Eggman’s Sonic Simulator to conquer almost two dozen side-scrolling levels.
* Golden Eye 007 (Activision, rated T for teen, $49.99)  The classic Nintendo 64 first-person shooter literally gets a face-lift with Daniel Craig taking over the role of James Bond from Pierce Brosnan. A potent overhaul, packed with solo and four-player, split-screen action, this Call of Duty for the 007 faithful mixes firefights with stealth and classic Bond moments. The multiplayer experience (pushed up to eight gamers online) takes fans into the history of the films, enabling them to play as villains such as Jaws and Oddjob while wielding an enormous variety of firepower and adding modifiers (such as players exploding on contact) within 10 maps and nine modes to offer hundreds of game combinations.


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