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June 29, 2006

REVIEW: Finding Nemo

"Very pretty, Colonel. Very pretty. But can they fight?"

Now I realize that some whippersnappers out there still haven't seen Animal House (for shame!), and I'm taking an even bigger chance in referring to a movie from before I was born, but the above line, from The Dirty Dozen (1967), fits too well here for me not to use it. You'll see how in a bit.

Several reviews ago, I wrote that as big a fan as my kids and I are of SCEA's work, we were disappointed by My Street.

Similarly, as big a fan as my kids and I are of Finding Nemo the movie (and of Pixar's work in general), we were disappointed by Finding Nemo the video game.

Along with SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom and Sly 2: Band of Thieves, Finding Nemo was one of the very first console games my kids and I played together (or more accurately, I played while they watched).

But where SpongeBob and Sly Cooper ignited their nascent love for video games, Nemo tried his best to extinguish it. Bastard.

In a nutshell, the game is very pretty, but it can't "fight" worth a damn (See what I did there? Hello? Is this thing on?). Put less confusingly, Finding Nemo looks beautiful; it just doesn't play all that well, which is reminiscent of another ichthyologically-themed game I reviewed - Finny the Fish and the Seven Waters.

In both games, attractive undersea visuals are dragged down by subpar gameplay. But while Finny's failing was poor controls and cameras, Nemo's major problem lies in the game design. While Finny tries and fails, for Nemo, there's just no there there, most of the budget having likely gone to secure the license from Pixar.

The entire game; frustrating, tedious mission after frustrating, tedious mission, is played on rails, which is always a disappointment for kids who like to explore their surroundings.

What kind of missions are there? Well, let's see, now...

...There's the on-rails side-scrolling mission where you have to keep backtracking to pick up colored rocks and deposit in the matching collection area...

...There's the on-rails side-scrolling mission where you have to traverse a series of undersea caverns...

...There's the mission where you have to swim through hoops, not to be confused with the other mission where you have to swim through hoops...

...And who can forget the mission where you're swimming toward the camera, so you don't have time to align yourself with the quickly-appearing hoops you have to swim through?

Now, there's nothing inherently wrong with side-scrollers. I've enjoyed many a side-scroller in my day, sonny. The difference here is that Finding Nemo purports to be a 3D game, and it is anything but. It's just a big tease.

Some of the missions follow the movie script closely, and others less so, but in the end, none of it really matters. My kids loved Finding Nemo the movie, and were so ready to love Finding Nemo the game. But even with that strong a tailwind, the game couldn't deliver.

Finding Nemo was released three years ago, so by now, it can be had for less than $20, but you should save your cash, hard-earned or otherwise, for the many better kids' games out there.

June 23, 2006

Insane Jackasses, FTW!

...or more accurately, Jon Stewart, FTW!

I loves me some of that Jon Stewart. He ripped the House of Insane Jackasses (a.k.a. the Unites States House of Representatives) a new one on Wednesday night's Daily Show. I was going to post the official Comedy Central media player version, but that one didn't include the Samantha Bee "on-the-scene" interview from San Andreas.

ENJOY! I sure did.

As always, the first site I go to for anything related to games & politics is, well, GamePolitics.

June 22, 2006

Girl Power?

How 'bout kid power?
Or parenting power?
Or the power of common sense?

Sure, it's fun and all when my posts get mentioned in places like Joystiq, the Insomniac website, and in this case, Kotaku. Who doesn't like seeing the spike on their daily hit counter?

However, while I'm flattered by the attention yesterday, Eliza (Gauger, the Kotaku blogger who linked to my post) took my point about parents buying inappropriate games for kids, and strangely veered into girl power territory.

To clarify, I was "shocked and appalled" not because of that kid's gender, Eliza, but because of her age. As she grows ever-older (sigh), my daughter will be free to choose whichever careers or hobbies interest her, whether traditional, frilly, girly stuff, or something more fragtacular, which is usually associated with boys. And by the same token, my son will have that same freedom.

But along the way, my wife and I will be there to make sure that the activities our kids choose and the games they play are appropriate for their age and maturity level.


...if my daughter wants to play baseball, great!
...if she wants to be a firefighter, more power to her.


...if my son wants to play Disney princess dress-up, have fun!
...if he wants to be a dancer, no argument here.

But if, when they're 10 or 11, my kids want to play Grand Theft Auto (or even games I actually enjoyed, like Resident Evil 4), they'll just to have to get used to disappointment, because we wouldn't be doing our jobs as parents if we said yes.

As a reminder, I'm not against violent games, per se. It just depends on the kind of violence it is. The T-rated, weapon-focused Ratchet & Clank? Fine by me. BloodRayne? Not so much. Fantasy violence can be beneficial and even cathartic under the right set of circumstances, but that doesn't mean that anything violent automatically translates into empowerment, for boys or girls.

And in the case of the sad little chapter I witnessed on Father's Day, sorry, but I don't see anything the least bit empowering here.

On the upside, I thought Eliza's drawing was cute. :)

June 21, 2006


Another quality IGDA Chicago get-together last night.

Last summer, Lorne Lanning of Oddworld (moment of silence - EDIT: Not for Lorne, but for Oddworld Inhabitants in its previous incarnation) was the featured speaker, and last night, Kudo Tsunoda of EA Chicago stepped to the mic.

While there were definite similarities between the two game-makers - both Lorne and Kudo are charismatic leaders who gave highly informative and entertaining presentations, it was the differences between their two games that struck me.

Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath was Psychonauts before Psychonauts. Both are wonderful, refreshingly creative games with original characters and a unique look.... that didn't sell nearly as well as they should have.

Meanwhile, Fight Night Round 3 is an absolute juggernaut. According to Kudo, it was EA's top-selling game, and the 2nd best-selling game in the industry, over the past year.

Both games were well conceived and brilliantly excecuted, yet such different fates befell them, which speaks to the importance of marketing in the games industry.

Although I've changed my career focus from the marketing side to the development side (producing), it doesn't mean that I suddenly hate marketing. Far from it.

As a lifelong gamer, as much as it would kick ass for the game sales to be merit-based - for the best games to sell the most copies - that's a pipe dream. You could have the best game ever created, but if you aren't willing or able to get the right branding message to the right people in the right place at the right time, then you're dead in the water, because the people who would love your game either don't know it exists, or are under the impression that it's a different game entirely.

To be fair, I don't think that most developers really hate marketing. They just would like to see more game marketers who "get" games. There are a few out there, but the industry needs more. For a while there, I was all set to become one, but then I realized that I'd much rather help make games than tell people about 'em.

June 19, 2006

Happy Father's Day!! ........no, really

In May, AOL had a nice Mother's Day feature, and for Father's Day, they give equal time to just a few of the many dads in the video game industry.

Putting aside yesterday's frustration for the moment, that's what Father's Day is all about.

Happy freakin' Father's Day!!

I was all set to wish dads everywhere a Happy Father's Day, complete with smily emoticons and pretty little hearts to dot my "i"s. It was going to be the feel-good post of the year.

Now, I'm all about angry, disappointed frowns.

Here's what happened:

We had a fun, relaxing family weekend, including a board game marathon on Saturday. We played Memory and Pick Up Sticks (technically not a board game, I guess), but the highlight was a thrilling, down-to-the-wire game of Sorry!, in which my son edged out my daughter at the very end. BTW, it goes without saying that I was a distant third place (my daughter clinched 2nd place on her next turn), and yes, I was trying - they formed an alliance.

Then today, we went to Seven Mile Fair - a flea market between Chicago and Milwaukee. Most of the stuff there was schlocky crap (this was our first and last trip there), but we did get a good deal on some flowers (my wife and I let each kid choose one of the flowers in the flat) and veggies for our gardens.

A few of the many vendors sold used video games, but I wasn't too impressed with the bargains, or lack thereof.

Decidedly Unhappy
At one of the video game stalls, I witnessed the following exchange between a father and his 10 or 11-year-old (I'm estimating) daughter:

  • Father: "This is the one you want?"
  • Daughter: "Yeah. This is the one."
  • Father: "Are you sure? What about that other one?"
  • Daughter: "No way. I played that other one like a thousand times already."
  • Father: "So this one? You're sure?"
  • Daughter: "I'm sure."
  • Father: "Okay."
Father buys game for daughter.

  • Daughter: "Thanks, Daddy!"
Now, if the games they were referring to were, say, Ratchet & Clank and Sly Cooper, or, say, Katamari Damacy and one of the many Mario games, then it would have been a heartwarming, life-affirming scene, one that I would have written a completely different post about.

But the two games they were talking about were not among the many great kids' games that have been on the market long enough to show up in a third-rate flea market.

Instead, despite the large letter "M" in the bottom left corner of each box, "this one", as referred to above was...

and "that other one", the one she'd already played a thousand times (which means she got it much earlier), was...

It's too late and I'm too tired to go into what this all means, and why it made me so sad and angry. Maybe I'll add it in later, or maybe I'll go with the less-is-more approach on this one, or maybe...

(beware - rant (in the form of a massive run-on-sentence) approaching)

...WTF, people?! I realize that most parents aren't going to be up on all the latest game ratings, and I realize the mainstream media is clueless about video games, but if there's one game that has been splashed all over the TV and newspapers (because that's the game that know-nothing, bandwagon-hopping, sensationalist, if-it-bleeds-it-leads "journalists" focus on as the poster child of the evil that videogames do), one game that every parent should know not to buy for their kids, it's G! T! freakin' A!

Good night!

Oh, and Happy freakin' Father's Day!! :(

EDIT: OK. I've calmed down a little. Hysterical ranting aside, if this sad little episode doesn't drive home the need for more education (for parents) and less demonization (of video games), I don't know what does.

June 15, 2006

Joint REVIEW: In The Groove & Ignition 3.0 Dance Pad

Balloons? Check!
Cupcakes? Check!
Entertainment?...................................... ah, crap.

When my daughter turned seven years old a while back, my wife and I tried to come up with something fun for her and her friends to do at her party. We went back and forth a few times.

Should we rent an activity center like My Gym or Pump It Up? Invite a big horde of kids and let 'em run roughshod over the place for a couple hours?

Well, that would certainly be easy, but also pretty hackneyed (everybody else does it, and we wanted something with at least a bare minimum of originality) and too damn expensive.

How 'bout gymnastics, or cookie-decorating, or one of the other party themes her friends have done before? Well, some are better than others, but whether scheduling conflict or financial ridiculousness, none of those worked either.

Then it dawned on us. Our daughter likes video games and loves music, right? Right. So what if the girls played a rhythm game like Karaoke Revolution Party? Perfect, right?

Actually, not so much. When we took the game for a test drive a few weeks before the party, one thing became crystal clear. My daughter and her friends don't know any of those songs, and at their age, even the easiest setting is too fast and difficult for them to be anything but extremely frustrated. Next!

OK, let's see... no singing, no singing. Well, if singing is out, then how about...


That's it! Not only are dancing games beneficial for kids, but they're also a helluva lotta fun. And unlike singing games, the kids don't have to know the words, though there certainly is a learning curve. Of course, how hard can it be when a 5-year-old kid can master it? Anyhow, dancing it was.

So with that decision made, I had to find both the right game and the right dance pads. As it turned out, the pads were the easy part.

Having done a little research, the only pads I wanted were RedOctane's Ignition dance pads. We weren't about to buy an expensive arcade-style metal dance pad, and I didn't want my daughter and her friends slipping and sliding on thin, cheapie mats, what with those pesky liability issues and all. The Ignition pads seemed to be the perfect happy medium.

When my kids visited their cousins last summer, one of the games they played was Konami's Dance Dance Revolution. And while one of the mats they used (possibly an Ignition 2.0 or 3.0) was fine, the thinner, flimsier one had the dreaded double whammy - it slipped around, and didn't feel good under their feet.

So RedOctane sent me not one, but two Ignition 3.0 pads. They came in a big box, the arrival of which resulted in much rejoicing. By the way, if you buy one of these pads, make sure you set aside a few days to let it air out. When we took them out of the box, they emitted a strong chemical odor that required a few days to dissipate.

So with the pads checked off on my list, I had to find a game for the party.

Since I had hit a home run in my pad procurement efforts, I swung for the fences on the game as well. My first choice was Dance Dance Revolution: Mario Mix, because it had DDR-style gameplay with the Nintendo characters my kids already loved.

Alas, it was not to be. While the Ignition pads are multiplatform (they work on PlayStation 2, Xbox & PC), they don't work with the GameCube, so even if I were able to find a copy of the GameCube-exclusive DDR Mario Mix, we wouldn't be able to use it with the Ignition mats.

And as it turned out, any compatibility issues were rendered completely moot by the fact that production shortages had made it harder to find a copy of DDR Mario Mix than [insert lame Jimmy Hoffa joke here]. Oh, sure, I could have spent upwards of $200 on eBay, but that would have defeated my whole don't-spend-a-lot-of-money strategy.

Lucky for me, RedOctane also included a copy of their own rhythm game - In The Groove - in the big box of joy. So that was easy enough.

Before the party, I went through In The Groove's extensive song list, and while none of the songs were specifically written for the kiddies, I had an easy time finding more than 25 age-appropriate songs to choose from.

In The Groove

For the birthday party, we used In The Groove's 2-player Battle Mode. As the word battle might suggest, it is technically competitive, but we tried to stress the "playing together" part, as opposed to "playing against."

As my daughter's friends began to arrive, she showed them how to play the game - how the on-screen arrows corresponded to the arrows on the dance pads. She enjoyed being able to teach her friends about something she liked to do.

Some of the kids were very intimidated at first, and for about 10-15 minutes, it looked like our dance party was on its way to being a colossal failure. Anticipating this possibility, we had EyeToy: Play 2 on standby, but we didn't have to use it, because everyone eventually joined in at their own pace. Some kids jumped into the deep end of the pool and did the trial and error thing, but most of them used a phased approach.

As each group of two played the game together on the pads, another group of two stood behind them, pantomiming their moves, kind of like the on-deck batter, timing pitches in the batter's box.

EDIT: What am I, drunk? Obviously, the on-deck batter would be timing the pitches in the on-deck circle.

In The Groove has 5 difficulty settings - Novice, Easy, Intermediate, Hard, Expert. When we tried the game out a couple of weeks before the party, Easy was too damn hard, so all of the partygoers played on Novice. However, even on Novice there was a difficulty progression, as the kids advanced to levels 2 and 3.

At one point, I noticed that there were still a few wallflowers, so my wife and I decided to give 'em a nudge. How, you ask? Why, by making complete asses of ourselves, of course. Remembering that Easy was no cakewalk, I suggested that we play on Intermediate, but no, my wife insisted on Hard. Way to crank it up to 11, honey. Actually, if Hard is 11, then Expert is probably somewhere around 25.

As expected, we looked like idiots, and the girls laughed and cheered wildly (especially when my wife beat me - Girl Power!), which was the point of the whole thing. And most of the remaining stragglers gave it a shot, which was nice to see.

Ignition 3.0 Dance Pad

In general, the Ignition pads felt good and performed very well. One thing that wasn't so great was the fact that the pads were extremely sensitive, so if you weren't standing in the exact center of mat, the menu started scrolling all over the place.

The Ignition pads provided secure footing for all. We used the pads on short carpet, and there was some slight gradual shifting over time. But no one slipped during the songs.

The pads held up very well, which isn't surprising, since the innards consist of thick, resilient foam. Granted, we didn't measure durability over time, and seven-year-olds don't pack the same wallop as a roving pack of dance-crazed teenagers, but some of those little kids were stomping on the pads like they were Neo trying to tunnel their way down to Zion.

So that was that. Despite the initial hesitation, my daughter and her friends had a fantastic time at our dance-themed party; so much so that a couple of the girls wanted to keep dancing through pizza and cupcakes. I know the game is lotsa fun and all, but c'mon, now. How 'bout a little perspective? It's pizza! It's cupcakes! It's pizza & cupcakes!

Speaking of fun party food, we also had a chocolate fountain lying around from a previous party, and the kids absolutely freaked over it. They dunked pretzels, marshmallows (small pieces only - safety first!), strawberries and bananas, painting their faces chocolate in the process. Which reminds me, if you plan to have a chocolate fountain at a kids' party, make sure you have a good supply of wipes on hand.

OK, I have no clue how to segue out of my chocolate fountain paragraph, so I'll just close by saying that In The Groove is a fun rhythm game, with enough options and flexibility for younger kids to have a lot of fun. Older kids will like it even better. And as for the Ignition pads, if you're looking for a high-quality foam dance pad, and you play on any of the PS2, Xbox or PC, you can't go wrong.

Party! Party! Party!

June 11, 2006

Thumbnail REVIEW: I Spy Fantasy

So here goes the first of my catching-up/mini/thumbnail/quick-'n-dirty reviews...

I'll start off with an easy one - I Spy Fantasy.

What's easy about it is that I already reviewed a very similar game - I Spy Treasure Hunt. And like ISTH, ISF is a similarly fun, inexpensive game for kids. FYI, we also bought I Spy School Days, but haven't gotten around to playing it yet.

There are 3 areas to explore, each with its own theme:
  • Sandcastle
  • Outer Space
  • Underwater
Each level is fun and immersive, and you can replay them 3 times. You solve several mini-puzzles, and then put the resulting clues together to solve the larger problem (e.g. making the rocket take off).

Price-wise, I recently saw several I Spy games at TJ Maxx or Marshall's for $6.99. And if that's not cheap enough for you, there's even a free demo of the game that you can download. Enjoy!

Happy Fruit Loop DS Day!

Due to Cabel and his excellent DS Lite video preview, we've been calling the new DS Lite the "Fruit Loop DS."

And while I was thinking about upgrading from the old fatty to the new phatty, Cabel's 3 reviews played a big part in my final decision.

"Old & Busted"

"New Hotness"

So as a result, we celebrated Fruit Loop DS Day with... a box of Fruit Loops and a new DS Lite (what'd you expect?).

I gathered the kids for the big surprise, and when I pulled out a Kellogg's Fun Pak-sized box of Fruit Loops, they thought that that was the surprise. And to tell the truth, they were pretty happy about the Fruit Loops. But when I told them that it was a clue about what the real surprise was, they guessed correctly what I was hiding in the bag, and they were so excited that they couldn't wait...

...yet that's exactly what we had to do - several hours worth, while the DS Lite was charging.

Here's a nice comparison photo I found at Joystiq.

June 10, 2006

June 9th?!?!?!?!?

Yesterday was the last day of school for my kids, and my wife and I picked 'em up together, with a little surprise. Instead of heading straight home like we usually do, we brought 'em lunch...

...and tickets to the opening day matinee of Cars.

When I held up the tickets and asked if they knew what they were for, my daughter asked hesitantly, "wait, what's today's date?"

"June 9th," I replied.

"June 9th?!?!?!?!?" they both screamed in ecstatic unison.

Apparently, they knew from the massive Cars marketing/advertising/merchandising barrage that June 9th was the opening day for Pixar's new film, because they nearly collapsed in a puddle of euphoria.

Short story shorter, we ate our picnic lunch and then enjoyed the show. While Cars isn't an instant classic like Toy Story 2, we all liked it a good little bit.

June 08, 2006

PREVIEW: Pac-Man World Rally

  • Release Date: Late July, 2006 (per Namco @ E3)
  • Platforms: PlayStation 2, GameCube, Xbox, PSP, PC.

In recent weeks, I've posted some fun do-it-yourself efforts to celebrate the joy of Namco's Katamari Damacy. Today, I'm going right to the source.

First, here's Namco's delightful Japanese KD commercial.

Second, and more central to the point of this preview, is the fact that our intrepid starmaker, the Prince of All Cosmos, has finally thrown off the shackles of his walk-everywhere, roll-everything workaday world, and hopped into his sweet ride.

In a few weeks, Namco will release Pac-Man World Rally, and Katamari Damacy notwithstanding, it's an old-fashioned Namco Museum hoedown, since many of your favorite old-school Namco characters are playable. From obvious choices like Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man and the ghosts, to classic Namco characters like Dig Dug, Frygar, the Pole Position car and the Galaga ship, the gang's all here.

The meat of the game is a Mario Kart-style multiplayer racing game, though you can certainly play it solo if need be.

And speaking of Nintendo's successful multiplayer racing franchise, I'm sure that many companies would love to borrow the successful Mario Kart formula for their own purposes. However, there are not very many that have the stable of fun, iconic characers to make multiplayer and unlockables a meaningful experience.

Many companies have lots of games...
...Fewer have iconic franchises...
...Even fewer have iconic characters...
...And fewer still have the kind of characters that would make sense in a cartoonish multiplayer racing game.

Namco is one of a select few companies (Sony Computer Entertainment being another) that can pull it off. Yes, I realize that Solid Snake (from Konami's Metal Gear Solid franchise) will be making a cameo appearance in the new Smash Bros. game for Nintendo's Wii console, but that's that's one of a few exceptions that prove the rule.

Don't believe me? Well, let's take a look at the rest of Konami's catalog. Sure, they've got Frogger and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, I guess, but to achieve critical mass, they'd need a lot more than that. Would you be very excited about a Mario-Kart clone featuring the cast of Castlevania and the good townspeople of Silent Hill? Me, not so much. Yes, I know they have great games like Winning Eleven, But how do you propose we shoehorn the Real Madrid footballers into a racecar? What? Have Beckham drive the team bus? Actually, that might work... OK, now I'm getting sidetracked. You see my point, though...right?

But back to the game. In addition to the core racing mode, there's also a Twisted-Metal style Battle Mode, and despite the formidable title, is actually pretty fun and whimsical. In Battle Mode, you use several produce-themed weapons, but instead of mushrooms and banana peels, you employ the Banana Rammer, Watermelon Spitter and the Strawberry Guided Missile.

Bottom line, Pac-Man World Rally is a fun game that parents and kids will enjoy together. If you're a fan of Namco's characters and/or cartoony racing games, resist the temptation to dismiss it as simply a poor man's Mario Kart. I was ready to do just that before E3. Then I played it.

June 06, 2006


In the words of Mayor Carmine DePasto's criminally precocious daughter in Animal House**, I "got a lotta catching up to do."

For various reasons, none of them good, I have a backlog of games that my kids and I have played, that I have yet to review. Maybe it's because I couldn't think of the cleverest lead or pithiest ending. I'm not sure what my excuse is.

Although I occasionaly review games that aren't exactly new releases, I usually write about a game soon after we play it. In this case, however, there are games that we played a long time ago (e.g. Finding Nemo - not so hot, BTW) that I haven't touched yet.

Well, it's enough already. In addition to my normal, GameDAILY-driven review schedule of post-E3 previews (e.g. Cars) and longer, usually-review-based columns (e.g. Rhythm Games) on alternating weeks, I'm going to do my best to clear out the warehouse.

I may call 'em mini-reviews, thumbnail reviews, or just plain reviews. Time will tell. They'll probably be pretty short, and I can't promise that every one of these reviews will be the most scintillating writing in the world, but I may well go back and punch up the reviews down the road. With all the games we've played recently, not to mention all the new games on the horizon, there's no excuse for not ticking a 2-year-old game off my checklist.

Allrighty, then.

** Speaking of Animal House, I'm feeling pretty old these days. Every once in a while on one of the message boards I frequent (e.g. Cheap Ass Gamer, Chicago Bulls, etc.), someone will write, "Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?" And invariably, that poster will get bombarded with a horde of attackers, raking him over the coals for not knowing history. "Germans?" they write, amazed at his stupidity, "It was the Japanese, you dumbass. Owned!!!" (isn't it enough already with the ownage, btw?). I realize that Animal House was made almost 30 years ago (holy crap), but isn't that one of the classics? Part of the canon that parents should be handing down to their kids before they shuffle off to college? Compared to today's debauchery, a dead, soon-to-be-chainsawed horse in the dean's office seems downright innocent, doesn't it?

June 01, 2006

GBA Multi-REVIEW: Franklin’s Great Adventures / The Koala Brothers: Outback Adventures / The Land Before Time: Into The Mysterious Beyond

Until now, I’ve focused the majority of my time reviewing console games, with an occasional detour into PC land. Why? Because, quite simply, I write what we play. While my kids and I have been gaming together on consoles and our computer for about 3 years now, we only just recently added handhelds into the fold.

Between the Nintendo DS and Gameboy Advance, my kids immediately gravitated toward the DS, mainly because we started playing Nintendogs right out of the box. Or maybe they took a cue from their dad, who was so excited to get a DS that he was screaming and jumping around like the Nintendo 64 kid on Christmas morning.

But enough about Ritalin. Recently, my kids have begun to discover the Gameboy Advance as well, and to kick off my coverage of handheld games, I’m going to do a 3-for-1 review, taking a look at three games for the GBA, from Danish publisher The Game Factory. The three games are Franklin’s Great Adventures, The Koala Brothers: Outback Adventures, & The Land Before Time: Into The Mysterious Beyond.

Franklin's Great Adventures

Of the three, this game is by far the most ambitious, because it's really three games in one all on its own.

In Story Mode - the main mode of the game, it starts out as an adventure game, as Franklin explores his surroundings, stopping to meet and talk to various characters. A "friend gauge" lets the player know how friendly the new person is.

There is also a significant platforming component to this game, which is where the various playable characters come in. You can play as Franklin, Bear and Beaver, and each one has special abilities that the others don't. And you need to decide which character to control in order to move past an obstacle. For example, Bear can climb and move boulders, Franklin can jump and crawl under things, Beaver can swim, etc. Character switching is as easy as a click of the right shoulder button.

Finally, there are the mini-games, 16 in total. As you move through the game, you need to complete various mini-games, and once you complete them, you can play them any time you want in Mini-Game Mode.

My kids enjoyed this game, though there were a few times where they needed my help, when they were frustrated by some of the platforming. But as long as someone can help them here and there, this is a fun, challenging game for kids, and deeper than most of the licensed kids' games on the market.

The Koala Brothers: Outback Adventures

This was the early favorite for my kids, because it's the easiest to play. This is a mini-game-only game, and is better for short periods, as opposed to a game like Franklin, which can hold their attention for longer. Here are the 10 mini-games, in very rough order of preference...

  • Cold Ice Cream: If you've spent time on any children's websites, you've probably played a game like this before. Match the ice cream order by scooping the right flavor at the right time. Nothing revolutionary here. There must be something about ice cream's inherent deliciousness, 'cuz my kids loved it. Speaking of which, I just wanted to say that Ben & Jerry's Free Cone Day is the best thing since sliced... I don't know... cake? Sliced bread ain't all that.
  • Josie To The Rescue: Classic 2D, side-scrolling platformer. Play as Josie the kangaroo, jumping here and there to collect food & drink, while avoiding obstacles.
  • Fishing: Since my kids liked Gold Miner Special Edition, they enjoyed this game as well.
  • Airmail: My kids didn't love this Super Cobra-esque game at first, but when I showed them that you could do loop-de-loops with the airplane, they changed their mind pretty quickly.
  • Hide 'n Seek: As you move around, you see a flash of movement, and you have to go find the friend hiding behind that rock, bush, etc. My kids didn't play this one much, but I thought it was pretty cute.
  • Help From Above: One of 2 "Sonic's ass" mini-games. In other words, you see the character from behind the entire time. FYI, the term was coined by the guys at Naughty Dog when they were developing Crash Bandicoot for the original PlayStation in the mid-'90s. In this case, you fly an airplane left, right, up & down, to collect wayward balloons. Not bad, but it got old fairly quickly.
  • Postman Alice: Another Sonic's ass game, only this time, you're delivering mail as Alice. Reminiscent of Paperboy, though the point of view is different, and you have fewer antagonizers.
  • Archie's Outback Tennis: Move left, right, up & down to return serve. Much easier to move along the baseline. So-so.
  • A Helping Hand: Side-scrolling, truck-driving game. Nothing special
  • Shopping at Sammy's: Frustrating controls ruined it for my kids.
All in all, not a bad game, but there isn't a whole lot of problem solving going on here, so your kids won't gain much other than a pleasant way to pass the time....

...not that there's anything wrong with that. ;)

The Land Before Time: Into The Mysterious Beyond

On this, my kids and I agree: Of the three games, this was the least favorite and least memorable. Like the Franklin game, you get to play as several different characters with unique abilities, but we missed much of that gameplay element, because my kids didn't have the patience to get very far in this game.

The part they did play was called Across the Gorges - a platforming level where you have to make your dinosaur leap from mesa to mountaintop. Pressing B to knock over dead trees so you can walk across a wide gap was fun...the first couple of times.

They did like stomping on some random prehistoric animals, Mario-on-Goombah style, and timing their cross-gorge leaps to avoid the pterodactyls. Other than that, they weren't too thrilled with this one.


So that's it for my first handheld review. And now that the DS & GBA have squeezed their way into our family gaming rotation, keep an eye out for more to come.