The moving staircase and hidden passages behind paintings are the central corridors of the game. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix earns high grades with creative spellcasting and exploration, but most of the time you feel like you’re like an errand-running intern in the world of wizards - the game is mostly about performing chores tangential to the story line. This magical hoop-jumping prevents the game from being as entertaining as the book and movie.
The cakes, they are a flyin'! Like every other business-sim game, Cake Mania is all about making money and satisfying your customers. But this game adds some sugar. You play Jill, who’s taking on the big Mega-Mart with her own business and hopes to reopen her grandparents’ bakery. Each level starts with Jill’s goals for the month and an opportunity for her to purchase items for her kitchen. Ovens, decoration units, even her shoes can be upgraded. Customers drop by to buy cakes, and the orders stack up quickly. Jill must bake, frost, and decorate the cakes to receive payment and points. A less-than-five-star performance results in Jill not making her budget and losing a “life.” And of course, once Jill’s five lives are gone, the game is over.
Even the pitcher's mound doesn't provide solace from Lucy's criticism. Why do so many people love the Peanuts gang? It’s probably because unlike so many other cartoons of its time, the Peanuts stories always had a sense of poignancy to them. Charlie Brown never gets the red-haired girl. The Great Pumpkin continues to evade Linus. Snoopy loses another dogfight with the Red Baron. But through it all, the Peanuts gang, this bunch of kids with big aspirations and letdowns, seems to roll with the punches. Life goes on, and you revel in the little victories.
Apple introduced iPod games about a year ago, and fortunately, the collection wasn’t left to flounder. Apple has added a few new titles, which is proof of Apple’s commitment to iPod games - a big deal to longtime Mac folks who are familiar with Apple’s less-than-stellar gaming history. All of these games are $4.99 (except the 99-cent iQuiz) through the iTunes Store, and you need a fifth-gen video iPod or a new iPod classic to play them. (Sudoku also works with the new third-gen iPod nano.)
Nothin' like a bit of fraggin' to help two men bond. The derivative future-world of Battlefield 2142 feels like a mixture of the same old vehicles, weapons, and combat found in other high-tech first-person shooters (FPS). But even through the game rarely innovates, its common parts feel comfortable and fun. FPS enthusiasts need to overlook numerous bugs and glitches, but once we started firing guns inside the bleak world, the great game balance made us forget to care about originality.
Fanciful graphics include undersea settings, alien worlds, and metropolitan cityscapes. It’s no coincidence that Phase was created by Harmonix, also the designer of mega-hit, Guitar Hero III. Similar to that game, Phase asks players to tap buttons in time to visual cues and songs’ rhythms. But instead of being locked into a preset list of tunes, Phase works with nearly any iPod song. This simple music game is catchier than the hook on a top-40 hit.
Part of the fun is zooming in close on visitors or even experiencing your own creations from a first-person view. RollerCoaster Tycoon 3 Soaked adds buckets and buckets of aquatic-themed attractions to the core RollerCoaster Tycoon 3 game, where you manage a theme park. Since it’s an expansion pack, Soaked requires the original RollerCoaster Tycoon 3 game, which will set you back $49.99. Soaked gives you many more scenarios and options, including dolphin shows (who doesn’t love a good dolphin show?), water slides, more intricate laser shows, and even basic changes to the original game, such as the ability to build roller coasters with tunnels. Soaked doesn’t fundamentally change RollerCoaster Tycoon 3 - the game interface is as waterlogged as ever - but fans of the first game will easily appreciate the additions.
Eventually, the villagers discover outsourcing, so they’re free to work on building casinos. The WarChiefs expansion pack for the Age of Empires III real-time strategy game adds three new civilizations: the Iroquois Confederacy, the Sioux Nation, and the Aztec Empire. Each has a Tribal Council (similar to a Home City) and a powerful WarChief. The well-rounded Iroquois produce artillery and siege units. The speedy Sioux start the game with a full population that’s unable to build walls for their encampment. The Aztecs are focused only on a strong infantry, with their elite troops laying waste to buildings and cavalry alike.
Mars...needs...women! Wannabe movie moguls who idolize Carl Laemmle or Harvey Weinstein can carry out their Hollywood dreams in The Movies, which casts you as a studio executive, building a production house from silent-era beginnings to modern, big-budget times. While the game often lampoons the industry, The Movies follows a fairly linear simulation script where players churn out productions to succeed. But detailed movie-creation tools for user-generated videos twists the game more than an M. Night Shyamalan ending.
The Tankstick puts old-school controllers like those at left to shame, both in size and capabilities. You call yourself a serious gamer - but what are you doing fumbling with keyboard controls and a mouse? You can’t call yourself a serious gamer until you get a nice game controller. If you want to let everyone know you’re really serious, then get a Tankstick.