Whoa. It is a mediocre spring for video games. I just wrapped up a two-day gaming marathon, and the only thing that kept my interest for five straight hours was a handheld puzzle title called "Pogo Island." It came out two months ago.
First in my sights was "Shrek the Third," which isn't so bad but isn't so great. You play as the big green ogre, his donkey and so on. You punch tables to steal their table souls (huh?).
But "Shrek the Third" squanders its sweet-looking adventure land with the repetitive punching and kicking of villains. There's got to be more to a game than jogging, jousting, collecting gold coins and busting up wooden crates that get in your way. (Crates? Really?)
More promising is the nicely drawn comedic-horror tale of "Death, Jr. and the Science Fair of Doom." It's got teen spirit. As Death Jr. (son of Death), you sickle bad people into their graves, while you save pretty school friends from the evil clutch of, um, death.
Like "Shrek," though, "Death, Jr." bogs down in redundant killing. Worse, you also must play as a ghost girl who scouts out terrain for Death Jr. This is interesting at first, but quickly becomes as tedious as Friendster.
Gaming is more fun in "Konami Classics Series: Arcade Hits." I have to give a slow applause clap to "Classic Series" for compiling into one little hand-held game a big bunch of arcade throwbacks from the 1980s, such as "Track and Field," "Time Pilot," "Contra" and "Yie-Ar Kung Fu."
The trouble with "Konami Classics" is the same problem that plagued "Track and Field" and other games back in the day: They were designed to end quickly, in order to make gamers drop handfuls of quarters into arcade consoles. The games are still too short to be Olympic feats.
And so, the game I settled into is "Pogo Island." It's a fun little nothing. You play a handful of different mini brain games.
In one game, you arrange cute little fish by their various colors as they descend from the ceiling; it's like an upside-down "Tetris." In another game, you play a form of solitaire. And my favorite game is "Word Whomp," where you make words from anagrams.
For instance, when you get served the letters, "inocas," you have only a few minutes to figure out they can be chopped up into "sin," "casino," "can," "con," "son," "ion," "sac," "coin," "icon," "scan" and "sonic."
What's weird is the dictionary isn't complete. Facing other anagrams, I wanted to spell "bile" and "lance," but it wouldn't let me. I'm not sure what's going on with "Word Whomp," but it recognizes "bible" yet not "gay" or "sex."
But whatever. It's pleasantly hard enough to be a simple outing for a hard-core gamer such as myself, and it's not too hard for casual gamers who just want to pass time. It's a wee engaging distraction, which evidently is just enough moderate praise to make it the game of the weak.
("Death, Jr. and the Science Fair of Doom" retails for $30 for DS -- Plays somewhat fun but too repetitive. Looks cute. Moderately hard. Rated "E 10+" for animated blood, cartoon violence, crude humor and mild language. Two and one-half stars out of four.)
("Konami Classics Series: Arcade Hits" retails for $30 for DS -- Plays fun, but games are too brief. Looks rudimentary. Moderately hard. Rated "E 10+" for mild violence. Two and one-half stars.)
("Pogo Island" retails for $25 for DS -- Plays addictive. Looks cute. Moderately hard. Rated "E." Three and one-half stars.)
("Shrek the Third" retails for $50 for Xbox 360 and Wii; $40 for PS 2; $40 for PSP; $30 for DS -- Plays somewhat fun but too repetitive. Looks good. Easy. Rated "E 10+" for cartoon violence, crude humor. Two and one-half stars.)