Platform: Nintendo. Rating: NNNN
Let's get the facts straight right away -- Electroplankton is not a game, at least not in the traditional sense. There are no objectives, no goals, no score, no avatars and no bad guys. Rather, it's an audio synth, voice recorder, sound distorter, sequencer and all-around audio toy all crammed into one creative package.
What you get is a collection of 10 audio experiences, each with a different approach to the creation of sound.
In each module you're faced with any number of little plankton-like creatures that create sound in response to certain stimuli or criteria.
For example, in the module titled Hanenbow, plankton shoot off a leaf on the side of the screen.
When you begin, they fly up into the air and then drop into the water, making a little splash sound. But start adjusting the angle of the leaf and of the leaves on a plant on the other side of the screen and suddenly things come alive, each leaf making a different note when hit by a plankton.
The biggest flaw is that you can't save your creations. There's something to be said for the ephemeral nature of the experience, but when you get that one really cool rhythm or sound you've been seeking for the last hour or more, it would be nice to save it for another day.
Not to worry, though -- the Nintendo DS has an audio line out, so if you have a bit of audio know-how you can record the sounds.
Try to record a bunch of clips into your favourite multi-track audio editor and create a more complex composition. Many audio geeks have already done just this. Check out http://tinyurl.com/7aht8 for an example.
Tony Hawk's American Sk8land
Platform: Nintendo DS. Rating: NNN
Fortunately for Nintendo DS fans, the Tony Hawk series is at one of the highest points it's been in some time. You might question how well a fast-paced, extreme sports game in a high-quality 3-D environment might translate to the little DS, but have no fear. It beats all expectations. Instead of going for full-out 3-D, they've given the DS version a look of its own: highly stylized and flat-cell shaded.
The action is fast and diverse. There are plenty of missions with different challenges, and the game does a great job of teaching all the moves you need to know to bust some big air.
American Sk8land utilizes the full suite of input options as well. Not only is every button essential, but there's also a touch-screen speed test that lets you save some points when you crash before landing that massive 360 aerial kickflip over a rooftop gap.
This is also where things get a bit difficult. The DS's physical design makes it really hard to perform the rapid-action finger and thumb tricks required to pull off some of the more complicated moves.
When you've finished the story mode or need a break, you can always go online and skate with other people. Check out the worldwide leader boards or download additional content in the form of missions and ramps for your skate park.
If you're a Tony Hawk fan you should definitely check this out, even if you already have American Sk8land on another platform.
Super Princess Peach
Platform: Nintendo DS. Rating: NNN
After years of being the princess in peril, Peach finally gets her moment and goes off to rescue Mario from Bowser's clutches. Afflicted by the powerful artifact known as the Vibe Wand (don't get me started on its name!), Peach and all her emotions -- joy, rage, gloom and calm -- are used to defeat enemies and solve puzzles on the mysterious Vibe Island.
In terms of game play, this is a best-of remix from previous Mario titles -- and it's done well, albeit perhaps a little too simply. With several locations to explore, hidden areas to uncover and items to collect, as well as puzzles and unlockable mini-games, there's quite a bit to keep you occupied. The weaknesses of the game: it's just too hard to die, since you can recharge your heart meter with your calm emotion, and hidden secrets are given away to some extent by Peach when she enters a new level. Puzzles are only a minor challenge.
Older fans will find that playing through yields its own rewards, but Super Princess Peach is aimed more at the kiddies than the usual crowd.
Kingdom of Paradise
Platform: Sony PSP. Rating: NNN
While pickings are especially slim in role-playing for the PSP, Kingdom Of Paradise's cinematic opening sequence, fantastic musical score and creative battle mechanics give us new hope.
Thrown out of his clan for a silly reason, we find Shinbu helping a fellow clan member resist attackers. These two, we discover, are the last remaining members of the Seiryu clan. Committed to rebuilding the Seiryu, they set off to learn what strange happenings are going on in the world of Ouka.
Kingdom Of Paradise offers very polished play. Most engrossing are the Bugei scrolls and Kenpu tiles you pick up along the way to create and customize your swordplay. However, the overpowered chi attacks tend to highlight the one-button mash-fest that the game is reduced to. Since blocking shares the same button as that lone attack button, you get some confusing and frustrating battles.
In the end, this isn't enough to shut the gates on Kingdom Of Paradise, and this title excellently shows off the power of the PSP.