Games 1/24/07: WarioWare: Smooth Moves, Lost Planet: Extreme Condition

WarioWare: Smooth Moves
For: Nintendo Wii
From: Nintendo/Intelligent Systems
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+

If “Wii Sports” was an aptitude test for new Wii owners, “WarioWare: Smooth Moves” is akin to cramming for midterms. Whether you’ve beaten “Halo” on legendary or never handled a video game controller in your life, you can thank “Moves” for leveling the playing field and delivering an experience that will drive everyone equally crazy.

For the uninitiated, “WarioWare” games are comprised of tons (in this case, more than 200) of “microgames,” which basically are minigames on speed. Each microgame lasts five seconds or less, provides maybe a word of instruction, and then skedaddles out of sight while a new, randomly-chosen microgame takes over. It sounds simplistic on paper, but in practice it’s maddeningly fun, thanks equally to a bizarre graphic style, even stranger (and genuinely funny) sense of humor, and some brilliant approaches to game design not seen elsewhere.

Like “WarioWare Touch!” (Nintendo DS touch screen/microphone) and  “WarioWare Twisted!” (Game Boy Advance cartridge with built-in tilt sensor), “Moves” automatically feels fresh due to the limitless possibilities granted by new hardware — in this case, the Wiimote and Nunchuck controllers.

This time, the microgames involve holding the controllers in a multitude of ways — like an umbrella, a holstered sword, a steering wheel, even an elephant’s trunk — and completing all manner of objectives ranging from practical and straightforward to vague and frighteningly strange. It’s not always clear (nor is it supposed to be) what to do, and it’s not necessarily a cakewalk when it is. The Wiimote will betray you now and then, but “Moves” is far more than not a testament to just how impressively flexible Nintendo’s little controller is.

“Moves'” only big mistake is its strange refusal to admit just how awesome a party game it is. The game case implies “Moves” is a single-player-only affair, and the manual doesn’t help matters. Worst of all, Nintendo tucked away the multiplayer mode — a euphorically fun pass-the-Wiimote train wreck-o-rama for up to 12 players — as an unlockable reward for finishing the story mode. Folks who want to share the fun right away will have to wait — and that’s only if they aren’t misled into thinking the mode was cut entirely.


Lost Planet: Extreme Condition
For: Xbox 360
From: Capcom
ESRB Rating: Teen

Capcom harnessed the full promotional power of Xbox Live by releasing a demo of “Lost Planet” way back in May, long before the game even had a release date. Busloads of Xbox 360 owners downloaded — and loved — the demo. And “Planet,” despite being a completely new and completely unproven franchise, enjoyed the kind of pre-release hype usually reserved for a big-budget sequel.

Finally, the other 90 percent of the game is publicly available. And while it’s not a great deal different than the 10 percent we saw last spring, it delivers on the promises the demo made.

Despite the surprisingly heavy (and arguably regrettable) infusion of storytelling, “Planet” really is about one thing: Shooting stuff. Sometimes you shoot stuff on foot. Other times, it’s from the womb of a giant mech. Sometimes that stuff is people — specifically, the agents and snow pirates who comprise much of the sparse human population on E.D.N. III, a snow-covered wasteland straight out of “The Day After Tomorrow.”

Mostly, though, “stuff” refers to bugs — big ones, huge ones, enormous ones, “oh my god!” ones and the nests from which they spawn. “Planet” easily is one of the 360’s prettiest games, and some of its encounters — featuring screen-sized insects that challenge you to keep your balance, never mind survive — are instantly legendary. The innovative creature designs, incredible special effects and sheer activity scream “blockbuster,” and the unique health system allows you to take full advantage and live pretty dangerously. Even when “Planet” does its best to frustrate — and camera issues, tons of cheap attacks and an inconsistent checkpoint system ensure it often will — it never bores.

“Planet’s” taste for firepower and horsepower makes it a perfect candidate for pick-up-and-play multiplayer, and that’s precisely what we get here. You can’t play as the giant worm, and outside of some game-specific influences, nothing here is terribly new. But tearing up E.D.N. III with up to 15 of your closest friends is tremendous fun all the same, and Capcom doesn’t ruin it by dropping the technical ball.