Friday, August 29, 2008

Twenty games for kids (and adults too) - part two

This is part two of a list of games suitable for grown-ups as well as kids – many of them can be played together. It’s an unapologetically subjective collection, all of which are still available (links take you to You can find part one here.

For each game, the European (PEGI) age rating is given first, followed by the US (ESRB) rating.

11. LocoRoco
PSP; SCEJ, Sony; 3+/Everyone; 1 player
Propel your cute little LocoRoco through forty short levels using the PSP’s shoulder buttons to tilt the screen, gradually picking up more members to make a big LocoRoco. A gorgeous design and catchy soundtrack (there’s a CD available) pile on the charm.

12. Mario Kart DS
DS; Nintendo; 3+/Everyone; multiplayer via WiFi
Born on the SNES in 1992, a new version of Mario Kart has turned up on every subsequent Nintendo system; this one is a culmination – and celebration – of all that history, with 32 tracks making for amazing racing experience, whether single-player or against real-life opponents. The Wii version has an optional steering wheel controller, and allows four-player racing without an Internet connection. (This is a canon game, covered in more depth in the Rough Guide to Videogames.)
Mario Kart DS
Mario Kart Wii

13. Nintendogs
DS; Nintendo; 3+/Everyone; 1 player
An adorable, anti-allergy puppy you can play with, then put away as soon as you get bored – what more could anyone want in a pet? There are several editions of the game out there, covering different breeds (Chihuahua to Dalmation) but otherwise the same. Absorbing and gratifying for kids and adults alike, it’s worth noting younger players might find the voice command training a little tricky to pick up on their own. (This is a canon game, covered in more depth in the Rough Guide to Videogames.)

14. Pokémon Diamond and Pearl
DS; Nintendo; 3+/Everyone; 1 player, up to 8 online
When the media coverage is all about marketing and materialistic fervour, it’s easy to overlook the fact that Pokémon is a classic (if simplified) Japanese roleplaying game, as much about world exploration and nurturing the monsters as about collecting them. It’s got a long life too, with hundreds of pokémon (different in each edition of the game) to collect and swap online after the main game is over.
Pokémon Diamond

15. Sid Meier’s Civilization IV
PC, Mac; Firaxis, 2K Games; 12+/Everyone 10+; 1 player, multiplayer online
The strategic computer game that persuaded parents there was a benevolent side to gaming. It’s impossible to get through an entire game without learning something about the history of the world and its peoples, as you build a civilization from an inauspicious patch of grassland to a high-tech, spacefaring nation, via science and warfare. There’s also a streamlined, simplified and quicker version, Sid Meier’s Civilization Revolution (12+/Everyone 10+) for DS, Xbox 360 and PS3. (This is a canon game, covered in more depth in the Rough Guide to Videogames.)
Sid Meier's Civilization IV
Sid Meier's Civilization Revolution

16. Super Mario Galaxy
Wii; Nintendo; 3+/Everyone; 1–2 players
Mario’s Wii escapade is a landmark game, made even better by the clever two-player option that allows the weaker player (parent or child) to join in by collecting Star Bits and pointing at things, while the stronger player controls Mario’s running and jumping. The sumptuous universe is a blast to explore. (This is a canon game, covered in more depth in the Rough Guide to Videogames.)
Super Mario Galaxy

17. Viva Piñata
Xbox 360, PC; Rare, Microsoft; 3+/Everyone; 1–4 players
It may be aimed at kids and have its own TV cartoon, but its cute appearance belies quite a complex game. The point is to create and nurture a garden of papier-mâché creatures (piñatas), making sure all their needs are catered for through judicious clearing, building, planting and watering. Breeding them results in new varieties you can name yourself. A pocket version is about to be released for DS, along with a sequel for the Xbox 360.
Viva Piñata

18. Wario Ware: Smooth Moves
Wii; Intelligent Systems, Nintendo; 7+/Everyone 10+; as many as 12 players
With a number of titles for the Game Boy Advance and now the DS, this is a hilarious party game that in its Wii incarnation relies on using the remote in a number of ways to beat a minigame, whether it’s to shave a beard, pop balloons or pick a nose – there are over 200 of them. Anyone can play and even less skill is needed than for Wii Sports, at least in the early stages.
WarioWare: Smooth Moves

19. Wii Sports
Wii; Nintendo; 7+/Everyone; 1–4 players
Everyone’s seen it on TV and most have played it too, as it comes packaged with the Wii. Five sports are included (bowling, golf, tennis, baseball and boxing) and it’s simple to learn, though kids will beat the adults every time in my expereince. Definitely worth picking up an extra Wii remote for.
Wii Sports

20. Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros’ Treasure
Wii; Capcom; 7+/Everyone; 1–4 players
It may sport a cute pirate theme, but this is a puzzle game that can get quite tricky at times – younger kids may want you at their side, and you may want a walkthrough at yours. It’s highly entertaining, though, using the motion-sensing remote in various ways to solve the gradually more complex levels, while a second player waves a remote to helpfully point things out onscreen. (This is a canon game, covered in more depth in the Rough Guide to Videogames.)
Zack and Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Twenty games for kids (and adults too) - part one

So now you’ve read the reasons why you don’t need to worry about your child playing videogames, how about choosing some games for them to play? To this end, I’ve put together a list of titles that are suitable for grown-ups as well as kids – you can play many of them together. Below is part one of what’s an unapologetically subjective collection (in alphabetical order), all of which are still available (links take you to

For each game, the European (PEGI) age rating is given first, followed by the US (ESRB) rating.

1. Animal Crossing: Wild World
DS; Nintendo; 3+/Everyone; multiplayer via WiFi
See this post for more info. As a bonus, it offers painless practice at reading and writing (via tapping the onscreen keyboard). (This is a canon game, covered in more depth in the Rough Guide to Videogames.)
Animal Crossing: Wild World

2. Beautiful Katamari
Xbox 360; Namco; 3+/Everyone; 1– 2 players, up to 4 online
The latest, HD entry in the Katamari series; it may be getting dull for old-timers, but for anyone who’s not played before it’s well worth getting hold of. A gorgeous, stylized game with surreal humour, its basic premise involves rolling a ball around to pick up everyday items of increasing size. And it’s accompanied by some insanely hummable tunes.
Beautiful Katamari

3. Brain Age/Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training
DS; Nintendo; 3+/Everyone; 1 player
This is a game that’s been hijacked for educational purposes, and some may feel it’s a bit too much like school. Despite the age rating, maths and reading are involved in some of the tests.
Brain Training

4. Buzz! Junior Jungle Party
PS2; Magenta Software, Sony; 3+/Everyone; 1–4 players
As well as more adult quizzes on general knowledge, music and film, the Buzz! series extends to several junior versions, including the Schools Quiz that’s used in British classrooms to practice test ages 7–11. This one revolves around monkeys in a set of minigames, but its wicked humour makes it bearable for the older gamer too. The same buzzer peripherals work for all games.
Buzz! Junior Jungle Party

5. CTR: Crash Team Racing
PS3, PSP; Naughty Dog, Sony; 3+/Everyone; 1–2 players
Fast and furious, the original PlayStation game from the last century is now available to download from the PlayStation Network for PSP or PS3 (though the big-screen version is inevitably pixellated). As well as themed kart-racing courses, there are battle arenas for full-on warfare and plenty of dastardly villains to dispatch.

6. Elite Beat Agents
DS; iNiS, Nintendo; 12+/Everyone 10+; 1–4 players
See the writeup here. Some reading is involved, as well as a love of cheesy pop. Note that the difficulty level ramps up quite a bit.
Elite Beat Agents

7. FIFA 08
PS2, PS3, Xbox 360, PSP, DS, PC, Wii; Electronic Arts; 3+/Everyone; 1–4 players, up to 32 online
The game of choice for junior footie fans, though the cognoscenti rate it lower than Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer franchise. It’s the big one, nonetheless, with the official licences, the lifelike player models and annual updates to ensure it’s as true to life as possible.

8. Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life As A King
Wii via Virtual Console; Square Enix; 7+/Everyone; 1 player
Wii owners can download this medieval city-building sim set in the Final Fantasy universe, which means a well-developed world and cute anime stylings. City improvements are just part of the king’s job: you need to send a band of adventurers out for treasure to fund building, and keep them happy too.

9. The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass
DS; Nintendo; 7+/Everyone; 1–2 players
With its cartoony looks, this is a charming, funny adventure game making great use of the DS’s two screens. Reading is involved, as well as some patience for puzzle-solving. A good starting point for a series that has an extensive backlist, available via Wii Virtual Console and on Game Boy Advance cartridges (playable with the DS). (This is a canon game, covered in more depth in the Rough Guide to Videogames.)
Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass

10. Lego Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy
Xbox 360, Xbox, PS2, PSP, PC, GC, DS; Travellers’ Tales, LucasArts; 3+/Everyone 10+; 1–2 players
You could go for the Complete Saga (all six films) if it’s on special offer (or if you want it for the PS3 or the Wii), thought it’s maybe too much of a good thing. Sticking with the original trilogy, the films are played out with oodles of slapstick humour and silly additions like disguises. Different characters are central to the action, but there are always two of them, making it perfect for playing cooperatively. (This is a canon game, covered in more depth in the Rough Guide to Videogames.)
Lego Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy
Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Win the Rough Guide to Videogames

Over at the Guardian’s games blog they’re running a competition to win a copy of the Rough Guide to Videogames (link below). All you need to do is write about your favourite location in a game. For the record, I’d pick Whispering Rock summer camp, but I don’t think I’m eligible to enter. Shame, as I've got the relevant experience, having co-written (with Geoff Howard) a Rough Guide to the Jacutan Archipelago, the setting for Ubisoft’s Far Cry Instincts back in 2005.

Guardian games blog's competition

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Five reasons not to worry about your kids playing videogames

I’m aware this is a high-risk topic for someone who’s not themselves a parent, but there are children within my circle of family and friends, and many of their parents worry about the effect of videogames on their children. The perception, as promulgated by many newspapers and a few politicians, is that they’re almost all violent and a major cause of society’s moral decline.

I don’t believe this is true. In fact, I think they’re used as a scapegoat (and to sell papers) in the same way that movies and comics were blamed in previous generations.

The research I’ve done has helped me to put together answers to some of the most common worries, as fostered by the likes of the Daily Mail. My views have been influenced and sharpened by the book Grand Theft Childhood, written by doctors Lawrence Kutner and Cheryl K. Olson, who are based in the Department of Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, and are on the psychiatry faculty at Harvard Medical School. Dr Kutner is the author of several books on child psychology and they both write columns on parenting in various magazines and newspapers. For more detail on the statistics and details of surveys undertaken, as well as a fascinating look at the failed attempts at US state legislation to ban games, I encourage you to read the book. Some of my research has also come from last year's British Board of Film Classification survey regarding playing videogames. However, I wrote the piece myself and take full responsibility for it.

Before getting into the list, my first piece of advice would be to check the age rating of the game your child wants to play, along with the content descriptors on the box. If you need more detailed information on the content, then try some of the in-depth review websites (see the list of links on the right) or the excellent What They Play, a site designed for parents. These will give you a good idea what “violence” or “bad language” might mean in the context of a particular game.

Of course you can only do so much. Even if you ban your child from playing a game, they may well find a way to do it without your knowledge. I certainly managed to watch plenty of X-rated horror films before the age of eighteen. This being the case, it’s best to be prepared.

1. Won’t it make them solitary zombies with no real-life friends?
Playing games actually helps children socialize with one another, gives them a common topic to talk about. It can also be a sociable activity in itself, since kids play with others more often than than alone. Children who don’t play videogames may end up feeling left out.

2. It’ll fry their brains!
There’s no evidence for this. Some games have been known to provoke epileptic attacks, and so all games are thoroughly tested for this side effect. There is evidence, on the other hand, that it helps not just hand–eye coordination, but spatial awareness and decision-making. Many games involve reading and sometimes even writing skills. Whatever the game, it’s a lot more demanding than watching TV.

3. Playing violent games will make them act violently.
There’s no evidence for this either. For children to act aggressively in a game is normal and doesn’t mean they’ll be aggressive as adults. In a playground scrap when we were both seven years old, I pinched a classmate’s hand so hard I gave her a scar (and she made me feel terrible about it for the next eleven years of school). That was the last time I injured anyone intentionally, though.
What games can do is allow kids to explore boundaries and different types of behaviour in a safe, non-threatening environment.

Experiencing or witnessing real-life violence in the home is far more likely to have a negative effect on a child’s wellbeing and attitude towards violence.

4. They are obsessed, it’s the first thing they do when they get home from school.
Playing videogames is one of the ways children help themselves cope with stress, in the same way that you might crash out in front of the TV or soak luxuriously in the bath. On the other hand, if they’re generally subdued and don’t want to do anything but play games, it might indicate something else is going on in their lives that might be affecting them.

Playing games is no more addictive than reading. Being absorbed by whatever they’re doing and not wanting to stop for dinner is normal behaviour for children and teenagers. Whether it’s reading or listening to music or playing games, so long as it’s not the only way they spend their leisure time, there shouldn’t be anything to worry about.

5. I just don’t understand the appeal.
So join in! You child would probably love to explain their game to you. Be interested and be brave. You can always watch until you feel confident enough to use a controller. Just think how cool it is for your child to teach you something, instead of being the one who’s always told what to do.

Thanks for reading. Feedback, especially from parents, is much appreciated – leave a comment.

Next time: some recommended games for kids.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Radio Live update

The Rough Guide to Videogames interview on The Weekender will be broadcast on Friday 29 August, 10pm to midnight. Not the 15th, as I initially thought. 

The weblink in the previous post is still valid though. 

Sorry for the confusion. Now I need to go and ring my Mum. 

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Radio Live Transmission (not)

I've just got back from Radio 2's central London studios, where Claudia Winkleman's The Weekender show is produced. I was on to talk about the Rough Guide to Videogames, with Will, a male teenage gamer, alongside for contrast. He had read the book and liked it, although he said there were too many words for him. You can't blame him, he's still in school and it must have seemed too much like homework. What surprised me was that his favourite game, out of the thousands he could have chosen, is the same as mine – Final Fantasy VII. Not so much contrast as you might expect.

I had been prepared to talk about violence in games, about Grand Theft Auto and the pink DS. But instead I talked about Brain Training and my Mum, and ended up effusing about Okami's design. Who knows which snippets of embarrassment will make it onto the actual show. Hopefully the book will come across OK.

If you want to hear me talk about games with Claudia "Is Tetris a game?" Winkleman, it's on Friday August 29 from 10pm till midnight on BBC Radio 2. You can listen to it live online via the iPlayer console.

Claudia was lovely, in case you're wondering. And so was George Lamb, who I saw in the foyer.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Superhero substitutes

There are no traditional superhero games in the Rough Guide to Videogames canon. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t any games with the superhuman powers of a hero. So if you’re feeling the urge to exercise some inhuman strength and agility (plus some cool weapons), here’s a few alternatives.

Kratos in God of War
This tale of violence, revenge and insanity is nothing less than you’d expect from an epic tragedy set in classical Greece. Spartan warrior Kratos is a puppet played by the gods, a tormented antihero – desperate, amoral and filled with rage. He brings destruction at the press of a few buttons thanks to his twin Blades of Chaos, and that’s not even taking into account his god-given powers.

Master Chief in Halo 3
Last of the genetically enhanced SPARTAN warriors (what is it with Sparta?), Master Chief’s third outing begins with him crashlanding on Earth in a bid to prevent the destruction of the universe. Masked by a helmet and rarely speaking, the saviour of 26th century humanity defines a new vision of the superhero, tougher than any natural human could ever be.

Ryu Hayabusa in Ninja Gaiden
Super ninja of the Dragon Ninja Clan, Ryu is the protagonist in a mythic tale of vengeance. Armed with the Dragon Blade, he is charged with recovering its counterpart, the evil Dark Dragon Blade, which was stolen from the protection of his clan. Unnaturally graceful acrobatic talents mean he can run up walls and across water with little effort, while taking on dozens of often demonic opponents in heroic style.

Ratchet in Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction
OK, he’s a hero, but there’s not that much inherently special about the lombax other than being the last of his race. He does gain access to an impressive arsenal of superpowerful gadgets and weaponry, though, including the Groovitron, which chucks a disco mirrorball at enemies causing all within range to dance in sync, while you slaughter them like some kind of cartoon Scarface.

The Prince in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
Like Ruy, the Prince has a knack for acrobatics such as wall running and jumping, a technique that also helps him dodge attacks. But if all else fails, there’s the handy ability to negate disaster, even death: by manipulating the sands of time, you can rewind to before the fatal event and replay the scenario a different way. In the world of videogames, there’s not much that’s more powerful than that.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Whatever happened to the superheroes?

For a day or two last week it looked like I’d be asked to join in a radio debate about superheroes. It wasn’t to be, but it did get me thinking about about superhero games, and so I checked out the Rough Guide to Superheroes, to see what it had to say on the matter. Well, out of 320 pages, about 40 pages were devoted to films, TV shows got twenty pages, and games? Scarcely a page. I was horrified, grumbling about games not being given proper recognition as a popular artform, and then I tried to think which games I’d write about – and there was the crux of the problem. There just aren’t very many good ones. But why not?

Curse of the licence

Technology must be partly to blame. Superman has been around since the 1930s, far longer than videogames, and for most of that time it hasn’t been possible to reproduce his particular talents. Sure, there are some excellent Marvel fighting games, even a roleplaying game. But no games I know of gives you the feeling of what it’s like to, say, plunge through the skies, cape flowing behind you. In terms of technology, though, it’s distinctly possible now – check out Super Mario Galaxy.

Perhaps it’s the curse of licensed material. Especially when the release of a game is tied to that of a movie, developers have sometimes been given scarcely enough time to create something competent, let alone a standout game. Plus everything needs to be approved by the licence holder (and anyone who’s produced anything for a client knows how long that can take). But perhaps to those who make the decisions, the quality of the game hasn’t always been top priority. Gamers aren’t so easy to sway these days, though, when games can cost $60 and there’s such a plethora of titles to choose from.

Even pursuing a script that’s faithful to the film or comic has its share of dangers. If you read comics and have a fondness for a particular superhero, then the game of the film or comic can feel like a travesty. Comics are more closely related to film than either of them is to games, being essentially passive entertainment (okay, you have to turn pages and navigate the DVD menu, but most of the time you’re absorbing). If it’s well written, you’ll sympathize with the characters, but you don’t internalize them to the degree you do when you’re responsible for their actions. This connection can makes it harder for a superhero to feel like one, because he’s not always doing what you want him to do (missing a jump for example). In fact, a superhero under your control is destined to disappoint at some stage.

Watch the film, read the comic

Despite all these pitfalls, there have been some successful superhero games, including the beat-’em-ups mentioned above, but they require a shift in expectation. My favourite was Spider-Man: The Movie (2002), which belied its title as it followed two previous Spider-Man games, building on some strong foundations. It made you feel super powerful at times, while swooping in exhilaration amongst the rooftops of New York City.

The latest Batman game was based on Batman Begins [not Dark Knight as I originally posted] and it received generally positive reviews (I haven’t played it). Far from capitalizing on the current smash film, Warner Bros. and EA (the company producing the game) are estimated to have lost out on $100 million by not releasing a game alongside the movie, according to a report at Edge Online. If the game ever does come out, it may then get a chance to be judged on its own merits; it’s unfair to expect it to replicate the experience of the film, not least because you’ll be the one in charge. Personally, I want my superheroes to be more distant, more glamorous, more dramatic, even in their failings, so for the moment (until Lego Batman comes out), I’m sticking to the movies. And the comics – I’ve uncovered my 1986 copy of Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns and can’t wait to read it again.

Next time: Superhero substitutes

Friday, August 1, 2008

Not all fun and games

Mostly it is, but sometimes the fun part disguises an ulterior motive – education. And whether the fun or the didactic element predominate, games with a serious bent are all around us. Here’s an edited excerpt from the Rough Guide; in its original form it accompanies the review of Civilization IV.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that you can learn something from Civilization. However, Bitcasters and 2K Games took the idea to its logical conclusion with a modified version of the game entitled HistoriCanada: The New World, which was donated to 100,000 Canadian high school students in 2007. Already known for providing reams of historical background information, Civ was the perfect vehicle for enlivening one of the least interactive of school subjects.

In the UK, too, there’s work going on, particularly through Learning & Teaching Scotland’s Consolarium project, whose founder Derek Robertson has been evaluating the use of videogaming in teaching. One of his experiments involved children aged 9 and 10 playing Dr Kawashima’s More Brain Training for fifteen minutes before maths classes; not only did the children improve in speed and accuracy, but they were found to be more focused than the other kids and more enthusiastic about the subject.

It wasn’t difficult for the brain game to keep the kids’ attention as it’s designed to do just that, as a commercial title; it doesn’t matter whether the playing environment is a classroom or a living room. More often, though, and rather less fun, games are appropriated in order to send didactic messages. What better way to persuade young men, a notoriously hard to reach section of the population, of the perils of drink driving than by advertising on billboards in Project Gotham Racing 4 on Xbox Live? That’s what the Scottish government concluded, anyway.

Whereas the anti-drink driving message has yet to yield results, studies by the likes of Munich University and the British School of Motoring have shown that players of racing games are more likely to take risks when driving in real life. Similar points have been made about drivers who listen to certain types of music, too, but a game of slow and careful highway driving seems almost as ridiculous as banning car radios.

Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick - part 2

These days even people who profess not to like videogames have become curious. So if you get the chance to introduce someone to gaming, which game do you choose? That’s easy: Guitar Hero – and not only because most people can connect with music. No previous videogaming experience is needed; nor does your student need to find their way around a fiddly-looking controller; they just have to know how to hold a guitar, and whether they’re imagining themselves as John Lennon or Angus Young, it’s a game of pretend everyone’s familiar with. At first it’s all puzzled concentration and apologies, but before long they’ll be asking with increasing confidence for “one more go?”. It’s by far my favourite game to play with new gamers.

Guitar Hero’s not the only music performance game around, though. If hard rock won’t do it, maybe karaoke’s more your thing? Personally, I’m an unfunny version of Cameron Diaz in My Best Friend’s Wedding. But for everyone else there’s a vast range of titles in Sony’s SingStar series for PlayStation 2 and more recently 3, encompassing every genre you can think of, from 80s pop to Bollywood, though not all are available in the US. All you need is the microphone and a few drinks inside you. Check out the website.

Rock Band, by contrast, is a game for serious wannabe musos. It’s not a cheap game (especially in Europe and Australia), but if you’re prepared to shell out for the whole caboodle of microphone, guitar, drumkit, plus the game itself, it’s evidently a blast – and easier than trying to get the real thing together. In fact, far from deterring kids from learning instruments, Guitar Hero and its ilk have led to a boom in music lessons. Full circle then for the original developers, Harmonix, a company founded by and largely staffed by musicians.

Here’s a roundup of a few favourite games in which music takes centre stage (some edited down from The Rough Guide to Videogames).

Guitar Hero II
PS2, Xbox 360; Harmonix Music Systems, RedOctane; 2006
The last main Guitar Hero title developed by Harmonix, it refined the original to near-perfection. Live out your rockstar dreams, gradually working your way up from simple notes and small clubs, to playing bigger gigs and unlocking more songs as your proficiency increases. Guitar Hero III, developed by Neversoft for Activision (who bought RedOctane), is in many ways a step forward with its downloadable tracks and wireless guitar controllers and is even available for the DS, bizarrely (check out the latest TV commercials).

PS2; Harmonix Music Systems; Sony; 2001
Harmonix were also behind this psychedelic dance music game, where you build up songs by the likes of Paul Oakenfold and Orbital through compiling their individual tracks (drums, bass, synth, vocals, etc). It’s all very space-age, as you travel through an angular tunnel of virtual music, with whirling shapes spinning around and the challenge of pressing the right button at the precise time the note hits your “activator” – a precursor to Guitar Hero’s own mechanic. Win that particular track and you can rotate round to another wall of the tunnel, which represents a different track, and so on, until you’ve built up the entire song.

DC, PS2, Xbox 360 via Xbox Live; United Game Artists; Sega, Microsoft; 1999
Though often described as an on-the-rails shooter for its control system – which comprises moving across the screen from left to right and back again, locking onto targets, and firing at them – Rez is more about evolution than destruction. The theme is virtual reality, with your avatar shooting at viruses, firewalls and the like represented by organic forms. At the outset, these are basic, black-and-white wire-frame affairs, but as the rhythm and pace increase, everything starts to glow with colour and pulsating, living detail. The trance soundtrack is built upon with the sound effects of every button press, lock-on and explosion, which, combined with the ever-evolving graphics and the rhythmic pulsing of the vibration in the controller, provides developer Tetsua Mizuguchi’s desired synthesis of sound, vision and touch.

Everyday Shooter
PS3 via PlayStation Network; Queasy Games, Sony; 2007
Winner of a clutch of awards at the 2007 Game Developers Conference, the influence of Rez, Lumines and Geometry Wars is writ large on this excellent indie title, but developer Jonathan Mak got here by rejecting the more complex game he’d been working on and focusing on simplicity. The stripped-down control system combines with an acoustic-guitar soundtrack to approach Mizuguchi’s classics in inducing sensory overload, and the feeling of having ingested an illegal substance. If you’re looking for it in the UK PlayStation Network Store, you’ll find it under “Riff”.