When you're hanging out with friends, it's rude to lose yourself in an epic video game like "Final Fantasy XII."
You want minigames, challenges that can be tackled in just a few minutes and are easy enough for anyone to learn.
Nintendo Co.'s new Wii console almost seems deliberately designed for minigames. Swinging its motion-sensitive controller can be exhausting in long stretches, but it's fun for a quick game of tennis.
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The Wii even comes with a nifty minigame package, "Wii Sports," that serves as a good demo for the system's capabilities.
The ideal package samples lots of different kinds of games in bite-sized chunks, with a little bit of something for everyone from Grandma to your 5-year-old nephew. Two of the Wii's early titles offer just that sort of package:
— "Rayman Raving Rabbids" (Ubisoft, for the Wii, $49.99; PlayStation 2, $39.99): When designer Michel Ancel (creator of the brilliant "Beyond Good & Evil") announced he was returning to the "Rayman" series, critics rejoiced.
But Ancel hasn't delivered the sweeping adventure most of us were hoping for; instead, Rayman has to entertain a coliseum full of crazed bunnies by taking on a variety of disconnected challenges.
Still, even the weakest of the 70 minigames here (jumping rope, for example) are enjoyable, while the best of them (shooting bunnies with plungers, or keeping a beat as they dance across a stage) are, happily, the most frequently repeated.
There are even a few events that stretch the boundaries of taste, such as cow hurling or outhouse-door slamming, and the self-destructive antics of the wild-eyed bunnies are generally hilarious.
In fact, "Rayman Raving Rabbids" is one of the few games this year that made me laugh out loud, and it's almost as fun to watch as it is to play.
It's a great demonstration of all the things that can be done with the Wii controller, although it's still amusing with a conventional PS2 joystick.
Three stars out of four.
— "Super Monkey Ball Banana Blitz" (Sega, for the Wii, $49.99): The essence of "Super Monkey Ball" has always been its marvelous mazes, which become even more compelling when you're trying to maneuver through them with the Wii remote.
But then there's the icing on the cake: the assorted minigames in each "SMB" installment, in which you can bowl, golf, shoot pool or do anything else you might want to do with a monkey-in-a-ball.
"Banana Blitz" has 50 of these bonus treats. Some, like goldfish scooping and trombone playing, are dreadful. Some, like boxing and sailing, are amusing in short spurts. And a few holdovers from previous games, like bowling and golf, are as addictive as ever.
As always, the monkeys have tons of personality, and the simple controls make "Banana Blitz" accessible to just about anyone.
It's a big improvement over the previous game in the series, the ill-conceived "Super Monkey Ball Adventure," and it's another solid showcase for the Wii.
— "Crash Boom Bang!" (Vivendi, for the Nintendo DS, $29.99): Would-be PlayStation mascot Crash Bandicoot never really caught on, and lately he's been just getting by with a bland running-and-jumping game here, a sluggish kart-racing game there. "Crash Boom Bang!" is the worst game yet for the flea-bitten marsupial.
It's a board game in which you have to accumulate the most points before someone crosses the finish line; certain spaces require you to compete in minigames, a la "Mario Party."
The difference here is that there isn't a single decent minigame in the bunch: You may have to shoot free throws, paddle a canoe or keep a feather afloat, but the controls are so poor and the graphics so sloppy that even such simple tasks are difficult to execute.
Games like this ought to be easy to pick up and play, but "Crash Boom Bang!" is so confusing and unnecessarily complicated that it will make any player shut off the DS in frustration. One-half star.