Review: Video Games Built for More Than One

Video games are usually a solitary pastime. But that doesn't mean that gamers are anti-social misfits, any more than readers, knitters or crossword solvers.

We have friends, siblings, spouses and kids, and when we're not off saving the world on our own, we enjoy playing games with our loved ones.

No one has emphasized the social aspect of gaming more than Nintendo. The company named its new machine "Wii" (as in "we") to emphasize "this console is for everyone," with the double-i meant to symbolize "the image of people gathering to play."

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Wii games like "Wii Sports," "Rayman Raving Rabbids" and "Super Monkey Ball Banana Blitz" are undeniably more fun to play with a crowd.

That's not to suggest that the Wii has a stranglehold on multiplayer action. Particularly in the sports and fighting genres, there are plenty of PlayStation and Xbox games that thrive with two or more players. But Sony (SNE) and Microsoft (MSFT) haven't reached out to nontraditional gamers the way Nintendo has.

—"WarioWare: Smooth Moves" (Nintendo, for the Wii, $49.99): "Smooth Moves" is a collection of more than 200 "microgames," each about five seconds long, that require you to use the Wii's remote control in different ways.

You may be asked to hold it like bicycle handlebars, a barbell or a telephone; as the events get sillier, you hold it in front of your nose or on top of your head. You'll find yourself flapping your arms, swiveling your hips, squatting and jumping.

Each round consists of 10 to 20 microgames that seem to come faster as the game progresses, and half the battle is figuring out what the game wants you to do before time runs out.

The main multiplayer challenge is like a game of hot potato in which you pass the remote each time a new game starts.

There's plenty of irreverent comedy, with tasks ranging from zipping up a guy in a panda suit to helping granny put her dentures in, that makes "Smooth Moves" almost as much fun to watch as it is to play.

Three stars out of four.

—"Wii Play" (Nintendo, for the Wii, $49.99): The "Wii Sports" disc that was packaged with the Wii attracted a lot of players to the new console, and I still find myself returning to its sweet bowling simulation. Fans have been clamoring for more, but "Wii Play" is a letdown.

It consists of nine games, only one of which — billiards — has any real staying power. Most of the remainder — shooting, table tennis, laser hockey, a tank battle and cow racing — show some promise but just don't have enough meat on them.

And the final three, including fishing and two observation games where you have to find and manipulate your "Mii" avatar, are just annoying.

The main draw for most Wii maniacs is that "Wii Play" comes with a controller, which normally costs $40. So, for an extra 10 bucks, you're getting a fairly decent demo disc. And since Wii controllers have been in short supply, that may be a bargain that's too good to pass up.

One-and-a-half stars.

—"Fuzion Frenzy 2" (Microsoft, for the Xbox 360, $49.99): With "Fuzion Frenzy 2," Microsoft has tried to muscle into the party-game market by hiring Hudson Soft, the developer of Nintendo's popular "Mario Party" franchise.

Unfortunately, "Frenzy" substitutes the charm of Mario and his gang for an irritating intergalactic game show. There are 40 different minigames, ranging from lame (gravity-defying slam dunks) to somewhat amusing (smashing your opponents with a hammer), but there's nothing you'll want to play more than once.

"Frenzy" is also marred by a confusing scorekeeping system and a dumb gimmick that allows losers to play cards to steal points from the winners, killing any desire to play skillfully.

Still, "Fuzion Frenzy 2" is the only thing of its kind on Microsoft's console, so it could be an adequate rental for Xbox 360 users desperate for a party game.

One-and-a-half stars.