Published March 20, 2008
Online multiplayer gaming has really come into its own on the current generation of video-game consoles, with millions of people logging in every day to play "Call of Duty 4" or "Halo 3."
Still, some of us still prefer our multiplayer action offline — that is, with everyone in the same room, playing on the same console and the same TV.
Most games — with the exception of plot-driven adventures like "BioShock" or "Lost Odyssey" — have some kind of multiplayer built in.
While I prefer flying solo, I've spent many an hour chasing my friends across battlefields or speeding past them on racetracks.
We've probably gotten more good times out of fighting games like "Mortal Kombat" and "Virtua Fighter," free-for-alls that just about anyone can pick up and play.
Nintendo's Wii, with its newbie-friendly controllers, has been credited with a revival in "social gaming." And its most popular multiplayer fighting franchise has just arrived on the new system, turning Wii households around the world into virtual fight clubs.
— "Super Smash Bros. Brawl" (Nintendo, for the Wii, $49.99): For nearly a decade, Nintendo fanatics have been using "Super Smash Bros." to settle such burning debates as: Who'd win a fight between Mario and Donkey Kong? Is Kirby wimpier than Pikachu? Which princess, Peach or Zelda, deserves the throne?
"Brawl," the first game in the series since 2001, throws in more than a dozen new characters, including non-Nintendo favorites like Sega's Sonic the Hedgehog and Konami's Snake (from "Metal Gear Solid").
They're all nicely balanced, so an apparent lightweight like Yoshi can take down a killing machine like Samus (from "Metroid") by trapping her in an egg.
During each match a variety of power-ups appear, which can boost your defenses or give you superpowers, like the ability to breathe fire. And there's a wide assortment of stages from just about every Nintendo franchise you can think of; even laid-back games like "Animal Crossing" and "Pikmin" are represented.
Even if you can round up any friends, "Brawl" has plenty to offer, including a decent solo adventure and the ability to enter matches online.
In short, it's everything "Smash Bros." addicts have been waiting for, and it's absolutely essential for anyone who loves all things Nintendo. Three-and-a-half stars out of four.
—"The Club" (Sega, for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, $59.99): Bizarre Creations, the developer of "The Club," is best known for "Project Gotham Racing." Its newest production takes elements from "PGR" — in particular, speed and stunts — and applies them to the shooter genre.
You play a contestant in a "most dangerous game," kill-or-be-killed competition organized by some venal rich guys.
In some levels you need to run from one end of a maze to another; in others, you're trapped in a confined area and have to survive dozens of would-be assassins.
In any case, the goal is to rack up as many consecutive kills as possible to roll up a high score.
"The Club" does get the adrenaline pumping, but doesn't have much depth once you play through its solo levels. It does offer a decent variety of multiplayer events, both team-based and every-man-for-himself, but they're not quite polished enough to satisfy "Call of Duty" fans.
It's an interesting hybrid, but probably won't hold your interest beyond a weekend rental.
—"Ninja Reflex" (Electronic Arts, for the Wii, $39.99): Any true ninja can tell you that mastery involves more than violence. Accuracy, coordination and quickness are just as important, and "Ninja Reflex" aims to help you develop them all.
It consists of six minigames: You can fight off assaults with a sword, nunchucks or throwing stars; test your agility by catching flies or fish; or match reflexes against the flashes of fireflies.
Each challenge has a multiplayer option, either simultaneously or in turns, and it's fun to test your reflexes against those of your friends.
Unfortunately, six minigames just aren't enough to justify a $40 price tag. The games in "Ninja Reflex" are attractive and well-executed, but will leave you wanting a lot more.