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When Animals Attack: New Critter-Based Video Games

The video-game universe is bursting with cuddly animals.

Characters like Sonic the Hedgehog, Crash Bandicoot, Ratchet, Daxter, Sly Cooper and the entire Pokemon family have built solid careers on a mix of athleticism and adorability. And they're all much cuter than their real-life counterparts.

What happens, though, when animals attack? When they stop playing nice and become the remorseless killing machines they really are?

Someday, perhaps, we'll see a video game in which the beasts overthrow their human oppressors and take over the world.

Until then, we can watch them beat up on each other, and hope they aren't developing the skills to turn the tables on us.

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— "Hail to the Chimp" (Gamecock, for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, $39.99): The concept behind this satirical party game is perfect for this political year.

The lion has been dethroned as king of the jungle, and the rest of the animals have decided to embrace democracy.

The race for the presidency involves dashing from one primary to the next, beating up your opponents and trying to collect the most clams. Not too different from the real thing.

In the game, however, you are literally beating on the competition — which could be a lot more fun if the design of "Hail to the Chimp" was a lot sharper.

Four candidates are plopped into an arena, where they scramble around and slug each other until one grabs a certain number of clams. It's essentially a button-mashing festival, with little strategy involved.

The battles are broken up by parody newscasts with an anchor who sounds a bit like Dan Rather. The jokes are heavy-handed, though, and don't get much funnier the second or 10th time you hear them.

"Hail to the Chimp" deserves credit for an original premise, but the execution is so sloppy that it doesn't deserve your vote. One-half star out of four.

— "Happy Tree Friends: False Alarm" (Sega, for the Xbox 360, $10): "Happy Tree Friends" has been one of the most popular cartoons on the Internet since its debut in 2000.

Don't let your children watch it, though: The series' creators revel in the gruesome dismemberment of their winsome woodland creatures.

In the PETA-baiting "False Alarm," you have to help Giggles the chipmunk, Toothy the beaver and the rest of the cast navigate a series of levels.

If you slip up, though, they're likely to get crushed, poisoned or ground into hamburger.

You can burn the animals to make them move faster or freeze them to make them stand still, and you can flip switches or explode obstacles to clear the path.

Sure, it's more fun to watch one or two get disemboweled, but you can still win if only a few of the creatures make it to the finish line.

The major drawbacks to "False Alarm" are that it's too easy and it's too short; a decent gamer can get through it in a couple of hours.

For those with a sadistic sense of humor, it's probably worth the ten bucks. Two stars.

— "Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo's Dungeon" (Square Enix, for the Wii, $39.99): The chocobo — a sort of human-size chicken — is the unofficial mascot of Square's long-running "Final Fantasy" series.

While the birds are generally benign, they do have a mean kick that can efficiently shred monsters.

Still, the chocobo in this kid-friendly game is so sweet that you may start dreaming about seeing him turning on a spit.

In this adventure, Chocobo has landed in a town called Lostime where all the residents are having their memories stolen. A baby savant can open portals to the dungeons where the memories are being stored, so Chocobo can rush in and recover them.

Unfortunately, the dungeons, which are randomly generated each time you enter one, are dull, without much variety from one to the next.

On the plus side, Chocobo can learn new skills with experience and can even switch between primary "jobs."

For example, as a white mage he can easily heal himself; as a black mage he can conjure powerful offensive spells.

"Chocobo's Dungeon" is far too cutesy to satisfy "FF" veterans, but it does have more depth than you'd expect from an introductory role-playing game. Two-and-a-half stars.