I've spent an awful lot of time this winter battling deadly alien armies on bleak, ravaged planets.
Last week I was on Helghan, fighting laser-eyed supersoldiers in "Killzone 2." Next week, I'm shipping out to Harvest to re-engage the Covenant in "Halo Wars."
Frankly, I could use a little nonlethal R&R. And I'm sure even the most dedicated war-game fan will agree that sometimes you have to enjoy something a little less stressful.
Still, there's a fine line between relaxing and boring. Even the mellowest game has to put up some kind of resistance or offer some kind of goal; otherwise, it's just the interactive equivalent of Muzak.
—"LocoRoco 2" (Sony, for the PlayStation Portable, $19.99): When "LocoRoco" came out in 2006, its vivid colors, infectious music and childlike spirit distinguished it from any other release for the PlayStation Portable. While losing some novelty, the sequel has the same kind of smile-inducing quality.
Once again, you are LocoRoco, a bright yellow blob. By tilting the screen, you use gravity to move across a 2D landscape and collect your fellow blobs — the more you gather, the bigger you get.
Sometimes you'll need to split up to slide through smaller spaces; in other cases, you might need to squeeze into an Afro wig to get past obstacles.
"LocoRoco 2" adds some lively side challenges, including a note-matching rhythm game and a version of Whac-a-Mole. Each section has hidden passages, too, so it's worth revisiting levels you've beaten.
This game may be lighthearted, but it offers enough challenge for even the most jaded player. Three stars out of four.
—"Flower" (Sony, for the PlayStation 3, $9.99): In this experimental gem, you are the wind. Your job is to guide a petal across a pasture, awakening other flowers as you pass them. Open enough blossoms and the pasture explodes in a riot of color.
"Flower" may be the most effective use yet of the PS3 controller's motion detection, which really lets you feel like you're steering the wind as you move.
It's weirdly immersive, especially on a big screen, with just the right amount of sound effects and music cues.
All this takes place in the dream of a lonely flower on an urban windowsill. It's utterly hypnotic, and well worth the $10 download. Three stars.
—"Noby Noby Boy" (Namco Bandai, for the PlayStation 3, $4.99): In the latest offering from the creator of "Katamari Damacy," the object is to stretch your wormlike Boy as far as possible. And ... well, that's about it.
There's an intriguing collaborative element: The more people worldwide who play, the more levels will open up.
But the gameplay in the already available levels isn't interesting enough to make me care about what might come next. One star.