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Report: Nintendo’s WiiWare games are disappointing

By LOU KESTEN
Associated Press Writer

One of the best features of Nintendo’s Wii is the Virtual Console, a downloadable library of more than 200 classic games. It’s a great resource for young gamers who want to see what they missed, and for geezers who wonder if old favorites were as great as they remember.

What the Virtual Console lacks is anything new. Meanwhile, Microsoft’s Xbox Live Arcade and (to a lesser extent) Sony’s PlayStation Network have delivered a consistent supply of fresh software. Such games ó usually, casual titles like “Uno” or “Lumines Live!” ó may not warrant a full commercial release but can be well worth a $10 download.

WiiWare is Nintendo’s attempt to deliver brand new games online. None of the six games in the WiiWare launch lineup is as addictive as, say, “Puzzle Quest” or “Geometry Wars,” but there are many more offerings on the way.

–“Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King” (Square Enix, $15): For all the baroque mythology that’s built up around “Final Fantasy,” the games share one essential element: fighting monsters. Take that away and you get “My Life as a King,” a flat management sim in which a very young ruler is trying to rebuild his kingdom.

You can build a few houses to start, but then you have to send your subjects out to gather resources. They do all the dungeon-exploring while you stay home and chat with the citizenry. You can build a respectable town fairly quickly, and if you get hooked, you can buy more content online. But it’s hard to escape the feeling that all the real fun is happening offstage. Two stars out of four.

–“LostWinds” (Frontier, $10): In this 2D adventure, you wave the Wii remote to control gusts of wind. The breezes help your character jump higher and farther, or can be used to solve puzzles or trap enemies.

“LostWinds” looks prettier than many full-priced Wii games, although it only takes about three hours to finish. The wind controls are innovative but frustratingly imprecise, making it hard to pull off basic moves just because the wind doesn’t act the way you expect. It’s an interesting experiment, probably worth the $10. Two-and-a-half stars.

–“TV Show King” (Gameloft, $10): Here’s a decent trivia quiz for your next party. Up to four players compete to answer multiple-choice questions, with everyone choosing their responses at the same time. Gameloft says 3,000 questions are included, and there’s enough variety to balance out different players’ strengths. Each round ends with a spin of a roulette wheel that can add or subtract money, which adds a little too much luck but gives some hope to players who aren’t trivia buffs. Two-and-a-half stars.

–“Defend Your Castle” (XGen Studios, $5): Villagers are storming your fortress, but it’s easy enough to defend: Just pick them up and hurl them into the air. That’s just for starters, though, and eventually you’ll need to convert some of the attackers into defenders. You’ll also need to fortify the castle and beef up your weapons with bombs and magic spells. “DYC” builds slowly into complete chaos, and benefits from clever graphics that look like the scrawlings of a bored schoolboy. Two-and-a-half stars.

–“Pop” (Nnooo, $7): Who doesn’t love popping bubble wrap? That’s the not-bad inspiration behind “Pop”: Bubbles float across the screen, and you point the remote at the screen to burst them. Some bubbles give you more time, some give you more points, and if you chain bubbles of the same color, your score is multiplied. It’s much too simple to hold your attention for very long, and just doesn’t have the addictive quality of the best puzzle games. One star.

–“VIP Casino: Blackjack” (High Voltage, $7): Honestly, I’ve never gotten the point of gambling video games. Where’s the fun if there’s no actual money on the line? “VIP” doesn’t offer anything more than a bare-bones game of blackjack: There’s no tournament play, no online competition and not much in the way of visual distraction. It’s amusing for about 10 minutes. One star.

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