Despite its built-in Wi-Fi, the Wii’s online experience has felt downright lonely contrasted with play on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Sure, Nintendo’s console has at least a dozen Internet-enabled titles that beg to be taken online, with “Super Smash Bros. Brawl” and “Mario Kart Wii” being two of the most popular.
But when you hop on the Internet and challenge your buddies in these titles and others, you’ll find you might as well be playing against the computer because, until this week, there’s been no way to talk to your friends during your game, unless you’re willing to pick up a phone.
Nintendo’s finally addressing that shortcoming, with this week’s release of “Animal Crossing: City Folk.” The online-enabled, collaborative, “Sims”-style title comes in two flavors: a standalone game ($50) or a bundle that includes the new Wii Speak peripheral ($70). Wii Speak, also available separately for ($30), provides what many gamers have been asking for, a new Wii Channel you can use to chat with your friends while you game. Unlike the 360 or PS3’s headsets, Wii Speak goes for a more inclusive approach, with a microphone that sits atop your TV and captures all the conversation in the room.
Oh, and “Animal Crossing” (rated E) shouldn’t be bad, either. It’s predecessor, which can be found these days for about $10, was one of the GameCube’s cult hits. Your character is a new arrival in a town filled with talking animals. You perform odd jobs, wander around the town, interact with residents, decorate your house and pretty much do whatever you want.
If you’re an adult with a PC or an Xbox 360, you ought to download the free demo of Valve’s “Left 4 Dead.” The M-rated shooter ($60 on 360, $50 on PC) lets friends play run-and-gun zombie-survival runs through four different scenarios. The game’s pretty much totally devoid of plot beyond, “Zombies are trying to get you. You’re trying to get from point A to point B with the help of three teammates.”
If you like deep, engrossing games with rich stories, “Left 4 Dead” may not be for you. But a free demo is a free demo. Give it a whirl. It does one thing, and does it extremely well. The adventure is built for a team of four, but “Left 4 Dead” will let you play by yourself or with one friend locally on the 360. The remaining members of your team are handled by the computer.
If you play massively multiplayer online role-playing games on the PC, and you’re not totally consumed with “World of Warcraft’s” “Wrath of the Lich King” expansion, its competitor “Lord of the Rings Online” gets its own add-on this week, in the form of “Mines of Moria” (rated T, $40)
A couple of party games hit the 360 this week. Karaoke title “Lips” (rated T, $70) is Microsoft’s answer to the PS3 and PS2’s popular “SingStar” series. It comes with two motion-sensitive microphones that light up in response to gameplay, but its coolest feature is the ability to sing along with some of the songs you have on your MP3 player. “You’re in the Movies” (rated E, $80) comes bundled with the 360’s Vision Camera. Players receive instructions from a movie director. They act out a part, green-screen style in front of the camera. Then, the title puts the character into a movie scene. Hilarity ensues.
Also on the 360, “The Last Remnant” (rated M, $60), is a role-playing game from Square Enix, the folks behind the “Final Fantasy” and “Dragon Quest” series. Expect androgyny, turn-based battles, characters with mysterious backgrounds they can’t totally remember, ancient evils being reawakened and a battle for the survival of entire planet/world/solar system/way of life.
The PS3 this week gets “Alone in the Dark: Inferno” ($50, rated M), which ought to be called “Alone in the Dark: Fixed.” The game, which features an innovative, DVD-style menu that lets you play any chapter in any order, came out for the 360 and Wii over the summer but was dogged by critics for its counterintuitive controls and lousy camera. Those issues have been cleaned up for the PS3 release, but don’t expect the game of the year or anything.
Lots of multiplatform games are due, with the most notable being “Tomb Raider: Underworld” (rated T), by all appearances the next step in revitalizing that once-moribund franchise. It’s $60 on PS3 and 360, $50 on Wii, $40 on PC and PS2 and $30 on the DS. Fans of racers will want to check out “Need for Speed: Undercover” (rated T). It’s available on the same platforms and at the same prices as “Tomb Raider” but disses the DS in favor of a $40 PlayStation Portable version.
“Bolt” (rated E10+, $50 on Wii, PS3 and 360 and $30 on PS2, DS and PC) is a game tied into a kids’ movie. These are rarely good. It’s already being sold at Amazon.com and other retailers for $10 less than list price, so take that for what it’s worth.