9.0 - WII - Mario Kart Wii Hot on the heels of Super Smash Bros. Brawl comes the next must-have multiplayer title, Mario Kart Wii. The latest edition of Nintendo's storied racing franchise includes new twists and turns like bikes, aerial tricks, motion control, robust Wi-Fi Connection features, and a Wii Wheel right in the box. All of these additions make a great series even better, and we can't imagine going without any of them ever again. At first it's tough to tell much of a difference between driving a kart and riding a bike, but when you get serious about shaving seconds off your lap times, you'll find that a few little distinctions can make all the difference in the world. Bikes turn sharper and enable the player to boost at any time by popping a wheelie (although this move is only practical on straightaways). While drifting, however, a bike can only charge up to a one-stage miniturbo; a kart can power up to stage two. By the way, miniturbos are charged up differently than before - now you only have to hold your drift for a certain length of time instead of having to steer in and out of it. The tighter the turn, the faster the charge. This change has the benefit of making the series' core mechanic easier for new players to get the hang of, while still leaving room for Mario Kart experts to flaunt their advanced skills. Mario Kart Wii also adds an entirely new way to earn miniturbos, and that's by performing high-flying tricks. A quick flick of the Wii Wheel - timed right as you launch off a ramp, hill, or bump - will send your racer spinning, flipping, and kicking through the air. Upon landing, you are rewarded with an instant boost. It quickly becomes second nature to perform tricks at every opportunity, and soon you'll start to look for every little hop hidden on each track. With more opportunities to boost than in any previous game in the series, pro players will find ways to string together miniturbos all the way around the tracks. Not only is this a fun way to play, but it adds another strategic wrinkle to the classic Kart formula. While you can choose to play with the Wii remote, remote and nunchuk, Classic controller, or GameCube controller, the included Wii Wheel is a fantastic new option that, frankly, works much better than I'd have guessed. While other racing games have dabbled in motion control, none of them have nailed it like this. It only takes a few races to get the feel for your turning radius, and then a wheel user won't be at any disadvantage against a competitor using more-traditional controls. No matter which control option you settle on in the long run, I highly suggest that you at least give the Wii Wheel a decent chance when you first play the game. One small complaint is that the new race-tracks tend to outshine the returning retro courses with more detailed visuals, fresher ideas, and more stuff going on. Still, with a grand total of 32 tracks, you definitely get your money's worth. Mario Kart Wii falls short of our top score only in comparison to Nintendo's other recent big-name games: it isn't as revolutionary as Super Mario Galaxy and doesn't pack in as much sheer content as Super Smash Bros. Brawl. Still, it delivers the action that Mario Kart fans crave and then some. With more features, modes, and multiplayer options than ever before, fans should be revved up to get behind the wheel. 9.0 - NDS - The World Ends with You I'm as big a Final Fantasy nut as you're likely to find, but it's nice to see Square Enix stray off the beaten path once in a while. And you can't stray much farther than The World Ends with You. This delightfully weird action-RPG, set in modern-day Tokyo's bustling Shibuya district, is unlike anything else out there. That sounds cliched, but in this case it's absolutely true. How many games feature a real-time battle system in which you control a different character on each screen simultaneously? Or regional fashion trends that grant stat bonuses to your hero based on which brand of clothing he wears? Or a food system that restricts how much a character can eat in an actual 24-hour period, then requires him to digest a meal (by fighting battles, of course) before gaining its benefits? And while the game is bursting at the seams with new ideas, the developers were careful not to just throw 'em at the wall and hope they stick. The dual-screened battle system, for example, seems completely unmanageable at first, but it does a great job of bringing you along slowly and gradually peeling back additional layers of depth. Pulling the entire experience together is a wonderfully compelling, and at times touching, narrative. It's not your typical save-the-world story, but rather a more intimate quest that focuses on the personal struggles of its protagonists. Though less-patient gamers may find the copious amounts of dialogue annoying, the writing is excellent and you'd need a cold heart to not grow attached to these characters. Special mention is also required of the fittingly eclectic soundtrack, which boldly mixes disparate music styles to fantastic effect. The World Ends with You may not have a big name like Final Fantasy or Kingdom Hearts attached to it, but it certainly deserves the same kind of success. Kudos to Square Enix for taking a chance on something so original (and for bringing the game to the shores). Please encourage them - buy this game. 7.5 - WII - Okami I really, really want to love Okami. And in many ways I do. From a conceptual and structural standpoint, this adventure is absolutely brilliant. True, the creators have admitted taking a lot of ideas from The Legend of Zelda, but if you're going to borrow, you might as well borrow from the best. Regardless of the game's origins, there's a ton of quality gaming here. The world is vast and beautiful - the Japanese-watercolor aesthetic looks as impressive as it did when the game hit PS2 in 2006. There's also a ton to do in this world; as in Zelda, there are diversions all over the place, collectibles to obtain, and secrets that open up once you've learned a new skill, in addition to the requisite dungeons and clever boss fights. So why am I having such a hard time recommending this game? Quite simply, the controls didn't make the jump to Wii as well as they should have. One of Okami's main hooks is the ability to learn Celestial Brush techniques, which are activated by drawing symbols; it's a natural fit for the Wii remote, and while pointing and drawing is faster and allows more freedom than using an analog stick, it's harder to be precise, resulting in the game having a tougher time recognizing your brush strokes. More significantly, the combat feels awkward. Slow, timed swipes of the remote are required to score consecutive hits with many weapons; if you swing too fast you won't be able to attack at all. And where's the motion-based fishing? For shame! Though you can overcome the drawing and attacking issues with practice (and by sticking to whip-style weapons), it's a hurdle you shouldn't have to leap. Okami is a work of genius, but you should play the original game instead of the Wii version if you can. 7.0 - WII - Battle of the Bands 7.0 - WII - Castle of Shikigami III 7.0 - NDS - N+ Puzzle-platformer N+ is a case study in elegant simplicity. The core mechanics couldn't be less sophisticated - use the Control Pad to run and press the A Button to jump - yet the game hooks you with wonderfully devious level design and the pure delight of watching your diminutive ninja bound across the screen like Neo from The Matrix. More than 100 single-player levels and an equally beefy selection of two-player co-op boards will put even the most seasoned gamer's platforming skills to the test, and a robust (though unintuitive) level editor lets you build your own creations and share them with friends. The easily frustrated should probably stay away, and for what it is, the game's MSRP of $29.99 seems a bit steep. Otherwise, this is a fun little gem. 7.0 - NDS - Teenage Zombies: Invasion of the Alien Brain Thingys 7.0 - NDS - Puchi Puchi Virus 6.5 - WII - Minicopter: Adventure Flight 6.5 - NDS - MLB 2K8 Fantasy All-Stars 6.5 - NDS - Rondo of Swords Rondo of Swords may look like every other turn-based strategy-RPG, but it doesn't play like any of them. Instead of selecting commands, you draw movement paths for your characters through allies and enemies, and your guys gain stat boosts from their friends and take swings at their foes as they run along the path. Other innovations include a momentum system in which enemies target the heroes who are doing the most damage, and a side-quest system that puts idle characters to good use. The are all fine ideas, but the game has just as many bad ones. A mix of grueling difficulty and unclear objectives makes it virtually impossible to complete most maps without restarting several times - I've all but bored a hole in my DS screen at the place you tap to select Quit and Retry. And with no ability to engage in optional battles, there is no good way to raise low-level characters or to grind for experience when a series of narrow victories has left your party behind the curve. Even shopping can be infuriating - to buy items you have to send a character on a shopping side quest, which could end with him spending all of your money randomly and getting absolutely nothing in return. That's just cruel. The payoff for Rondo's many frustrations is the deep satisfaction you'll feel upon completing its brutally tough maps. Since you can never overpower your foes, you'll have to outsmart them, and Rondo's emphasis on careful positioning works neural pathways that more conventional strategy games neglect. The triumphs may be sweet, but the aggravations have them outnumbered. 3.5 - WII - Summer Sports: Paradise Island I can type up reviews on request if wanted.