New movie titles: ”Monster House” and another ”Lord of the Rings” game
(THQ, Everyone, for PlayStation 2)
Violent anthropomorphic home goes ballistic on three plucky kids armed with Super Soaker-style water cannons and slingshots. Pitching the movie might’ve been this easy, but we’re guessing that getting the green light for the video game was even easier. Luckily, the game doesn’t squander its potential. For starters, it looks fabulous, not only because of the visuals (better than your average kids game, though you shouldn’t expect the graphics to match the craftsmanship of big-screen animation), but also because it incorporates strange camera angles and eerie sound effects that enhance the madcap misadventures that take place in this malevolent manse.
Reenacting the movie’s plot, players navigate DJ, Chowder, and Jenny through the dangerous domicile and its Pottery Barn-from-hell arsenal of chairs, bookcases, and lamps. There’s plenty of action in the game as well as some straightforward scavenger-hunt puzzles that should keep 14-and-unders busy for hours. There’s room for improvement — it would have been cool to give players the option of playing as all three kids at the same time — but Monster House is a pretty solid effort that even packs in a playable version of the satirically-primitive Thou Art Dead Dead arcade game that appears in the movie. Now that’s what we call a full house. B
The Lord Of The Rings: The Battle For Middle-earth II
(Electronic Arts, Teen, for Xbox 360)
There’s a reason why real-time strategy games — war simulations in which you micro-manage sprawling armies on the march perspective — seldom appear on the home consoles. The battlefields in these games are extremely dynamic: success requires the strategic allocation of resources and the canny deployment of troops and vehicles. A multitasking mess that would be near impossible without a keyboard and the precision of the mouse. With the Battle for Middle Earth, an RTS that won glory PC, EA attempts to reverse the curse using the power of the Xbox 360.
While Battle does a serviceable job of distilling the requisite commands into an intuitive sequence of button taps on the controller, it doesn’t come close to the convenience of the tried-and-true keyboard and mouse combination. Playing on the 360 feels like flying an airplane using only the ”cabin lights off” switch. But if you’re a Rings addict, you might want to at least try to tame the knotty control scheme — the game’s compelling storyline (which presents events not seen in the movie) is that good. And carnage-loving non-fans will enjoy the simple bloody pleasures of watching countless elves, dwarves, and goblins hack each other into little pieces.
All of this mischief comes at a price. First, players must endure some cheesy voice-over work — the most annoying of which is a goblin that has all the menace you’d expect in an overcaffeinated Harvey Fierstein. And the sheer scale can quickly become overwhelming, especially for console owners with little RTS experience. Like all real-time strategy experiences, you’re more of a spectator than an actual participant in these massive melees. This kind of passive interactivity isn’t for everyone, especially gamers who like their gratuitous mayhem up close and personal. B-