Notwithstanding the success of Wii bowling, video games exist largely to give most of us abilities we don t already have. I m not even talking about careers as exotic as NFL quarterback or spaceship captain; I mean physical activities like executing a backflip or scaling a cliff.
Even if I got off the couch and started working out every day, I still couldn t pull off such feats with the panache of a video-game star like Lara Croft. Perhaps she ll inspire a younger generation of gamers to take up gymnastics. Me, I m thrilled when I can create one of her moves by pressing the buttons on an Xbox controller.
“Prince of Persia (Ubisoft, for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, $59.99)The latest incarnation of Ubisoft s Prince is one of the most acrobatic game heroes ever. He can leap across pits, scramble along walls and somersault over enemies. And this time he gets invaluable assistance from a princess named Elika, who can magically retrieve the prince if he takes a wrong step into the abyss.
Compared with the last couple of “Prince titles, this chapter focuses far more on movement and exploration than on combat. The lush landscapes look like watercolors come to life, and Elika is an unusually appealing sidekick. It s a refreshing new direction for a franchise that had gotten a little too gloomy.
Three-and-a-half stars out of four.
“Tomb Raider Underworld (Eidos, for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, $59.99; Wii, $39.99)Lara Croft may not be the icon she once was, thanks to a succession of weak games, but she could be making a comeback. She looks better than ever, and Underworld presents her with a series of massive architectural ruins that demand the most of her athletic ability and your wits.
The adventure takes Lara from an undersea city to the Arctic Circle (and beyond), and each environment serves as a clever multi-stage puzzle. Combat is considerably less interesting; fortunately, it doesn t happen too often. Underworld is marred by occasional technical hiccups, but it delivers awe-inspiring sights and satisfying challenges.
“Shaun White Snowboarding (Ubisoft, for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, $59.99; Wii, $49.99; PlayStation 2, $39.99)White, the snowboarding gold medalist from the 2006 Winter Olympics, may not have the superhuman skills of Lara Croft, but he has definitely mastered stunts most of us haven t dreamed of. He s your guide to this fast-paced tour of the world s most vertigo-inducing mountains, and he ll soon have you leaping off cliffs and executing flips and spins.The boarding is smooth, but the events scattered around each slope get repetitious. The Wii has the best version, which you can control with the Balance Board (that thing you put in the closet after you gave up on Wii Fit ). It s not a very deep game, but it does deliver the rush of going downhill fast.