Videogames even better than the real thing

New videogames that make you feel better about being inside

The rivers in Halo 3 are clearer than the Truckee River, and The Rolling Stones sound crisper in Guitar Hero than on any of their recent tours. Why bother with the outside world, when video games have surpassed nature’s design?


Xbox Live Arcade

Like the game of chess, Xbox Live Arcade’s Braid is easy to play and difficult to master. Using time control, Tim travels through a surrealistic world with beautifully stylistic backgrounds and the ability to rewind his mistakes. This trick comes in handy because the puzzles force you to think outside of the box and often require multiple attempts to solve. Along with the challenging puzzles and clever tips of the hat to Super Mario Bros., the addictive lure of the game is in its fractured storytelling. There’s a lot of pain and beauty in the story, which feels incredibly personal as you uncover Tim’s past. At 1200 Microsoft Points—roughly $15—the replay factor is low, but this game is an experience driven by a strong story and a distinct visual flair. With puzzle pieces and secrets of the character’s tale always just out of reach, you won’t be satisfied until you’ve untangled all of Braid.

Madden 09

EA Sports

Unlike Live Arcade titles, there are no secrets to Madden 09’s success. Having cornered the realistic sports game market, EA Sports has steadily been improving on this NFL franchise for the past 20 straight years. One of the first things you notice about this Xbox 360 game is the stellar graphics. The players, field, stadium and even the fans—a notorious pain in the butt for animators—look like you’re watching Monday Night Football. However, once you get into the game, it’s clear why the Madden franchise has been unable to dig itself out of its niche market. This is truly a football game. If the difference between a Flanker Drive and an HB Off Tackle is a mystery, you may find the experience too tiresome. Still, even the most casual football fans will enjoy the realistic details and options available. Having put so much effort into the game, it’s a mystery why the in-game commentary is so repetitive, though. Regardless, $60 brings extensive online play, fantasy leagues and create-a-rookie modes that guarantee even in the offseason the ol’ pigskin will soar.

Bangai-O Spirits

Nintendo DS

Moving from saying too much to saying nothing at all, Bangai-O Spirits continues the Nintendo tradition of making games devoid of voice acting. When you’re blasting enemies to shreds, do you really need to say anything? A sequel to Bangai-O for the Dreamcast and N64, this Nintendo DS installment does away with any story, choosing to feature more than 160 levels of endless combat for $30. Oddly, one of the most notable parts of this game is the tutorial. Breaking the stereotype of basic and boring, Bangai-O Spirits contains a 17-level tutorial that pokes fun at the game, gamers and animé in humorous cut scenes between massive battles. The appeal lies squarely in the ability to fire hundreds of missiles from your flying robot, and while it’s a simple joy, it’s enough to carry the game. Unfortunately, when the screen fills with baddies and bullets, occasionally there is slowdown. Though it gives you time to admire the Hell you’re reigning down on your foes, it is decidedly lag and not a creative choice. The ability to create and edit levels adds a lot to the game, and if Nintendo ever creates a reliable online community, this game could become a cult favorite for years to come, ensuring that you’ll never have to leave the house again.