Two new games: "Pokemon Diamond," "Custom Robo" Arena |

Two new games: "Pokemon Diamond," "Custom Robo" Arena

A healthy gaming diet requires balance. After a few hours of chain-sawing aliens in “Gears of War,” it’s good to kick back and play with your Nintendogs for a while. Once you’ve released your aggressions, why not get in touch with your nurturing side?

Nintendo’s long-running “Pokemon” series is all about nurturing – building up an extended family of cute li’l monsters. Ironically, the way to make your critters grow is by having them attack other animals; with time you can turn an adorable baby penguin into a ruthless killing machine.

Pokemaniacs probably don’t spend much time reflecting on that dichotomy. After all, the game’s slogan is “Gotta catch ’em all,” and it’s the collecting impulse that makes it addictive. But if the formula was that simple it would be easy to duplicate – and so far, no other creature-collecting game has been able to reach the heights of “Pokemon.”

• “Pokemon Diamond”/”Pokemon Pearl” (Nintendo, for the DS, $34.99 each): The first true “Pokemon” title for the DS comes in two flavors; the only difference is that some monsters appear only in “Diamond” or “Pearl.” Either package delivers more than 100 new, delightfully conceived creatures, from the “turtwig,” a turtle with a twig growing out of its head, to the “chimchar,” a chimpanzee with a flaming tail.

After deciding to play as a boy or a girl, you’re introduced to Professor Rowan, a scientist who’s cataloging native wildlife.

As you run around the land of Sinnoh collecting specimens, you encounter rival trainers who want to pit their Pokemon against yours. Eventually you learn of a threat from Team Galactic, a villainous, pseudo-military group.

While the plot is overly familiar, there are some nice new touches. Early on you get the “poketch,” a digital watch that can be juiced up with a variety of fun devices. You can also trade with and battle players from all over the world through Nintendo’s Wi-Fi service. With a long main story and a deep selection of side challenges, “Pokemon Diamond” (or “Pearl”) is one of the most robust games on the DS. Three-and-a-half stars out of four.

• “Spectrobes” (Disney, for the DS, $29.99): Only one thing can stop the Krawl, a race of galaxy-devouring aliens. Unfortunately, the spectrobes – our potential saviors – have been hibernating for centuries, so your job is to dig them up and whip them back into fighting shape. Once you have recruited spectrobes, you’ll have to fight the Krawl.

“Spectrobes” has a unique fighting mechanism: You and your two creatures move around as one, and you attack the enemies using the DS’ top trigger buttons. It’s a noble attempt at a new way to fight, but it feels completely unnatural.

With dozens of creatures to find and train, “Spectrobes” is clearly Disney’s attempt to create a “Pokemon”-like franchise. But the monsters you’ll discover – a three-headed dragon, a squirrel whose ears can be used as wings – aren’t as clever or as cute as Nintendo’s, and the effort you have to go through to find and excavate them is tedious. Most players will lose patience with “Spectrobes” long before they get anywhere near having a big collection. Two stars.

• “Custom Robo Arena” (Nintendo, for the DS, $34.99): You’re presented with your own robot right at the beginning of “Custom Robo Arena.” The trick is to pimp your bot with some of 200-plus guns, rockets, shields and other parts in preparation for duels against other players.

The duels are the most entertaining part of “Custom Robo.”

You meet your opponent on a floating, square platform and have guns, rockets, bombs and various other devices to bring him down; experience and money earned help you upgrade to new gear. You’ll need those upgrades, because your foes get tough fast.

The plot of “Custom Robo” is predictable and even a little bit annoying, but it’s really fun to try out all the different combinations of equipment. Two-and-a-half stars.

On the Net:

-“Pokemon Diamond/Pearl”:


-“Custom Robo Arena”:

Summer is typically a slow time for hot new video game releases. This year is no different.

Gamers looking forward to big brands like “Halo 3” and “Grand Theft Auto IV” will have to wait until this fall and the Thanksgiving-Christmas holidays. That’s when the games business goes into overdrive and makes up half its revenue, says analyst Anita Frazier at NPD Group.

“Traditionally, the summer months haven’t been super strong game-sales months,” says analyst Ted Pollak of Jon Peddie Research. Filling the void for the next few months are video game spinoffs of Hollywood blockbusters like “Spider-Man 3.”

Joining Peter Parker in the transition from silver screen to television screen is an avalanche of franchises, including “Shrek the Third,” “Fantastic 4: Rise of Silver Surfer,” “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” and “Transformers.”

The Walt Disney Co. is banking that Jack Sparrow, Elizabeth Swann and Will Turner have enough appeal to keep two upcoming titles afloat.

“Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” will come out later this month for a variety of platforms, while “Pirates of the Caribbean Online” is an upcoming PC game that includes sword fights and naval battles in a persistent, real-time fantasy world.

In another movie twist, Midway’s “Stranglehold,” due later this summer for the PC, PS3 and Xbox 360, will serve as a digital sequel to the 1992 Hong Kong action film “Hard-Boiled.” It’s billed as a collaboration between director John Woo and actor Chow Yun-Fat, who reprises his role as the gunslinging Inspector Tequila.

Microsoft Corp. is making several moves this summer to woo gamers to its Xbox 360 and Windows Vista platforms.

The armor-clad star of the popular “Halo” sci-fi shoot-em-up games already debuted on the Xbox 360 this month – sort of.

A “beta” version of “Halo 3” will function until June 6 for consumers who signed up for it ahead of time or purchased a copy of the action game “Crackdown,” which includes a special access code.

Don’t be too jealous: they’ll be testing out a very limited version of Master Chief’s newest adventures to help work out the kinks. The final game won’t be available until Sept. 25, says Shane Kim, corporate vice president of Microsoft Game Studios.

Microsoft is also hoping to get more consumers hooked on its Vista operating system with two first-person shooters.

Available for Microsoft’s game console since 2004, a new “Halo 2” for Vista PCs adds some of the features found in the company’s Xbox Live service.

“Shadowrun,” meanwhile, will be the company’s first game to pit Xbox 360 gamers directly against PC players. Part of a larger strategy to integrate the two platforms, players on the Xbox 360 version will be able to battle Windows Vista users in the same online shootouts.

Fans of Nintendo’s interactive Wii will have “Mario Party 8,” the latest in a long line of over-the-top party games, at the end of this month. In June, the wildly popular “Big Brain Academy” series for the DS debuts on the Wii with “Big Brain Academy: Wii Degree.”

“Pokemon Battle Revolution” arrives a few weeks later, giving Wii gamers a chance to collect and fight their battle critters for the first time.

In June, PC gamers clamoring for the latest from the gurus at id Software will get “Enemy Territory: Quake Wars,” a squad-based war game pitting humans against the Strogg aliens.

For PlayStation 3 owners still playing “Resistance: Fall of Man” until something more compelling comes along, there’s the fighter “Ninja Gaiden Sigma” in June and the gorgeous dragon-riding romp “Lair” due about a month later.

Sony Computer Entertainment America has several other PS3 games in the works as well, including the hack-and-slasher “Heavenly Sword” and the jet fighting game “Warhawk” in late summer. Exact dates haven’t been announced.

Owners of pretty much every platform can look forward to August, when new gridiron cover star Vince Young headlines “Madden NFL 08.”

The football franchise, a perennial top-seller for Electronic Arts Inc., gets some competition this year from 2K Sports, which is releasing its own take on the NFL with “All-Pro Football 2K8” for the PS3 and Xbox 360.