Games for the budding princess
EmptyThe conventional wisdom on gender differences and play is that girls like to create things, boys like to destroy them. A girl can enjoy building a house out of Legos, while half the fun for a boy is demolishing the thing.
Most video games are about destruction; guys love "Halo 3" because it's fun to blow stuff up. But the Entertainment Software Association says 38% of video-game players are female, and most of the industry doesn't know -- or care -- what they want.
"The Sims" is often cited as a game girls like, because it involves nurturing your character rather than giving her a machine gun. Lately, I've noticed a lot of women picking up the mayhem-free "Guitar Hero." And a few companies are hoping to expand the audience for video games by getting to young girls early.
-- "Disney Princess: Enchanted Journey" (Disney, for the Wii, $39.99; PlayStation 2, $29.99): For this foray into girl games, Disney has trotted out its biggest female stars: Snow White, Cinderella, Jasmine ("Aladdin") and Ariel ("The Little Mermaid"). But the real "princess" is the player, thanks to an easy-to-use character generator that lets anyone turn herself into a Disneyesque heroine.
Something has gone wrong in each of the familiar stars' worlds: Ariel's people can't sing any more, for example, while color has been drained from Snow White's kingdom. The heroine can restore the missing elements by waving her magic wand -- which has the side benefit of turning monsters into butterflies. The result is a low-key, nonviolent adventure with the look of classic Disney animation.
The ideal version is the one for the Wii, which lets you twirl the controller as if it was a magic wand. Both versions offer cooperative play, so a younger girl can get help from a parent (or vice versa). Three stars out of four.
--"Imagine Babyz" (Ubisoft, for the Nintendo DS, $29.99): "Babyz" is one of Ubisoft's "Imagine" series of girl-oriented games, which also includes "Fashion Designer," "Animal Doctor" and "Master Chef." I picked out "Babyz" because I hoped it would be something truly weird: a baby-raising sim, like a "Nintendogs" with diapers.
Alas, "Babyz" doesn't give you the full spectrum of child-rearing chaos. Your character is just a baby-sitter, so you only have to keep the brats out of trouble for short periods. You may need to feed them, entertain them or change their diapers, all tasks that are presented as relatively easy minigames.
And the reward? You get money to buy things to decorate your house. Actually, any girl playing "Babyz" will come away with a good idea of just how annoying the creatures can be. It may be the best advertisement for abstinence ever seen in a video game. Two stars.
--"Hannah Montana Music Jam" (Disney, for the DS, $29.99): You could dedicate a landfill to all the awful games that have been developed from Disney Channel series, from "Lizzie McGuire" to "That's So Raven" to "The Suite Life of Zack & Cody." "Hannah Montana Music Jam" breaks that streak with a decent music-making tool.
"Music Jam" does a nifty job of simulating a guitar on the DS: You select a chord with the directional pad and strum the strings with the stylus. You can create lead, rhythm and bass guitar tracks, add a drumbeat, then edit them all together and save the result. There are also some "Guitar Hero"-ish minigames, but you have to play through a drab adventure to find them.
The story has pop star Hannah polishing her skills in order to fend off a new rival, Savannah Star. Meanwhile, Hannah's normal-gal alter ego, Miley, is running around doing favors for her friends. The tedious quests usually involve simply taking an object from one character to another -- which is no fun at all when you just want to play guitar. Two stars.