Force on a short leash

Special to The Times

Most of the things that make up the “Star Wars” universe these days -- movies, TV shows, toys and video games -- are lacking the magic that made the original trilogy of films so incredible. Gone are the spectacle and awe. Instead, we get halfhearted disappointments (such as the current “Clone Wars” animated movie).

Sadly, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed is no exception. It should be an amazing story bridge between Episodes 3 and 4 and one that boasts groundbreaking new artificial intelligence and gaming technology. But Unleashed fails to register the tremor in the Force we were hoping for.

Playing as Darth Vader’s secret apprentice, gamers use Force powers to throw around things and people as well as wield a mighty light saber. (Controlling such awesome power takes time to get used to, however, and never feels as precise as it should.)


Newly created technology called Digital Molecular Matter (which simulates trees breaking like wood, metal denting and so on) is supposed to yield amazing results when things get smashed. But the effect is lost when all the trees splinter the same way each time.

And the game’s new Euphoria artificial intelligence, which supposedly makes enemies react differently each time, is underused, as Stormtroopers still stupidly walk right into the line of fire -- just like in the movies.

Lame characters (such as the stereotypical sexy female copilot and jive-talking robot sidekick) and even lamer cutscreens aside, Unleashed isn’t a miserable game. It’s great fun to use the telekinesis of the Force to create a big mess. It’s just disappointing that this couldn’t be the one product that finally sets the “Star Wars” universe right.

Grade: B (Is this really the best they could do with all those elements?)

Details: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Nintendo Wii, PlayStation 2 and PlayStation Portable platforms; $59.99-$39.99; rated Teen (violence).


Super Mario hits a home run

In Mario Super Sluggers, Nintendo has successfully found a way to take a baseball title and add a Super Mario-style adventure -- solving puzzles and exploring a 3-D world -- to the mix. The game is set on an island populated by baseball stadiums, and after you complete a challenge (which covertly teaches the finer points of playing Sluggers), you can add teammates in Mario’s quest to build a squad to defeat the evil Bowser and drive him from the island.

The baseball action is simple without being simplistic, and the mini games and wide choices of playable characters (each with different skills and special moves) liven up America’s sleepy pastime.

With more of the great choices of control Nintendo is known for (controls can be as easy or as complex as you wish and even changed easily in the middle of a game), and bright vibrant colors and upbeat music, Sluggers is perfect for baseball fans of all ages.

Grade: A (Another great use of the many control schemes of the Wii.)

Details: Nintendo Wii platform; $49.99; rated Everyone (comic mischief).


Boxing game fails to answer the bell

EA Sports’ new marketing campaign is predicated on the idea that “everyone plays”: Novices and experts alike can share in the fun simply by adjusting the level of controls.

Though it’s not a traditional EA Sports title, the arcade boxing game Facebreaker certainly doesn’t abide by the company’s new mantra. If this is supposed to be for everyone, why is the easiest skill level still really hard?

Facebreaker’s comical fighters are reminiscent of the classic NES title Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out, with their cartoonish styling and mannerisms. (Facebreaker’s Latin lover character Romeo must be somehow related to Punch-Out’s rose-chewing Don Flamenco. In fact, they share the same weakness pattern.)

And like Punch-Out, Facebreaker relies on precision timing and specific patterns to smack down your opponent. Can’t figure out the best time to slug Voodoo? Then be prepared for a bunch of frustrating losses.

Grade: C+ (Couldn’t they have made the easy levels easy?)

Details: Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 platforms; $49.99; rated Teen (mild language, suggestive themes, violence).


Lead groups of people to safety

The Last Guy is what would happen if the classics Pac-Man and Snake had a kid together on a Google Map.

Zombies wander city streets after a mysterious event, and your mission is to lead the remaining human survivors to an escape zone. By running from building to building where survivors are hiding (gobbling up all the little dots), the survivors join your party and your parade grows (and grows and grows and grows). If a zombie attacks any part of the long tail of people, those who survive go back into hiding. Then it’s up to you to re-gather them and lead them to safety.

With satellite-like maps of 15 detailed real-world cities serving as the backdrop, Last Guy is frantic fun, even if it’s not as addicting as the sales pitch promises it will be.

Grade: C+ (Cheap fun.)

Details: Downloadable from the PlayStation Network; PlayStation 3 platform; $9.99; rated Everyone 10+ (alcohol reference, mild violence, mild suggestive themes).