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Text:AAA
Wednesday, Dec 8, 2010
Art Academy (Nintendo DS) [$19.99]

Art Academy is an interactive tutorial focused on drawing and painting. On the surface, this might sound pretty bland, but in practice, it works pretty well. The game offers lessons that teach some basic concepts of both drawing and painting, culminating in tutorials in composing larger scale paintings themselves. 


The neat thing about this “classroom” is that it offers fundamental information (the differences in pencil weights, lessons about color, and the like) and then allows the player to apply them immediately, offering models and practice at the same time. The stylus is, of course, a useful tool in this regard, and the game does a surprisingly good job in simulating the “feel” of differing media as you change up the tools that you are using (using various the aforementioned differing weights of pencils for example). 


If you know a kid who has an interest in art (or a bigger kid who might have missed the chance to take an art class in high school), this toy and toolset is likely to be a big hit, as you get to play around with the media without getting your hands dirty and without the cost of all of those art supplies.


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Text:AAA
Monday, Dec 6, 2010
Mafia II (2K Games, Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC) [$59.99]

Six years after the release of the original Mafia, 2K has followed up that cult favorite with an open world game defined less by its similarity to Grand Theft Auto or other open world crime games and more to its commitment to building authentic period ambiance and telling a really good, really different kind of mob story.


Vito Scaletta is no Godfather or Scarface, instead he is just one Mafia soldier feeling the pressure of his obligations to his “family,” and in that, this story of a man sorting out his mission and his loyalties really works as both a crime story and as a very human story. Twitch gamers may find this one slow and a little talky, but this title is sure to please the gamer that wants a legitimate plot to drive some good old fashioned gaming mayhem.


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Text:AAA
Friday, Dec 3, 2010
by Eric Kravick
Wii Party (Nintendo Wii) [$49.99]

Nintendo knows that variety is the spice of life and it aims to put that thought into motion with Wii Party. Expect the unexpected when you are thrown into a wide multitude of game modes that will pit you and up to three of your friends (or family) in a frenzy of mini games.  Each type of game is broken down by the amount of time it should take to finish, allowing you the flexibly to schedule a game in between worrying about who’s up next to unwrap their present. 


Even with the chaos that is bound to ensue whenever a huge dose of motion controls are involved, Wii Party is easy to understand for any age, and therefore instantly appealing to anyone looking for that age-unifying, holiday present.


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Text:AAA
Thursday, Dec 2, 2010
Bioshock 2 (2K Games, Format: Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC) [$29.99]

With the holiday swell of big name titles, it’s possible that you may have forgotten the strong titles that appeared at the beginning of this year. Bioshock 2 should not be forgotten, as it’s a sequel that’s not merely a retread of its predecessor, but a legitimate effort to expand on the notions that made the original Bioshock such an important watershed for gaming.


Like the first game, this one continues in its commitment to the idea that games can serve as a legitimate media for social and political critique, aiming its guns not at Ayn Rand’s Objectivism this time but instead on its opposite, an egalitarian, but deeply flawed effort at utilitarianism. Additionally though, it tells a far more human and relatable tale as it explores the relationships between fathers and their children. If you know a gamer that missed out on the opportunity to try this title out in early 2010, now is a great time to get them up to speed with this evolution of the Bioshock franchise.


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Text:AAA
Thursday, Dec 2, 2010
Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Mini-Land Mayhem! (DS, Nintendo) [$29.99]

Super Mario Galaxy might have been Nintendo’s biggest Mario release of the year. But Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Mini-Land Mayhem! is certainly the best one for the portable DS, and one of the best DS titles overall in some time.  Players guide an army of Mario-themed wind up toys in an effort to rescue Pauline from Mario’s original antagonist, Donkey Kong. It’s challenging without being frustrating, and charming throughout. The game is chock full of audiovisual references to Mario’s history, appropriate given that this year is Mario’s 25th birthday, and is highly recommended for gamers of all ages.


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