Something Free, a Halloween Costume Suggestion and WarioWare: Smooth Moves

In my last column I said I would be discussing some specific games as we move into the holiday season and this week we'll be focusing on one that lets you jump and stretch and act like a maniac in a socially acceptable way. But first I have a couple of other brief items; a free audio and a Halloween costume suggestion.

For the month of October only you can download an audio track of Neil Gaiman reading his Sherlock Holmes/Cthulhu mashup, A Study in Emerald, for free. This is an intriguing and charming detective story interlaced with the sort of entertaining ads you might find in an alternative universe. I heard this story live last year when Neil was touring in support of his fiction collection Fragile Things (from which this story is excerpted) and he does a bang-up job. He's a natural born storyteller and his readings are always enthralling.

Image of plague doctor courtesy of the National Library of Medicine
Recreation of European plague doctor uniform designed to keep the doctor from contracting the Black Death. (Photo courtesy of the National Library of Medicine.)

A few months ago I was doing some research for a project that takes place during the last big wave of Black Death in England and right before the Great Fire that destroyed much of London in 1666. I learned a lot I hadn't known before, like that the idea that the illness was bubonic plague is hotly disputed now, but the most interesting image I came away with is that of the plague doctor, or Medico Della Peste, as he's known in Italy. Dressed in waxed clothing and an odd bird shaped mask filled with herbs to ward off the plague humors, the doctor would also carry a stick in his hand, some say to shove away plague victims that got too close and some say to poke bodies to see if the ill were alive or dead. My first thought when I saw this incredibly disturbing outfit was that it would make a fabulous Halloween costume. Apparently I'm not the only one who thinks this way because I found plenty of people who make and sell these masks online and Amazon has this entire costume complete and ready to go. Just add you.

Last week I briefly mentioned a game for the Nintendo Wii that we want so much we've reserved a copy in advance; Super Smash Brothers Brawl. It was supposed to come out on the seventeenth of this month but last Friday, the day this column goes to press, Nintendo of America announced that the release date had been pushed back to, ack, February 10th, months away. It's entirely Sonic the Hedgehog's fault, he's not responding to the controls the way he should be. Is this really a surprise? After all, he used to work for Sega, a rival corporation, so perhaps he's sabotaging the project. While the delayed release of Brawl is a major disappointment, we've been playing some other games that are keeping us happy and engaged.

My first impression of WarioWare: Smooth Moves for the Wii, a series of microgames where you jump around and wave your arms a lot, was extremely negative. It didn't just seem pointless; the bright colors and spazzy music made my head hurt. I could only be grateful that my son had borrowed the game and that we hadn't spent any money on it. But I played it again a couple of weeks later and that time it managed to cast its spell over me.

The basic premise behind Smooth Moves is that Wario finds an amazing device called the Form Baton, which can be used to master a variety of moves, forms and poses and will allow the owner to master any challenge. The part of the Form Baton is played by the wii-mote and there is a soft voiced gentleman who explains the different forms in a soothing, Jack Handyish style. You can learn more about the forms at the official site as well as watch some people playing and get an idea as to exactly how active you are as you play this game. It's a nice choice for a game to unwind when you've just been driving because you can forget all about the horrible traffic and get your blood moving.

Smooth Moves features several characters, including Wario, who each have their own storyline. (My favorite is Jimmy T., the odd disco fellow with his entourage of dancing cats.) You play a series of increasingly difficult games, each lasting a very short time, some only seconds long, and eventually face the boss in the most difficult challenge yet. When you finish the story the map that is the main game screen will unlock more characters with more stories and games to play, as well as practice areas. I watched my middle son play a game where blocks fall from the sky and are balanced on a delicate flower, thinking I could never duplicate what he was doing, but to my surprise I turned out to be very good at it and have beaten 39 levels so far. The microgames are remarkably silly, requiring you to do things such as use the Form Baton like an elephant nose and pick up an apple or hold it like the handles of a bicycle pump and pump up a balloon or a ball until it explodes. But like almost everything that looks silly, it's lots of fun when you give it a try yourself.

One-Paragraph Review

This week's one-paragraph review is from Falling Off the Edge who says, "Tsuro is a fast paced board game where you try to keep from being pushed off the board. Each turn you put a card down to build a path and follow it to the end, hoping that it doesn't dump you into space. It doesn't take a lot of time and it's entertaining." Have you got a one-paragraph (or smaller) review you'd like to share? Send it in to me and I'll run the most interesting ones. You can reach me at feedback@qualitytimeweekly.com.