Unlocking Low-Key Video Games

Lost Cities, which was created by German board game legend Reiner Knizia, is a luck- and strategy-based card game.
Lost Cities, which was created by German board game legend Reiner Knizia, is a luck- and strategy-based card game. (Sierra Via Associated Press)
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Friday, June 20, 2008

For hard-core gamers, controlling a video game character is second nature. You use one joystick to run and another stick to look around; press the right trigger to shoot; and use various buttons to open doors, take cover or talk to other characters. After a few hours, though, you might long for something simpler, in which you're doing only one thing at a time. Such simple pleasures should be part of any gamer's diet, especially if you want to play with friends who aren't as hard-core. Here are two new games available for download that fit the bill.

Echochrome (Everyone; PlayStation 3, PlayStation Portable, $9.99; Sony): In this age of ever more realistic computer graphics, you wouldn't expect to see a game made up entirely of black-and-white line drawings. But beneath a bare-bones appearance lies a game that is unusually challenging and sophisticated. Each level is a three-dimensional maze, with the ideal path typically blocked by bottomless pits or impassable gaps. The trick is to rotate the maze, changing your perspective so that disconnected paths connect and obstacles are hidden. For example, if you move a post in front of a hole, the hole essentially ceases to exist, so your character can slide right across it. It's quite trippy, reminiscent of the M.C. Escher posters decorating many a dorm room. (The designers have acknowledged a debt to Escher.) The elegant graphics combine with a mellow violin soundtrack to create a weirdly soothing experience, even though some of the mazes are difficult. This is the most distinctive puzzle game in years.

Lost Cities (Everyone; Xbox 360, $10; Sierra): This is a fast-moving card game that should appeal to Xbox Live players weary of Uno. Designed by German board game legend Reiner Knizia, it offers a balance of luck and strategy. The 60-card deck has five colors, each with three "investment" cards and the numbers 2 through 10. The object is to build "expeditions," starting with investments and working up through higher numbers. Sounds simple, right? The twist is that if you start an expedition but don't make much progress, you lose points. Ideally, then, you want at least four cards of the same color before embarking, but of course that isn't always possible. A game takes only about five minutes, which feels a little unsatisfying, but it's a decent diversion if you have only a bit of time to spare.

-- Lou Kesten, Associated Press

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