FULLMETAL ALCHEMIST 2: CURSE OF THE CRIMSON ELIXIR,
Fans of Japanese anime films have probably already snapped up copies of this game, which is based on the first few chapters of the cartoon series of the same title. But Fullmetal Alchemist 2 succeeds in turning this borrowed story into a game that can also appeal to people unfamiliar with its anime ancestor.
This role-playing title has you playing as Edward Elric, one of two brothers. As a result of some complicated events at the start of the game, Edward loses a leg and arm, both of which are replaced with metal appendages, and his brother Alphonse's soul is bound to a giant suit of armor. (A word to the wise: Anime storylines are a bit off-center, so a game based on one will have its quirks.) You, as Edward, have to use your knowledge of alchemy to figure out how to restore you and your sibling back to normal.
Most of the time, FA2 plays as a fighting game but with a more involved combat system than most. Although its basic moves are rather simple, the ability to use alchemy makes for some interesting combinations: For example, Edward can use his metal arm and leg to attack, or he can transform his arm into a blade and summon stone spikes from the ground. He can also employ alchemy to transmute objects into such weapons as swords, lances and hammers. Alphonse, meanwhile, is controlled by the computer; you can issue simple commands to him, but he tends to attack in the same way, making some combat feel repetitive.
FA2's cel-shaded graphics allow the game to mirror the looks of the anime series -- even to the point where it exhibits the same lack of variety in background scenery as the original. Also somewhat of a letdown: We could finish the game in just under 10 hours, a short time for a game of this price. -- Tom Ham
PlayStation 2, $40
CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, Global Star Software
Even if you'd never let your child actually enter Willy Wonka's chocolate factory, much less see director Tim Burton's sinister remake of the movie, it would still be cool to romp around that candy palace. With this new release, kids can do just that.
Its first stop is an impressive five-minute animated short (similar in style to Burton's "James and the Giant Peach") that catches them up on the plot. Then it's off to the Chocolate Room where the story's hero, Charlie Bucket, engages in a game of hide-and-seek as he searches for five missing lollipops. Victory sends him to the Chocolate River, where the gluttonous Augustus is caught in a pipe and needs to be freed. Once Charlie accomplishes that goal, he is off to the Juicing Room to save Violet, the competitive gum-popping character who eats untested gum and turns into a blueberry.
Detecting a pattern here? The game closely tracks the film's plot and its greed vs. good theme, taking you into a dark but well-rendered world that looks nothing like the 1971 Gene Wilder movie. Freeing the story's characters from their self-imposed demises is not always as easy as it sounds. It's never clear exactly what needs to be done to win the game, and kids must endure endless smart-aleck comments from the Wonka character. (We tried the PC version, not those released for video game consoles.)
Game testers Dylan, 6, and Anna, 10, seemed happy enough to let their instincts guide them, even if Dylan admitted the Oompa-Loompas might give him bad dreams. Will this game make kids beg to see the flick -- or better yet, read the original Roald Dahl book? Perhaps. But mostly it will give them something silly to do during the dog days of summer and a chance to pick up the message that being a spoiled brat or a gluttonous pig will land you in big trouble. -- Hope Katz Gibbs
Win 98 or newer, $30; GameCube, PlayStation 2, Xbox, $40
Home users who want to build their own Web pages instead of using somebody else's prefab templates haven't had great options. Microsoft's $199 FrontPage is a clunky product that produces clunky pages, and higher-end products such as Adobe's GoLive and Macromedia's Dreamweaver, each $399, are far too complicated and expensive for home use. Nvu (pronounced "n-view") provides a much-needed alternative.
This open-source release comes from Linux distributor Linspire, but it runs in Windows and Mac OS X. It does what other Web-creation programs only promise: make it easy to create Web pages without your having to learn the peculiar argot of the Web's HyperText Markup Language (HTML).
Nvu looks and works like a word processor: You type text into a blank page, then click on one toolbar button or another to add formatting, insert images or stitch in links to other sites. (Unlike Microsoft Word and its ilk, however, Nvu can't check your spelling as you type, only afterward.) You can tinker with the HTML tags in your page's source code that will instruct other Web browsers how to display it -- but that's strictly optional. Everything here can be done with a slip and click of the mouse.
Nvu's capabilities extend beyond simple, cookie-cutter Web fodder; you can craft fairly complex pages, then assemble groups of them into simple sites. You can also set up templates, so that once you have a look you like, you can use it again. Although Nvu does rely on some older, less-efficient workarounds to encode page designs into HTML (for instance, using tables to pin text and graphics in place), pages produced with it still looked clean, and they rendered properly in Internet Explorer, Firefox and Safari. -- Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols
Win 98 SE or newer, Mac OS X 10.1 or newer, Linux, free at www.nvu.com