Watch out: This is one highly addictive game. In what must be a first in the gaming world, this comes with a set of bongo drums that you need to play. (You can buy extra sets of bongos and play with up to four people.) Test your inner rhythm by keeping up with the music being played on the TV screen; you have to match the notes that pass by pounding on one bongo or the other -- or both at the same time. Oh, and you have to clap sometimes, too (which is picked up by a little microphone mounted on the drums). The songs ("On the Road Again," "Rock Lobster" and "The Impression That I Get") provide a fun workout. As you get better, tougher levels will have you pounding the skins like Tito Puente. Rated E.
Mario Party 6
Nintendo is getting into the add-ons, like the bongos in Donkey Konga. In Mario Party 6, you get a microphone into which players bark commands at different times during the game. The Mario Party series plays like a board game, punctuated by clever little mini-games. You collect stars and gold coins along the way, but winning the mini-games is key. In Mario Party 6, there's more of a backstory than in other entries in the series, and the entire game board changes between day and night. Still, it's filled with all your favorite Nintendo characters, like Luigi, Wario, Peach and Yoshi. Up to four can play. Rated E.
Need for Speed Underground 2
Car racing games have always been a mainstay of the video game world, and the Need for Speed franchise is the most successful of them all. As the genre has evolved, it's gone from simple racing to actually building your car, upgrading it with all kinds of features -- there are billions of possible combinations in Underground 2. Once you're ready to put the pedal down, you have five neighborhoods of a giant city to race through. Xbox is a great platform for this game because you can play against others in the cyber-universe via Xbox Live, but it's also available on Playstation 2 and GameCube. Rated E.
When Halo 2 was released exclusively for Xbox in October, it was more like a major Hollywood film release than just another video game: there was a party in Times Square and more than 1.5 million copies had been reserved -- at $50 a pop -- before it even came out. The game has lived up to the hype, as it has continued to sell fast -- especially among those who play online in the Xbox Live feature. It's a first-person shooter game, and you play Master Chief, hero of the original Halo. He's a badass space Marine fighting nasty aliens, who carry some outrageous weapons. It's a huge game, with some of the best graphics yet. Rated M.
for Playstation 2
DDR Max 2 Dance, Dance Revolution
If you think video games are creating a generation of kids with buffed-out thumbs but flabby everything elses, well, you haven't seen the DDR series. Yeah, we're talkin' 'bout a revolution. With a special pad you put on the floor (you can buy the game with or without one), you move your feet to correspond to the music on the screen. This new sequel has even more music than the original -- mostly on the techno-side, including Japanese pop and Euro dance hits. Fancy footwork will help you unlock levels and master little games, but most people don't view it as "play" -- it's become a form of exercise, and testimonials over weight lost while playing fill the gaming chat rooms on the Internet. Rated E.
Metal Gear Solid 3 Snake Eater
Playstation 2's big new exclusive game is the latest in the Metal Gear series, a successful first-person shooter that recreates real combat. This time it's set in the 1960s in the jungle, and you have to survive on what you can find as you try to unlock the mystery of the Metal Gear superweapon. Stealth is as much a part of winning this game as actually shooting 'em up. Rated M.
for Game Boy Advance
Kingdom Hearts Chain of Memories
Disney doesn't like to license its characters, but it made an exception a few years back for the game Kingdom Hearts, which has become a cult classic. Created by the same people behind the Final Fantasy series, some of those characters join hundreds from the Disney universe in this sequel. Chain of Memories is designed to link the original to the upcoming Kingdom Hearts II, which will come out on Playstation 2 next year. This is a role-playing game in which you explore levels and get help from Donald Duck and Goofy as you battle to rescue various Disney characters. Rated E.
Final Fantasy I & amp; II Dawn of Souls
Re-releasing old-school games has become quite the trend in recent years, and this package allows people who don't remember to see how the whole Final Fantasy series started. You get the two original games in one package, along with some add-on bonus features. The look has been upgraded from the originals, and although these are a little low-tech by modern standards, they're still widely considered classics in the role-playing genre. Rated T. for PC
The Lord of the Rings The Battle for Middle Earth
Similar to the Command & amp; Conquer series in which players control vast armies, this time you can deploy the troops of J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth, from the good guys (like the Riders of Rohan) to the baddies (like Sauron's orc hordes). Like Warcraft, you can play online, too, and test your mettle against fellow LOTR lovers. Your forces will be led by heroes like Legolas and Gandalf, each with their own special set of powers. Big battles from the films provide the backdrop, and your troops will even react to what's happening, going from freaked-out by defeat to joyous in victory. Windows only. Rated T.
Myst IV Revelation
After creating one of the first video game sensations, Spokane's own Cyan licensed out Myst to Ubisoft, which has continued to churn out new games for Myst's legion of devoted fans. The series has always been known for relying more on mystery and story than pure action -- and the graphics have always been groundbreaking. To add to the immersive experience, Peter Gabriel helped out on Revelation's soundtrack. With two DVDs required to support this game, you need a fairly powerful machine, and some users have had trouble, so check the requirements (or Ubisoft's Web site) if you aren't sure if you're up to snuff. If you do have what it takes, however, looks like you're in for another great escape. Windows and Mac. Rated T.
Publication date: 12/16/04