by Marty Demarest & r & & r & Contact & r & Contact. Let's make contact.

OK. I'm going to tap this spot on the meadow grass.

I'm walking to the place that you tapped.

I want you to attack that cow, the one grazing placidly. Use a twig.

I brandish my twig and assault the cow. It dies in a puff of sparks and a squeak.

That's because it's in an imported Japanese game. Creatures in Japanese games often make baby sounds. It emphasizes how cute they are. You shouldn't have killed that cow. You are too strong.

I can't help it. You've guided me through caves and helped me fight terrorists who have recently arrived from outer space. My statistics go up every time I slash one with a steak knife or wallop one with a staff.

That's because you are also in an imported Japanese game -- a role-playing game with real-time combat. And I am in control of you. I keep receiving instructions from the professor on the top screen...


I'm sorry... I'm continually being distracted by another story. It's one that I can do nothing about. It takes place in a world of flat colors and enlarged pixels, full of obnoxious tele-beep typing. It's like a bland digital commentary on your life.

Am I bland?

No. You grow and change. You have access to dozens of odd and unusual weapons. And your video screen is filled with contoured colors. Even when you are simply strolling on the beach, you and your environment merge lavishly. The professor, on the other screen, simply runs around the same room with everything outlined in black like a coloring book...


THE GOOD: The Nintendo DS dual screens present two separate, complementary stories. The lower screen features a touch-sensitive adventure rendered in lavish colors and equipped with one of the most subtle battle systems in recent role-playing videogames. Because I can only influence the character on the lower screen, I can tell him to attack but no amount of button pressing will cause him to fight faster. He attacks at his own pace, accelerating and decelerating depending on his experience and weapon. If he's lucky he can sneak around his enemies without fighting them, but when they do battle, it's right on the main game screen & agrave; la Zelda -- no whooshing away to separate theatres of battle.

THE BAD: The DS's second screen -- the one on top -- tries to influence me with a wacko Japanese cartoon professor. He gives me instructions, provides a plight for the character on the lower screen and lets me play with his dog, who is going through a trans-species transformation into a cat. That's a lot of narrative development opportunity, but it is spent on the drab premise of making the character of the lower screen seek out "power crystals." Nothing truly strange ever comes from Contact's premise of overlapping, simultaneous stories.

THE BOTTOM LINE: I am the point of Contact, caught between a whimsical role-playing game and an intrusive comic story.

Golden Harvest: Flour Sacks from the Permanent Collection @ Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture

Tuesdays-Sundays. Continues through May 15
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