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'Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law' and other unlikely heros

Posted: Thursday, January 24, 2008

So you're looking for a job in video games - not making them, but actually starring in them. You don't have many choices. Unless you want to be an athlete, a warrior, a police officer or a criminal, there aren't many career options in virtual space.

Capcom / The Associated Press
Capcom / The Associated Press

Yes, Mario is ostensibly a plumber, but when was the last time you saw him with a toolbox? Gordon Freeman is a physicist, but he hasn't done much lab work since the aliens invaded in "Half-Life." The only game journalists I can think of - Jade ("Beyond Good & Evil") and Keats ("Folklore") - spend more time beating on monsters than writing stories.

There are plenty of cops on television, but they have to share the spotlight with lawyers, doctors and other professionals whose jobs don't involve weaponry. Chefs have become celebrities, thanks to the Food Network. All those careers are starting to show up in video games, offering a satisfying change of pace from the usual blood-and-guts action:

"Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law" ★★ ½ (Capcom, for the Wii, $39.99; PlayStation 2, PlayStation Portable, $29.99): Harvey Birdman resembles a real attorney about as closely as Sonic resembles a real hedgehog. In his self-titled Cartoon Network show, he's an ex-superhero who joins a law firm, where his cases often involve other Hanna-Barbera characters like Fred Flintstone and Scooby-Doo.

The mechanics of the "Birdman" game will be familiar to anyone who's played Capcom's "Phoenix Wright" series. After a crime is committed, you collect evidence and grill witnesses to prove your client's innocence. The mysteries here are much easier to solve than Phoenix's, and none of the five cases should take more than an hour to finish.

The real draw is the game's absurdist comedy, which perfectly matches the tone of the TV series. All your favorite characters, from Peter Potamus to Mentok the Mindtaker, are here, most with their original voice actors. If those names mean nothing to you, avoid "Harvey Birdman"; if you're a fan, it's like getting five bonus episodes.

"Trauma Center: New Blood" ★★ ½ (Atlus, for the Wii, $49.99): If you really insist on blood and guts, well, games don't get much bloodier and gutsier than Atlus' "Trauma Center" series. After all, you're slicing up human bodies - in the name of saving lives, of course - and some of the more difficult operations are as intense as a "Halo 3" deathmatch.

"New Blood" gives you a fresh assortment of relatively realistic crises to deal with, from stitching up lacerations to excising tumors. You have a full collection of scalpels, forceps, lasers and other surgical tools, and the Wii remote is used cleverly to simulate each device. You also have a "healing touch," which slows down time or stops the patient from bleeding.

There's a ridiculous story involving two doctors who have exiled themselves to Alaska, but the core of "New Blood" is the often nerve-racking surgery. It's best handled with two players working cooperatively; even then, some of the operations are so challenging I didn't see how one person could handle them alone. They're immensely rewarding when you get them right.

"Cooking Mama 2: Dinner with Friends" ★★★ (Majesco, for the DS, $29.99): The original "Cooking Mama" was one of the most endearing games on the Nintendo DS, and Majesco hasn't tinkered much with the formula for the sequel. As before, you prepare a variety of recipes through a series of minigames in which you use the DS stylus to peel, chop, mix and cook ingredients.

You get 80 new recipes, from chili dogs to shark fin soup. It's fairly easy to whip through most of the dishes, since Mama will usually fix things if you mess up. But for a real challenge you can try to please some very finicky friends by making their favorite meals without Mama's help; one false step can destroy a dish.

Like its predecessor, "Cooking Mama 2" is terrific fun when you just have a few minutes to spare. And you will feel proud when the main character says you cook "better than Mama!"



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