A young adventurer embarks on a dangerous quest. Armed with a sword and inhuman jumping skills, he braves increasingly deadly traps and enemies while climbing a tower floor by floor. At the end, he outsmarts his opponent and escapes with the prize he sought.

OK, that sounds like half the video games ever made. It’s the video game equivalent of a sitcom about a single dad, his sarcastic kids and their wacky next-door neighbor. One big wrinkle sets “Lost in Shadow” apart, though: You don’t control the main character but his shadow.

It’s a good gimmick. Your shadow doesn’t tread the walkways and ramparts that make up the game’s foreground but moves upon the shadows they cast. You’ll engage in standard platformer hijinks, such as jumping to higher ledges, climbing ladders and riding on elevators. Instead of a health bar, the screen displays the weight of your shadow, which increases when you defeat enemies or find hidden messages.

A shift in the position of the light source can change the geometry of a level. A swinging lamp makes shadows steadily squeeze together and telescope out. Sliders adjust the light’s angle to increase or decrease distances. “Lost in Shadow” sees its concept through, and it plays well in spurts, broken into 20-minute sessions, or two or three levels at a time.

It’s not content to just toss out puzzles, though. After the first few levels, “Lost in Shadow” arms you with a sword and sets spiders, bugs and other annoyances against you. There’s little variation or strategy to the combat. You strike when you can, jump back when you must, and, after a few blows, either you or your foe is dead. These moments slow “Lost in Shadow” down and distract from its true charms. The sluggish boss battles are even worse.

“Lost in Shadow” is clearly indebted to the work of Sony’s Team Ico, with the medieval art style, subtle storytelling and aesthetic elegance of “Ico” and “Shadow of the Colossus.” It lacks the emotional depth of those games, though, mistaking vagueness for profundity and relying too heavily on a few good ideas. It should last about half as long as it does. Blurry graphics make the already uninteresting visuals hard to stare at for too long. Lackluster execution spoils what is otherwise a likable game.


I am tired of twee. I throw stuff at my TV whenever those Kindle ads come on that rip off Wes Anderson. Creativity is important and exciting, but why does every movie or commercial about imagination have to be so precious?

“LittleBigPlanet 2” skirts that line. It somehow doesn’t put me in an irrationally sour mood, even with a live-action opening video that features a pigtailed hipster playing a ukulele in the rain. This game stays on the right side of the precious divide because it’s charming, not cloying, and genuinely empowers the creative ambitions of its users. It’s a cute game that lets you make cute games.

It’s also the rare non-Nintendo mascot platformer with a lead character who isn’t obnoxious. Sackboy (now more inclusively rechristened Sack-thing) doesn’t crack wise like an annoying sitcom moppet or morning radio DJ. There’s no Sonic attitude in this shtick. There’s not even any shtick. There’s just Sackthing, an adorable anthropomorphic bundle of burlap and thread who silently saves the world.

That world is Craftworld, the DIY realm of homespun imagination that summarizes the creative impulse of “LittleBigPlanet.” As in the original, “LittleBigPlanet 2” isn’t just a game, but a set of tools that lets players create their own levels. Unlike the original, “LittleBigPlanet 2” isn’t restricted to platformers. You can make shooters, RPGs, racing games and weird jury-rigged hybrids. Honor students and dullards alike can dive into game design after absorbing “LittleBigPlanet 2’s” 52 tutorials, each one narrated by British comedian Stephen Fry.

The tutorials explain how to use the creation tools in detail, while the story mode offers an overview of how all these elements can come together to make a game. It starts with platforming sections similar to the original game before gradually introducing new gadgets and gameplay styles. Eventually Sackthing competes in races and rides a bee through side-scrolling shooter levels straight out of the 1980s. This time the story mode has an actual story; it’s not Shakespeare or Rockstar, but it still fosters a depth missing from the first game.

It doesn’t take long to finish the story in “Little-BigPlanet 2.” It takes hours to fully under-stand the creation tools, though, and an active online community of skilled creators could make this the rare game that never gets old. Isn’t that precious?


In winter, the weather will trap you. Maybe you were snowed in last week. Maybe you lingered for days in an iced-over airport. My wife spent most of last week stuck in a hotel in Stone Mountain, Ga. Weather hates us.

That’s why you should always have a fully charged iOS device (such as an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch) or handheld gaming system on hand. You can ignore the world around you and focus on games. Let some other guy blow his heart up shoveling that heavy snow.

Mobile games tend to be easy to pick up and understand. Then there’s “Infinity Blade,’’ an iOS game from the companies behind “Shadow Complex’’ and “Gears of War.’’ It’s not complicated, but it is deeper than “Angry Birds’’ or “Doodle Jump.’’ With beautiful graphics, RPG-style character progression and complex yet responsive touch-screen controls, this sword-fighting game proves that console-quality experiences are possible on an iPhone or iPad.

Bane Games’ “Flick Buddies’’ fits the stereotype of the iOS game: It’s simple, repetitive and cheap. It’s like air hockey; whoever flicks the most balls into a goal wins. Spikes, bumpers and whirlpools muck things up, and your balls can bounce off and destroy your opponents’ balls. It takes less than 30 minutes to play through every board, but theoretically you can enjoy it for hours with up to three friends. There’s no online play so players have to sit around the iPad, blocking the screen with their hands as they awkwardly flick weird hamburger-shaped icons around the board. It’s more mindless than “Angry Birds’’ but with none of the addictive fun.

If you don’t have one of Apple’s new-fangled contraptions or just prefer your games on devices dedicated solely to gaming, you can idle away those hours at the airport with “Golden Sun: Dark Dawn.’’ This role-playing game for the Nintendo DS offers hours of epic adventure with the old-school turn-based combat of “Final Fantasy’’ and the clever puzzles of a “Zelda’’ game. It’s long enough to last through three blizzards.

Shu Takumi’s “Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective’’ is also new to the DS. Like Takumi’s “Ace Attorney’’ series, “Ghost Trick’’ is a light-hearted romp with idiosyncratic game play and ridiculous characters and scenarios. It’s a puzzle game in which you create Rube Goldberg-style chain reactions by possessing and moving inanimate objects. It makes no sense, but this absurdly entertaining game beats watching late-night ESPN at an airport bar.


You can’t fault the games in “Super Mario All-Stars 25th Anniversary Edition.” “Super Mario Bros.” and “Super Mario Bros. 3” are classics. “Super Mario Bros. 2,” an American conversion of an otherwise unrelated Japanese game, remains a top-notch 8-bit platformer that introduced a few significant elements to the Mario canon. “Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels,” the original Japanese sequel to the first game, is perfect if you like watching Mario die.

But this uninspired rush job isn’t the celebration Mario deserves. This is an untouched port of a 1993 Super Nintendo compilation that tried to upgrade the sound and graphics to the 16-bit standards of the day. It’s like those discount CDs with re-recorded versions of hit songs. Nintendo put the least amount of effort possible into this collection and changed nothing from the 1993 version.

It also comes with a soundtrack CD and a booklet with almost no text, if you like your incentives to be as unexciting as possible. You can download the pristine originals of these games on the Wii for less than what this disc costs. Released less than two weeks before Christmas, “Super Mario All-Stars 25th Anniversary Edition” is a game created specifically for the last-second gift buyers of America.

“The Sly Collection” shows how these compilations should be made. The “Sly Cooper” series of 3-D platformers is nowhere near as fun, memorable or well-designed as “Super Mario,” and yet “The Sly Collection” treats the series with more respect.

The three “Sly” games were issued for the PlayStation 2 between 2002 and 2005 and bear many of the signs of a bad mascot platformer. There are too many grating characters straight from a marketing executive’s notes, such as the wisecracking raccoon thief Cooper and his egghead turtle sidekick who sounds like Will Ferrell’s Harry Caray impersonation. At first, “Sly Cooper” feels less like a game than a trial balloon for toys, cartoons and comics.

The games themselves are better than expected. These are rock-solid 3-D platformers with no camera issues, well-designed levels and smooth, simple controls. All three smartly add new mechanics as they progress. Sly Cooper might be annoying, but his world of cartoonish crime and anthropomorphic European animals is charming.

“The Sly Collection” boasts remastered HD graphics and move support, but otherwise includes the original games in one affordable package. If only Mario was honored so well.



Downloadable content, or DLC, is just what it sounds like: game content that you can purchase and download through such services as Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network. It’s like buying a new chapter to a favorite book. DLC can extend the shelf life of older games with new missions and characters and sometimes redefine how a game is played.

“Mafia II: Joe’s Adventures” and “Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare” demonstrate the merits and pitfalls of DLC.

“Joe’s Adventures” focuses on Joe Barbaro, the hot-headed hoodlum who was an important, nonplayable character in “Mafia II.” It follows Barbaro through a series of missions that connect tangentially to the main game’s story. It’s the “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead” of mediocre “Grand Theft Auto” derivatives.

Like “Mafia II,” the best part of “Joe’s Adventures” is the art direction and voice acting. Empire Bay remains a beautifully realized mid-century American city, and the performances sell the stereotypical mobster claptrap. Otherwise, “Joe’s Adventures” is a series of uninspired variations on missions from “Mafia II,” often with nnoying and stressful conditions, such as time limits. More than once, the timer ran out with the goal in sight, and without in-mission checkpoints, you’ll waste too much time replaying the same scenes.

“Joe’s Adventures” doesn’t deserve that dedication. It’s just more of what made “Mafia II” disappointing in the first place, but often without the well-crafted cut-scenes that made the primary game somewhat bearable.

“Undead Nightmare” is DLC done right. It’s a substantial addition that approaches the world of “Red Dead Redemption” from a new angle without sacrificing any of the original’s production values. It recasts the open-world western as a horror film, with a plague of zombies overtaking the old West. John Marston, our guilt-ridden hero, saddles up to protect survivors and find a cure.

“Undead Nightmare” lacks the weight of “Red Dead Redemption’s” excellent story, but it compensates with wicked humor and a commitment to its apocalyptic vision. Smoke and darkness choke the familiar horizon, and recognizable faces turn up in various states of existence. The controls are still awkward, and Marston is sluggish on foot. But Rockstar Games is masterful at creating worlds and telling tales, and “Undead Nightmare” is a creepy and hilarious spin on one of the better stories found in any medium this year. For those without broadband connections, “Undead Nightmare” is also available on disc, along with older “Red Dead” DLC packs.