November 20, 2008

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Frogs, Jackie Chan and Linux
Lesser-known game consoles are fun too

By John “jaQ” Andrews  jandrews@hippopress.com

Nintendo. Xbox. Playstation. Blah, blah, blah.

Who’d’ve thought a three-way game console war would get so dull? Next generation graphics this, innovative interface that. It all gets a little daunting when you just want to do a little button mashing.

They don’t get as much press, but there are alternatives. And what’s more awesome than owning a game console no one’s heard of?

• Leapfrog Didj, $90: You know those Leapster handhelds for kids? The ones that trick them into learning stuff by shaping games around quizzes? This is their older brother. Or sister. The hidden teaching is still there, but slightly more subtle, as older kids are more hip to that kind of chicanery. The real cleverness is that every one of Leapfrog’s 33 games is playable on all of Leapfrog’s systems, so a growing child can still enjoy a particular game even if their console isn’t the one the game’s supposedly made for. I know I wouldn’t want to put down “Jedi Math” just because I’d gotten a year or two older. It’s like Math Munchers with lightsabers. leapfrog.com

• XaviXPORT, $80: Jackie Chan. That’s all you really need to know. Jackie Chan appears all over the XaviX Web site, because the flagship game features him as your personal trainer. Awesome. (Fortunately, Chris Tucker does not appear to be involved.) Not only that, but the Jackie Chan fitness game comes with the J-MAT, a wireless controller eerily reminiscent of the Wii Fit board that actually came before the Wii. You step or run on the J-MAT and become a hilarious maiming machine, just like Jackie Chan.

In fact, every XaviXPORT game comes with an accessory. Boxing game? Boxing gloves. Fishing game? Toy rod. If you’re suspecting a sporting focus, you’re right. There’s really only a few games available, but even with the accessories, they cost about the same as a new mainstream game. xavix.com

• EVO Smart Console, $600: The creators of this system are quick to point out that it’s not just a game console. Rather, it’s “a smart PC, that combines new features such as biometric, phone, voice, cloud, storage, gaming, DVR, Video on demand, browse internet, social network, and video conference into an all-in-one device.” Got that? So yes, you can play games, but you can also find and watch videos, browse the Web, communicate with friends — pretty much anything you can do with a PC.

Specifically, a Linux PC. The whole thing’s based on a customized Linux operating system, I think — the English on the company’s Web site is a bit tough to decipher, even though the company is based in Alabama. In any case, you might not actually be able to buy one quite yet. You can reserve one, and as of this writing, they’re expected to start shipping “approximately” Nov. 20. evo-phase1.com

• Wii knockoff of the week: When you create an ingenious new gaming system like the Nintendo Wii, you’re bound to inspire imitators. First, in 2007, there was the Vii, followed a few months later by a second version. It came with motion-sensitive controllers and a set of sports-themed games. Then there’s the plug-and-play sports game system, complete with not only the iconic wireless wand controllers but also nunchuck controllers for the second hand, showing up in Black Friday advertisements. It seems to be called My Sports Challenge or WirelessSports, and includes golf, bowling, tennis, baseball and tennis games. For 20 or 30 bucks, you too can sort of look like you own a Wii without being able to play any of the other games for the Wii. Whee!