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Any Port in a Storm

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In the world of games, a "port" stands for something other than the place where a cruise ship docks. The term indicates a game programmed for one system that's eventually recoded for another.

And like any translation, if done right it retains the flavor of the original. Do it wrong, and the result is a mumbled mess of bad resemblances and damaged copies.

Fortunately, "Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars" and "Rayman Raving Rabbids" survived the conversion to the Xbox 360 and live to delight another group of gamers.

Whether you choose to lead futuristic armies in a battle for planetary domination in "C&C" for the PC or the 360, or whether you'd rather kick back on the couch with the 360 version of "Rayman" as opposed to the on-your-feet, motion-controlled action of the Wii original - either way, you're pretty much playing the same game.

And that's what really marks a port - the simple fact that you could, if you wanted, play more or less the same game on some other system. In a simple-minded way, ports even out the competitive field of the video-game business. They reduce every fan-boy argument to a trivial choice of platform, as gamers recognize that they could, if they wanted, play the same game on a different machine.

PC players may feel cheated watching a franchise title such as "C&C" sneak out for a rendezvous with another platform. But for most gamers, the increased choice helps spread the fun around. And more and more, game producers have seen dollar signs in giving their growing base of game consumers what they want.

The economics of ports dictate that, even if it costs a zillion dollars to create a game, it still costs a lot less to pay a smaller group of developers to figure out how to make the same code run on a new technical architecture. Even if it costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to take a game designed at great expense for the PC and put it on the 360, that's OK. You might have to sell millions of copies of the original game to make money, but thousands of copies of a port amount to a profitable proposition.

So, while the financial wisdom behind the port remains sound, the question nags at the consumer - are ports any good?

If you weren't paying attention and picked up "C&C" or "Rayman" for the 360, you'd never know you had anything other than the real deal. In both games, changes to the original slightly customize the titles to work on the new platform. In "C&C," some of the interface elements have been revised to work better with a joystick as opposed to a keyboard and mouse. In "Rayman," the motion-control features have been replaced with joystick input as well. Both of these games strut with the confidence born of a popular run on another game machine.

Who's It For: With "Command and Conquer 3," if you don't want to invest in a new PC, then the 360 port is for you. If "Rayman" sounds like fun but you don't own a Wii, the 360 version offers an acceptable placebo.

If You Like This, Try That: While it's almost never worth going back to the original of a ported game, "Rayman" on the Wii makes good enough use of that system's motion-sensing controller to bring you back into the familiar fun.

Best Part: Playing a top-notch, real-time strategy game like "Command and Conquer" on your couch in front of the Xbox 360 - instead of hunched over in front of your PC - is a relaxing treat.

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