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Hardcore Gamers Soften Up

Game On: "Carnival Games," by Nintendo Wii

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Are you turning into a casual gamer?

Sure, you've played "BioShock" and look forward to "Halo 3" as much as the next joystick jockey. But when you get most excited about a new family game for the Wii, you know something has changed. Today's hardcore gamer is as likely to feel a serious passion for easy-to-learn, easy-to-play titles as he or she is to sport a "Legend of Zelda" tattoo.

The shrinking divide between the focused fan and the part-time player shows up clearly when you look at a set of new games for the Wii - "Carnival Games," "Brunswick Pro Bowling" and "Tiger Woods PGA Tour '08."

At first glance, you'd expect gamers to clamor for "Tiger" on the motion-sensing Wii, or go giggly for a pro bowling experience. It turns out that a basic carnival challenge with a chance to win digital kewpie dolls provides the most fun of the lot.

Want to play a little Skee-Ball? Move your hand forward as if you were rolling a little wooden ball, and your on-screen character hoists the orb up a ramp at on-screen targets. Simple. Want to shoot ducks? Just aim the Wii controller and pull the trigger. Easy. Up and down the midway, "Carnival Games" has every amusement covered, from a skill crane and dunk tank to coin tosses and towers of milk bottles. The only things missing are cotton candy and chili-dog stains.

"Brunswick Pro Bowling," by contrast, wants you to bowl like a pro. Seriously. Where the "Wii Sports" bowling game kept it basic, "Brunswick" tries to make it more real, and more complicated. The extra detail in the character models, the bowling alleys and even the ball and lane physics don't do much more than make a mindless pastime into something somber. It's not a terrible game by any means, but it leaves you wishing it had nailed the strike.

Likewise for "Tiger." If there is any real point in pretending to play a sport, it's that you can feel like a top-flight star. On the Wii, "Tiger" bristles with potential. But after you've duffed a dozen putts, you'll feel like throwing your controller into the nearest water hazard.

Difficult games and serious simulations have their place in gaming. As the quality of more casual titles continues to improve, though, developers have started to figure out that one sign of a top title isn't how much fun players could have, but how much they do have. "Carnival Games" won't keep you up until dawn trying to reach the next level. Then again, when company stops by, you can't expect them to jump into a game of "Killzone."

In the future, we won't divide the gaming classes by how much players love their games, but by how much trouble they'll endure to have a little fun.

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