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Published: Thursday, 10/6/2011

El Shaddai a worthy quest; Zumba a party pooper


As someone who abhors religion, I was skeptical about my ability to give a fair shake to El Shaddai, a game based on non-canonical religious texts. Yet with an incredibly gorgeous visual design and simple but effective combat system, this made me a believer -- in the game, that is.

Based loosely on the Book of Enoch, you play as Enoch, who must gather fallen angels to prevent a flood that will extinguish human existence. The game's designer also created the look for Okami, so quality is evident throughout Enoch's adventures over 11 levels. The beautiful abstract realms are varied and boss battles break up the monotony of the lower-level minions.

The combat goes against the grain of nearly every game made in the last decade. Attacks require a single button, making advancement all about timing and tempo (the faster you tap the button the quicker the attacks). Fast combos and slow, powerful attacks mix with a fine orchestral soundtrack, and before you know it the game just flows.

Occasional poor camera work makes movement and combat difficult while repetitious foes sometimes lack oomph. Enoch is only allowed one of three weapons at once, so it can be confusing to strategize against enemies when they are most vulnerable to a weapon not available at that moment. There is not much left to do once you play through the initial campaign, but even cynical gamers will marvel at the beauty this delivers.

When playing certain video games, even the hippest person you know can look like a goofball. This generally includes any game where a headset must be worn or you must act like the lead of a five-piece rock band in your living room. Also woven into this group are 100 percent of games involving motion sensors and dance-fitness elements.

Zumba Fitness is the latest motion-based game to capitalize on the chance to get gamers (or non-gamers) to bring the gym experience into their family rooms. If you aren't familiar with Zumba, just know that it's a fitness craze based on high-energy dance moves rooted in Latin and hip-hop music.

If you consider yourself on the cusp of having rhythm and sweet moves on the dance floor, you might want to avoid Zumba Fitness. The movement detection on the Kinect is poor so that even the most skilled players might still receive failing marks. Plus, and perhaps more important, there is no real "game" to speak of; instead, Join the Party is more like a digital instructional DVD.

My wife always calls me a goober when she sees me barking orders to fellow gamers through a wireless headset as if I've got a Navy SEAL patch stitched onto my T-shirt. I'll take that mockery any day over her catching me winded from a game that doesn't act like a game. An introductory Zumba class on YouTube probably delivers better value.

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