Games: Sly Racoon, Hamtaro, Micro Machines

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The Independent Online

Sly Racoon, Presto (PS2) £39.99

Sly Racoon, Presto (PS2) £39.99

Sly Racoon could easily be one of the great sunk-without-a-trace stories of 2003. That would be a pity, since it's truly superb. Very French, and very beautifully executed, it looks and plays like a 3D cartoon. Soon the new Zelda episode on Nintendo's GameCube will get plenty of plaudits, but Sly gives PS2 owners something just as good. At first glance, it looks rather unsophisticated – you assume it will play like any other "toon" adventure, but it doesn't. The 3D engine produces a series of near-faultless effects, and has the distinction of not ruining everything with terrible camera angles. The game is essentially a platformer withlots of puzzles, but without the infuriating need for pixel-perfect jump-landing. Humour abounds, and the plot – a thief wanting to steal more secrets about thieving from his thieving ancestors – is hugely entertaining. And there are many interesting characters to meet whose appearance ratchets up the pace.

The game is not flawless, though. Realism is not Sly Racoon's strongpoint: the occasional corner has been cut, and some of the gameplay jars. But in a sense, that's part of its French charm. Rush out, buy it and give it the success it deserves.

****

Hamtaro, Nintendo (GameBoy Colour) £24.99

If you haven't latched on to the cutesy cartoon phenomenon of Hamtaro, you soon will. As with Pokemon and Power Rangers, the Japanese have hit on a formula that will turn children into ravenous fans. Even adults will go a bit gooey. It has a supremely simple premise: you guide your hamster around a charming little world looking for other hamsters and learning their squeaky language. But, as so often, it's the simple ideas that work best and Nintendo has almost certainly got a big hit on its hands. Controls are straightforward, as are the graphics, and the emphasis here is on old-fashioned fun. It is made for the GameBoy Colour, but is considerably better than many games made for the GB Advance. Since you can play it on both machines, hurry and join the Hamtaro revolution. You heard it here first.

****

Micro Machines, Infogrammes (Gamecube) £29.99

Micro Machines is one of those unassuming driving titles that offers much more entertainment than you'd imagine. The graphics look great: the racing action takes place around duckponds, cupboards and other familiar household and garden items, and the animation is silky-smooth. The cars, bikes trucks and other vehicles handle very differently and do take some getting used to. But once you master that aspect of the game, the range of weaponry gives an added level of competitive mayhem.

The simultaneous four-player mode is a real pleasure. For some gamers, this may seem like a poor-man's Mario Kart, but since there doesn't seem to be a Gamecube version of that up for imminent release, Micro Machines is a suitably good value stop-gap.

****

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