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Summer Games

Summer is here, and you know what that means. Sand, sun, fun… Not to mention a guaranteed three-month drought when it comes to top-quality videogames.   The problem in a nutshell: Everyyear about this same time, average yokels like you and I power down the PlayStation, round up the family, pile into the Range Rover (OK, Hyundai) and head for greener pastures.

Similarly, sales of interactive entertainment software taper off during June, July and August, cyclically leading up to a massive holiday rush that starts building steam in September.

But rather than bemoan thestate of the industry – it’s been this way for three decades, and unless America collectively decides November’s actually a good time to visit scenic Siberia after all, nothing’s changing– I come to praise it. Or rather, shine the media spotlight on a few worthy games that, despite being lumped into less active trading months, deserve a little attention this season.

Mindyou, I’m not saying the following contenders are worthy of telling the wife where she can shove that cruise or (more likely) “long-awaited” trip to the in-laws. Just that they’ll provide ahandy, instant source of amusement if you: A. Burn easily B. Are sweat/exercise-averse and C. Don’t feel like flying 10 hours just to shove through customs terminals crammed with hordes of stale armpit-scented Europeans after dropping a mortgage payment to reach the other side of the Atlantic.

Street Fighter Alpha Anthology For: PlayStation 2 From: Capcom www.capcom.com $29.99   Beat buddies senseless in four of yesteryear’s finest 2D slugfests, specifically Street Fighter Alpha, Street Fighter Alpha2, Street Fighter Alpha 2 Gold, and Street Fighter Alpha 3. Further rounding out the value-priced package is bizarre puzzle/hit-’em-up hybrid Super Gem Fighter MiniMix(a.k.a. Pocket Fighter). Added bonus: No quarters necessary.

NFL Head Coach For: PC, PlayStation 2, Xbox From: Electronic Arts www.ea.com$39.99   Behold the first 3D football management simulation for desktops and home consoles to truly capture the spirit of the game. You call the shots out on the field. And, naturally, take thelumps when irate fans wonder why that hand-picked receiver can’t catch a touchdown pass to save his life.

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Legend of Jack Sparrow For: PC, PlayStation 2,Xbox From: Bethesda Softworks www.bethsoft.com $39.99   Based on the original film – not this summer’s Dead Man’s Chest – saidaction/adventure nonetheless stars everyone’s favorite buccaneer, tasked with battling through burning buildings and wrecked ships while avoiding the Royal Navy’s goons. For maximum enjoyment, trytag-teaming the epic (which chronicles Sparrow’s mythical exploits) with an equally swashbuckling friend…

City Life For: PC From: CDV www.cdvus.com $39.99   Juggle budgets, construction jobs and political upheaval in a clever simulation that casts you as civil planner and mayor of a thrivingmetropolis. Create housing and work for your inhabitants, whom you’ll observe going about individualized daily routines, but beware. Differing social classes (fringe culture elements, upper-classsnobs) don’t mingle.

Tekken: Dark Resurrection For: PlayStation Portable From: Namco Bandai www.namco.com $39.99   Wham, bam, thank you ma’am– this jaw-dropping, mano-a-mano martial arts brawler isn’t just a spin-off of the popular coin-op scrapping series. It’s also the most fluid and impressive handheld 3D fighter ever seen. Over30 all-time favorite characters (try the overgrown bear… no, seriously) can throw down on 19 stages.

FlatOut 2 For: PC, PlayStation 2, Xbox From: Empire/Vivendi-Universalwww.vugames.com $29.99 (PC), $39.99 (PS2/Xbox)   Arcade-style redneck racing for all, sending you soaring along dirt roads crammed with breakable objects.Smashing into enemies and barriers builds one’s turbo boost capabilities, so there’s encouragement to wreak havoc. Call it a bucolic Burnout Revenge, with frantic online demolition derbiesand corpse-tossing mini-games also added for good measure.

Prey For: PC, Xbox 360 From: 2K Games www.2kgames.com $49.99 (PC), $59.99 (Xbox 360)  3D Realms’ on-again, off-again futuristic first-person blaster – pitting Native American hero Tommy against evil extraterrestrial monstrosities – finally arrives. Expectwall-walking fun aplenty as you stride through grotesque environments plugging away at wicked-looking biomechanical baddies. Spiritual powers, novel puzzle-solving elements and a distinctlyunsettling aesthetic give it an edge over competitors.

Madden NFL 07 For: GameCube, PC, PlayStation 2, Xbox, Xbox 360 From: Electronic Arts www.ea.com$39.99 (PC), $49.99 (GC/PS2/Xbox), $59.99 (Xbox 360)   A whopping 17 years into its Hall of Fame career, Big John’s baby is still going strong. Annual enhancements include an improved runninggame, snazzy lead blocker controls and even juicier audiovisuals than before. Franchise mode also gets an overhaul, as do juke/cutback commands, making this one a surefire MVP.

CivCity:Rome For: PC From: 2K Games www.2kgames.com $39.99   Note: Any resemblances to a certain multimillion-selling Maxis franchise in the title or gameplayof this Civilization-inspired knock-off (essentially a sandaled version of SimCity) are purely intentional. From building monuments to developing new technologies, overseeingeconomies, interacting with famed historical figures and even enjoying a little gladiatorial combat, anything goes.

Gradius Collection For: PlayStation Portable From: Konami www.konami.com $39.99   A killer retro-gaming anthology featuring five classic spaceship shooters, including Gradius I-IV and Gradius Gaiden (thelatter of which is just now debuting in North America). Freshly-added widescreen viewing options really let you savor the button-mashing excitement, a perfect fit for all you old-timers who stillrecall the industry’s golden age.

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