I've been going outside so much these past couple of months, I've barely missed my digital fix—haven't even packed the DS in my bike's bottle slot most of the time. But for six days of the year, Seattle's frigid, underground nerd caves sure look appealing, stink and Dew and all.

May as well dig through the stack of summer games piling up; this overdue review series begins with two locally produced titles.

Magic The Gathering: Duels of the Planeswalkers (Xbox Live) - Before I tried this virtual version of Magic, my experience with the locally produced card game was limited to a 10-year-old teaching me how to play. If you ever want to go down the rabbit hole but can't afford psychotropics, here's a tip: combine a young boy's excitable, scatterbrained logic with a trading card game's endless rules/exceptions/tricks... and watch the pretty colors fly by.


To its credit, this Xbox version eased me into Magic's rules: you take a randomly dealt set of cards and play attacks and modifiers on both yourself and your opponent (along with "land" cards which, essentially, are ammo for your card cretins). The ease almost fooled me into liking the game, as did the swank presentation and the high-res, hand-drawn cards.

Thing is, unlike the real card game, players are put on a level playing field with basic, default card decks—don't hafta worry about Jimmy beating your ass with rare cards he got off eBay. This seemed like a boon, but I quickly realized that the point of Magic—a point which flies over my head, thankfully—is to amass as many rare, weird cards as possible; to get caught up in the collecting, the art, and the weirder tangents of the game. Without that gimmick, the battle mechanics wither down to sheer luck of draw. There's strategy to be had, but with the small number of cards held at any time, your path is soundly determined by what little you have to work with. And in this Xbox edition, as games grow more complex and four-player duels linger on for half-hours at a time, the one variable bit of strategy—looking at your opponent's cards—is a pain. Can't zoom in on opponent's cards at will to examine and counter, even as the game makes you sit and wait between players' turns.

It's a $10 tease, so it's not a cost-effective way to keep your brat from buying the real cards; give them this, and they will pawn your stereo to feed their brand-new habit. All the pretty colors...

Gel (Xbox Live) - Belltown's Gastronaut Studios sent this title along last month, and I wish I had more to say than that it was made by guys in the neighborhood. Like a zillion puzzlers before it, Gel makes you clear colored blocks by matching 'em four-at-a-time. Its unique gimmick is to get you thinking in chains—colors don't vanish immediately, so you make your alien dude throw the "spent" colors at other ones to light up the entire screen as quickly as possible.

After the initial learning curve, I got a brief, visceral thrill, but that was mostly from the light bulb going off once I nailed a few chains. If the alien character wasn't so sluggish, maybe my brain would lock into the puzzly mechanic, but I didn't have the patience to replay it. Really, I'm shocked that Gel's "aim and throw colors" mechanic wasn't made for Wii instead (especially since the awful music and dorky characters are made for Wii kiddies).

BoxLife (DSi) - Besides, Nintendo's ArtStyle series is kicking every puzzle game's ass right now. My brain was already rattled by PictoBits back in May—that game takes Gel's formula to a much more interesting place—but even more striking is BoxLife.

You're given an oddly shaped grid of squares and must cut it up into 6-square lines that then fold into boxes. Run a stylus along the touch-screen to cut the grid, then push each box together with the stylus to fold it. The challenge comes because to clear the full grid, your series of 6-square cuts have to align together, and the game teaches you every box pattern imaginable along the way.

Does this sound like indoctrination into factory work? Yep—and Nintendo eerily toys with you by recording your factory workin' progress with material possessions. Your game's worker-bee avatar will upgrade his house, car, and other worldly items as he makes box after box after box.

The social satire is amusing, but I'm moved by the game more because this is the first game since Tetris whose mechanic is so mind-bending, it gets in my dreams. DO NOT PLAY THIS if you have OCD. You will find yourself hooked to tidily finding new ways to cut and fold a zillion boxes. Otherwise, like the other ArtStyle games, this treat of a puzzler is only $5 on the DSi's online store.

Red Faction Guerrilla (PS3, Xbox) - Run around a big, open world a la Mad Max. Blow crap up with satisfying, "realistic" physics of buildings and cars going kablooie.

If the three previous reviews seemed like gibberish to you and you'd prefer to feel like a post-apocalyptic wrecking crew, go straight to the rental store. You will giddily lose five days to this explosion-filled corollary to your childhood days of stomping on sandcastles, ya cretin. I particularly liked the take-turns modes of seeing who can destroy the most crap in 30 seconds; otherwise, this was a rental, nothin' more.

...tomorrow, I'll keep you in the basement with reviews of Splosion Man, Trine, Battlefield 1943, and Ghostbusters.