The wife had about four days of spectacular migraine headaches last week. As any married person knows, “if Momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy,” and our family is no exception. Her agony peaked on Saturday, leading her to take some more migraine meds and crawl back into bed. This meant I had the children to myself for the day. It’s been a LONG time since I had both children to myself for the day.

After a morning dash to Costco for said migraine meds, I bundled the kids off to a Tears of Joy performance of “The Shoemaker and the Elves.” It was a decidedly nontraditional performance, set in 1940’s Manhatten, where the Elves have slicked-back hair, and are named Frankie and Gino. It had quite a bit of slapstick humor, though, and will be a big hit with the elementary school crowd. We then drove back to southwest for lunch at The Original Pancake House, which I have described elsewhere. We got home to find the wife still unconscious, and relaxed for a bit less than an hour, and then were off to get the kids’ hair cut.

The haircuts were a study in contrasts. The boy sat in the chair stoically. He answered every question with either “yes”, or “no”. Every attempt by the stylist to draw him out into conversation failed miserably. When the girl took the chair, she started chattering on and on about hair, swimming, animals, etc. etc. etc. She and the two sylists were going at it like old friends. My God, she is turning into such a girl.

After two haircut appointments, we scurried through Thriftway getting some groceries purchased as fast as possible, then ran home. At this point, the light was failing, and the wife was up and about, and feeling much better. Not a trace of headache remained. So she of course…..went out to dinner with her girlfriends. Actually, this was an appointment that had been scheduled in advance, and she considered carefully before going. I didn’t begrudge her the chance for some relaxation, particularly after being in pain for four days.

But that still left me with the kids. After eating a pizza that was left over from “Pizza and Bingo night” at their school, I let them play video games and watch TV until it was time for bed.

Right after their haircut, I had ducked into Blockbuster to rent a couple of games, only to discover that our account had been wiped after six months of inactivity. Since we have Netflix, we almost NEVER use Blockbuster. It’s only on those rare occasions that none of the discs we have at home are appropriate that we will actually rent a DVD in person, and now, to rent games before purchasing.

The two games I wanted to try out were “Elebits” and “Psychonauts”. They are a real study in contrasts. Elebits was released for the Wii, and makes full use of the Wii’s innovative motion-sensitive control system. Psychonauts is an older game, originally released for the Xbox and PC, and then ported to the Playstation 2.

First, Elebits: It’s really cute. You have to look for these little Elebit critters in boxes, under things, and inside appliances. You use the Wiimote to pick things up, turn things on, open doors, and generally interact with a 3D environment. Unfortunately, the levels are timed, which I hate, and equally unfortunately, after a couple of levels, it all starts to seem highly repetitious.

1) Capture Elebits
2) Turn on appliances
3) Capture Power Elebits
4) Pick up heavier objects
5) GOTO 1

The game experience may be different at higher levels, or in multiplayer mode, but where I am right now, it just isn’t entertaining enough to keep doing it over and over and over.

Psychonauts, on the other hand, comes with a reputation as being one of the best games no one ever played. Consistently adored by critics, it just never got the love from the gaming community that it deserved. Psychonauts plays like a movie, which is something that my wife noticed and commented on over my shoulder. And the story that you are acting out is a pretty good one. It also has a healthy dose of wry humor that is evident in some of the game’s more creative moments.

For example, while traveling in someone else’s mind you can occasionally come across a trunk, or suitcase, whose anthropomorphic face is weeping huge bitter tears as it runs around in circles. This is an example of “emotional baggage”, which all minds have to some extent. Now that’s funny stuff.

As of right now, having played them both, I wouldn’t spend the money to buy Elebits, but I would absolutely pony up for a used copy of Psychonauts. It’s just too entertaining not to keep playing.

P.S.: I have been playing console games since I owned a Sega Genesis back in the day. I have spent countless hours clutching a sweaty game controller. I have devoted years of my life to forging and reinforcing motor memory routines dedicated to thumbsticks and ‘Fire’ buttons. And yet, after only a few weeks playing the Wii, the XBox controller felt strange and uncomfortable in my hands. It felt odd to have my hands so close together, and the angle of my wrists felt unhealthy. I got used to it soon enough, and it didn’t affect my play, but that a lifelong gamer like myself had that kind of reaction, this early in the lifecycle of the Wii, is a potent statement indeed on the future of gaming.