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Review: iPod gets its game on

By Marc Saltzman
Gannett News Service
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Not content with its 75 percent share of the digital music device market in the United States, Apple Computer Inc. has morphed its wildly popular iPod into a pocket-sized photo album, podcast player and video viewer.

And now the Cupertino, California-based tech company has unveiled its latest plan to stay on top: iPod games.

iPod owners with any fifth-generation (video) player -- which sells for $249 (30-gigabyte version) or $349 (80-gigabyte version) -- can now download nine games from the iTunes store for $4.99 apiece, which can then be synched to the iPod to take on the go. You must first download and install the latest iTunes 7 software for Microsoft Windows or Apple Macintosh computers.

Titles include some well-known classics and some not-so-familiar games: "Tetris," "Zuma," "Texas Hold'em," "Mahjong," "Mini Golf," "Pac-Man," "Cubis 2," "Bejeweled" and "Vortex."

Many games let you pause your progress and offer the option to see the time and battery level in the top corners of the 2.5-inch screen.

The following is a look at three of the new offerings to see how they stack on up on the iPod:

'Pac-Man'

Already one of the most popular cellphone downloads of the year, "Pac-Man" has chomped its way to the iPod.

This new version is a faithful reproduction of the classic '80s arcade game, where you control a little yellow, er, Pac-Man, who must eat dots and fruits while evading colored ghosts. When you devour one of the four larger power pellets, the chase is reversed and you have a limited time to gobble up the ghosts for extra points.

All 256 levels are included in this handheld version, as are the entertaining "coffee break" animations that serve as intermissions between every few levels.

Controlling the speedy Pac-Man takes some time to get used to using the iPod's click wheel, however. You must gently tap -- not press -- one of the four directions to guide the hungry hero's path to success.

'Mini Golf'

Golf lovers on the go can take a swing with a sporty new digital diversion on their iPod.

Electronic Arts' "Mini Golf" lets you putt your way through three courses loaded with obstacles, traps and secret shortcuts. At the start of the game, the 18-hole Tommy Totem's Tiki Putt Putt course is available, complete with lava pits, obscuring palm trees and creatures that pop out to block your shot.

If you can shoot under par you can unlock the first of two additional courses: Ancient Egypt and Freaky Circus Sideshow.

As a bonus, players can also engage in a "Pass n' Play" multiplayer mode, where two gamers can take turns putting off at a hole to see who can achieve a lower score. The game also offers a Practice mode for newbie players.

Because the game isn't as fast-paced as "Pac-Man," controlling the game is a lot easier using the touch-sensitive iPod click wheel. Simply choose where you want to stand for your shot, use the dotted aiming beam to line up the putt and then choose the amount of desired power for the shot.

'Zuma'

Along with its "Bejeweled" puzzler, PopCap Games' "Zuma" has become one of the most talked-about casual games in cyberspace.

In "Zuma" you control a stone frog which shoots colored balls out of his mouth and onto a long string of multicolored balls that snake out onto the screen. The balls follow a specific path, which varies from level to level, and ends inside a gold skull. Your goal is to aim and shoot the ball so that it touches same-colored balls (example: blue with blue); when three or more touch -- one of which must be your ball -- they explode and disappear. The goal is to clear the entire chain before it makes its way into the skull.

Using the iPod's click wheel you rotate the frog around before pressing the center Select button to fire the ball. If you don't want the color held by the frog, you can swap it with the one on his back by pressing the FFWD or Rewind button.

You also can shoot gold coins for extra points and create combos by chaining successful moves together. Power-ups also exist, which can help in one of a few areas: roll the balls backward to give you more time; explode a portion of the chain; slow down the path of the balls; or make your shot more accurate by giving you an aiming beam.

Despite longer load times than the other titles in this roundup, "Zuma" is easy to play but difficult to put down, and happens to be one of the better picks for the iPod.

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"Pac Man" for the iPod is a faithful reproduction of the classic '80s arcade game.

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