Every gamer knows the names of the heavy hitters in electronic entertainment: Electronic Arts, Activision, Ubisoft and the rest. They're the companies that can spend big bucks on state-of-the-art production, expensive licenses and elaborate promotional campaigns.
Then there are the dozens of smaller game publishers striving to make a buck in a crowded marketplace. Some sell their products exclusively as online downloads; others fight for space on retail store shelves.
Games from publishers in the latter category can be tough to find. Your local store may put in an order for a single copy. But here are some indie gems worth tracking down while you're waiting, say, for "Resident Evil 5" to come out.
—"Big Bang Mini" (Southpeak, for the DS, $19.99): SouthPeak's track record has been spotty, with games ranging from awful ("Two Worlds") to amusing ("Ninjatown"). "Big Bang Mini" lands on the positive end of that scale, offering a fresh twist on the classic "Space Invaders"-style shoot-em-up.
The gimmick is that you shoot fireworks at enemies by flicking the stylus upward on the DS touch screen. (It's kind of like lighting a match.) You also have to move around a tiny ship, avoiding debris and collecting falling stars. As the game progresses, you learn more useful skills and meet weirder enemies — here come the parachuting turtles! — so almost every level offers something new. "BBM" is one of the best bargains for the DS. Three stars out of four.
—"Moon" (Mastiff, for the DS, $29.99): Mastiff is best known for a pair of strategy games, "La Pucelle Tactics" and "Gurumin." Now the company is branching out into the first-person shooter, inviting players to investigate a mysterious hatch discovered on the moon.
Most of "Moon" involves exploring the underground structure, shooting alien probes and trying to find out what happened to the other astronauts who vanished from the labyrinth. The atmosphere is appropriately claustrophobic and comes across surprisingly well on the DS. And thanks to Renegade Kid, whose previous project was the horror shooter "Dementium: The Ward," the controls are sharp, again proving that this genre can work on Nintendo's portable. Three stars.
—"My World My Way" (Atlus, for the DS, $29.99): Atlus' reputation is based on its translations of weird Japanese role-playing games, particularly the brilliant "Persona" series. "My World My Way" doesn't live up to that standard, although it's built on a quirky premise: A spoiled princess named Elise is out to prove her heroism to a handsome adventurer.
By pouting, Elise can get the jump on enemies or even change the landscape. She also has a magic parrot and a shape-shifting blob to help out. Combat is somewhat bland, though, and the quests get repetitious. Nonetheless, Elise remains a beguiling companion on this lighthearted trek. Two-and-a-half stars.
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