So you're packing the car for that long drive to the Poconos or Jersey Shore? Don't forget the games.
Take it from the voice of experience - if you've got kids and a car ride, nothing cuts down on those annoying, plaintive whines of "Are we there yet?" quite like a good portable game system. There are a number of options available.
And while it's not a hard-and-fast rule, for younger children, I generally recommend the Nintendo DS Lite ($129). For older teens who may crave edgier game content or the ability to play digital music and video, Sony's PSP (PlayStation Portable, $169) is the game system of choice. In either case, remember to have your gamers bring along headphones so Mom and Dad can read and drive, free of unwanted audio distractions.
If you're hitting the road with the Nintendo DS, good family entertainment choices include Planet Puzzle League (Nintendo, $34.99), a block-shifting game in the tradition of Tetris or Bejeweled. Players use the DS stylus to connect three like blocks. The DS's WiFi capabilities allow players to compete against the friends they left behind. In Time Ace (Konami, $19.99), players assume the role of an inventor who tracks a mad scientist through different eras in a desperate effort to save civilization. The been-there-done-that plot is saved by a clever gimmick: All of the action takes place using combat aircraft, including pseudo-realistic models based on World War I biplanes, World War II fighters, modern jets and several futuristic craft.
Nintendogs showed the world how much fun it can be to raise a virtual pet. Pony Friends (Eidos, $29.90) expands on the theme by letting players maintain a stable of up to three equines. Kids learn to care for and outfit their mounts before hitting the trail and gathering photos on nature rides. Teens and adults will love SimCity DS (EA, $29.99), which brings the famed city building and management game to the small screen of the DS.
On the PSP, I'm currently into Final Fantasy 20th Anniversary Edition, which brings the original game in the storied role-playing series to the PSP, complete with graphical enhancements. If you've ever fantasized about opening your own restaurant, give Diner Dash: Sizzle & Serve (Secret Stash Games, $29.99) a whirl. If nothing else, trying to please customers as you progress through the game's six eateries will convince you that the food business is hard work, no matter how easy Rachael Ray makes it look on TV. Players seeking to improve their minds will enjoy Hot Brain (Midway, $29.99), a series of intellect-challenging mini-games in the vein of Brain Age on the DS. As a bonus, comedian Fred Willard (Anchorman, A Mighty Wind) provides the voice-overs.
An unexpectedly delightful traveling companion is the slim version of the PlayStation 2. Equipped with an easily attached portable screen ($50-$150, various manufacturers, shop around), the PS2 lets passengers play an extensive library of games, not to mention DVD movies and music CDs. The console draws power from a cigarette-lighter adapter, which is included with the screen.
Contact Dennis McCauley at firstname.lastname@example.org.