Gary Eng Walk spends time on Wisteria Lane with the videogame adaptation of ''Desperate Housewives.'' Plus: Is the ''Mortal Kombat'' series getting any better?

By Gary Eng Walk
January 03, 2007 at 05:00 AM EST

The ”Housewives” game: Play house on Wisteria Lane

Desperate Housewives: The Game
(Buena Vista Games; PC; Teen)
In this new, PC-only title, you play a new housewife on Wisteria Lane, and wouldn’t you know it, you and your family soon find yourselves caught in the middle of some ongoing melodrama. Though it (desperately) borrows elements from The SimsDH:TG employs very familiar cross-section dollhouse views and a point-and-click interface — it’s at least a quality knockoff. There’s also a very Sims-like way of customizing and naming your family (seeing that the only Asian character on the show is a lowly maid/surrogate mother, I decided to score one for neighborhood diversity and spawn a handsome Chinese family). I was also impressed at how seamlessly your family is woven into the storyline.

The plot, separated into a dozen bite-size chapters, is surprisingly engaging, thanks in no small part to it being scripted by a member of the show’s writing team. Some polished voice work from Brenda Strong, the same actress who provides the series’ disembodied narration, also adds a level of authenticity, and the game producers don’t shy away from having you regularly interact with Gaby, Bree, Susan, Lynette, and Edie (voiced by stand-ins who do a bang-up job of sounding like Teri Hatcher et al).

Even the minigames aren’t half-bad, although some feminists might have an issue with the suggestively distaff nature of the busywork: Most of the diversions involve cooking dinner for your husband or watering flowers. Nevertheless, it’s still a guilty pleasure to whip up a batch of virtual meatloaf.

With heavy representation from four basic soap-opera food groups (murder, sex, jealousy, and amnesia), the game is a pleasant surprise for those of us who were expecting something more, well, Wisteria Lame. B

Mortal Kombat: Armageddon
(Midway; PS2 and Xbox; Mature)
A hit franchise in the ’90s that has since fallen on hard times thanks to a series of increasingly vapid follow-ups, Mortal Kombat attempts another comeback in Armageddon. (Hey, it worked for Tickle Me Elmo.) Following proper sequel protocol, this brawler promises to be bigger and better.

We’ll say this: Armageddon is definitely larger, at least in terms of head count. You can now access no fewer than 60 ”kombatants,” most from past iterations — and like at any big family reunion, not all are welcome. Only the most ardent MK historian will recognize, much less celebrate, the gaggle of second- and third-string fighters who turn up at the party. Even worse, Armageddon‘s numbers dilute the distinctiveness of those core characters you actually do care about: Classic personalities such as Scorpion appear far more generic next to dozens of other fighters with similar appearances and fighting styles. (Players have the option to design their own characters… who just end up looking like the other 60.)

One facet of the series that hasn’t lost its edge is the gore. MK’s ”fatalities” — ultra-violent, ultra-gross finishing moves performed at the end of a winning bout — have a place in Armageddon. My fave: after a subway car runs over a vanquished foe, a swarm of Cadillac-size rats rip apart the body and drag away the bloody pieces. Nice.

There are some throwaway modes in this game that are mildly entertaining in moderation, including an offbeat Mario Kart-style racing game called — everyone wince together — Motor Kombat. How krazy! Offering gameplay no different than other mindless brawlers, it’s sad evidence that this once legendary game is most definitely mortal. C