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Published Dec. 7, 2006

As the holidays approach, thoughts turn to what gifts you might like to see under the Christmas tree. And for some kids, games for any game system, whether it is PlayStation, Xbox or Nintendo, make the perfect gift. The X-Team took on the task of reviewing several games available for different systems. Maybe one is just right for you.

Sherry Robinson, Xpress editor

Bratz Forever Diamonds

Various systems, $29.99

The Bratz are at it again with another video game, Bratz Forever Diamonds, which is twice the fun of Bratz Rock Angels, which debuted for Christmas 2005. Having played both, I can see similarities. In both games, you are given tasks or missions that you must complete to receive rewards - VIP passes, ''gemz,'' "treatz,'' etc.

In Forever Diamonds, you are able to adopt a Bratz mascot and you must care for your pet, since you are not able to adopt a new one. Taking care of your pet is pretty simple; you can play games to win "treatz'' that you can give to your pet. You also can buy clothes for you and your pet, and enter them in shows.

Bratz Forever Diamonds is an age-appropriate game for girls' ages 7 and older. Although I'm 12, it wasn't too torturous to sit in front of the PlayStation 2 for 41/2 hours and only get up to level two. This is a fun, easy game to figure out.

Kaitlyn Sferrazza, 12, is in seventh grade at St. Jude Cathedral School in St. Petersburg.

Monster House

Various systems, $19.99 and up

It's crazy when inanimate objects become animated.

Explore the Monster House as Jenny, DJ or Chowder with only your water guns for protection.

I didn't really like this game because of how strangely it switches scenes. The animation is not that great and the sound is sort of fuzzy. And whenever the house shakes (which it does very often), your controller does, too. But you can turn that off. The game is also strange because you can only jump when the game tells you to.

It's pretty boring because you're only focused on one thing: killing the house. There should be minigames to lead up to the main plot.

This game is like an arcade game: All you do is collect items and shoot enemies. There is no strategy. It may be more for younger kids, about ages 6 to 8, but they may be scared by the rumbling house. It's just not a video game that I'd pick up to play again and again.

Arlia Delphonse, 11, is in seventh grade at Tarpon Springs Middle School.


Various systems, $19.99 and up

Speeding along through colorful Ornament Valley, it's easy to lose yourself in the excitement of Disney/Pixar's game, Cars. With bright, vivid graphics, fun characters and a cheerful soundtrack, this video game is truly enjoyable.

Cars has tons of features including an Arcade Mode, where you can compete against the game or with your friends; a Full-Sized Story Mode, where you can play out an adventure as the game's main character, Lightning McQueen; and a Compact Story Mode, a slightly easier adventure for younger players. There are more than 30 different events to complete in the game, plus minigames and bonus features. Cars will keep you happily busy - at least until the end of the holidays.

Despite all the cool features of this game, it does have a few drawbacks. It takes a long time for each level to load, as well as to save your progress in the game. In addition, there are several glitches where you can drive your car through certain rocks or you might end up driving sideways or nearly upside down on a mountain.

As for the game play, it's fairly simple and has an easy learning curve. Throughout Story Mode, you can collect points that can later be used in the game to purchase new characters and special features. There are also a few secret cheat codes to discover. Try entering "R4MONE" (Just remember . . . you didn't hear it from me!)

I give Cars a B. It's a fun game, rated E for Everyone, and has a little bit of everything in it.

Andrea Willingham, 16, is in 12th grade and homeschooled in Odessa.

Spongebob Squarepants: The Yellow Avenger

Various systems, $19.99 and up

As I put the SpongeBob SquarePants disc into my PlayStation Portable, I was a little skeptical. I hadn't enjoyed anything remotely related to SpongeBob in a couple of years. But I have to admit, SpongeBob SquarePants: The Yellow Avenger was a thoroughly enjoyable game, and I would definitely recommend it.

The game is set in Bikini Bottom, where evil Little Dirty Bubbles are rampaging across the sea after SpongeBob accidentally creates them. Mermaidman and Barnacle Boy, SpongeBob's idols, are too old and tired to defeat the bubbles. So they select SpongeBob as the newest super hero to protect Bikini Bottom. Mermaidman gives SpongeBob his super belt and you set off on your adventures.

The game is just a set of odd side missions leading up to the big mission: finding Mermaidman's archnemesis. Don't skip any missions; some of the important parts of the big mission may be locked in those side missions.

Many characters from the show are here, including Patrick, Sandy, Mr. Krabs and Squidward. I especially liked Mermaidman's rants.

The graphics are amazing and very detailed for a PSP game, and everyone looks exactly as they would if they were in the show.

There are a couple of things about the game that I didn't like. The controls are a little hard to understand, so pay attention to the tutorials. And it was a little too easy to die in this game. If you ran into one Little Dirty Bubble, you would lose one-third of your health. As the game advances, though, you get more health on the bar. The Yellow Avenger is an enjoyable game for the younger crowd but may be a little dull for older teens.

Chase Shiflet, 13, is in eighth grade at Rampello Downtown Partnership School in Tampa.

SingStar - Rocks!

PlayStation 2, $49.99

Have you ever dreamed of singing alongside one of your favorite recording artists or bands? Thanks to PlayStation 2's newly released interactive video game SingStar - Rocks!, anyone can rock the house. Set up in true karaoke style, game formats include solo, duet and group forms of play. The game includes more than 30 songs from a variety of artists, including Gwen Steffani, the Killers and the Rolling Stones.

SingStar allows for many different variations of play. If you are the competitive type, the party game mode is the perfect choice to play "one on one" with a single opponent or in teams with several players. The game styles range from "pass the mic" to "battle" - in which two players sing at the same time - to "medley," where each team player sings a part of a song to rack up points.

You can also record your own voice, save it to a memory card, and add sound effects.

As fun as this game was, I am not sure I would buy it. The songs offered are fairly cool but are not necessarily the best choices to try to mimic. They are not those that you would even try to sing in the shower. Rhythms and pitches are complicated regardless of whether the song is set at an easy, medium or hard scoring level.

Hopefully the folks at PlayStation will soon offer more song choices geared toward the novice singer. With all the great games out on the market, I probably would spend my hard-earned dollars on something other than SingStar.

Chase Ferreira, 13, is in eighth grade at John Hopkins Middle School in St. Petersburg.