"Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo Tales." Format: Nintendo DS. From: Square Enix. ESRB Rating: Everyone (comic mischief, fantasy violence).
There are two types of gamers, and their division is assured during the "Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo Tales" title sequence - an adorable, hand-drawn animated sequence that either will charm the your pants off or send your lunch right back out your mouth. "Tales" never hedges its artistic bets, and the cuteness persists throughout, so plan accordingly depending on what side of that fence you sit on.
Should all this terrible happiness not be a deterrent, a pretty unique genre hybrid awaits. The bulk of "Tales" is comprised of various mini-games, which, upon completion, unlock new areas and advance the central storyline. Meanwhile, a second barrage of optional mini-games pop up everywhere, rewarding you with special cards that can be used during boss battles, which play out in your standard card-battle fashion.
Give credit to the mini-games for holding their own in the project. The DS is no stranger to mini-games, but the crop in "Tales" is rich with selections that are both clever and surprisingly challenging at their highest difficulty levels. The quest-driving mini-games also come in multiple flavors, and all support wireless multiplayer. (Square-Enix included support for online card battles, but the mini-games are wireless only.) Last but not least, these games look outstanding, unfolding like an animated pop-up book and incorporating the "Final Fantasy" universe in all manner of clever and funny ways. (All together now: Awwww!)
"Tales'" card battle system is in no way as intricate as what you'll find in a dedicated card battler, but it's ideal for someone who may either be new to the genre or not all that crazy about it in the first place. Collecting cards and assembling your dream deck is pretty fun, and the battles grow increasingly deep once the system's intricacies reveal themselves. If you're still not jazzed by the prospect of card battles, take heart: The mini-games are both more frequent and (eventually) playable outside of the adventure.
The juxtaposition of card battler, adventure game and mini-game compilation is an odd one, but the different elements gel together with surprisingly good results. "Tales" pays equal respect to each genre, and it respects players similarly by not dumbing anything down. The wealth of content and multiplayer support seals the deal. Self-conscious gamers probably won't be caught dead anywhere near this, but guess what? Their problem, their loss.