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Press Start: April 2008 -- Pay Day = Game Day

In this month's "Press Start," Peter "The Rizk" Rizkalla checks out Super Smash Bros. Brawl, Army of Two, Patapon and Buzz! The Hollywood Quiz.

You know the phrase, "The best things in life are free"? Well, the guy who said that never really played a good video game, now did he! Then again, if you got a good game for free then I guess that statement would be true. Either way, my point is that a good video game has many different extraordinary facets. The animation in video games is some of the best in the entertainment industry and, of course, is completely interactive. The programming and scripting that is involved is by far the most sophisticated, and video games require the player to engage in them like no other media in the world.

There are even studies coming out of colleges now that say things like video games enhance your reflexes, motor skills and your problem-solving abilities. If that's the case, then I should be the video game equivalent of Jackie Chan right about now. I tell ya, I might not have super crazy speed and skill and I also probably couldn't jump off of really tall buildings and through really small openings, but I bet that even Jackie would appreciate a rousing game of Smash Bros. Brawl and Army of Two. Enjoy as we venture through another episode of "Press Start"! (Oh, and Jackie, if you're watching, hit me up, man, we haven't hung out in a long time.)

Super Smash Bros. Brawl is the real reason to own a Wii.

Super Smash Bros. Brawl for the Nintendo Wii; Publisher: Nintendo; Developer: Game Arts; Release Date: March 9, 2008; ESRB Rating: T for teen; Genre: 4-player brawler; Players: 1-4; Support: Nunchuck, Gamecube Controller, Classic Controller; Online: 1-4 player brawls and spectate

It was 3:00 in the morning. My Wii remote was covered in dirt and sweat from my hands. I was tired but I kept on playing. I was playing the same mode over and over again, but it never got old. I had to unlock another character, then another, then another. I had just unlocked Toon Link when it finally hit me... this is the real reason I own a Wii. If you remember all those great times playing Super Smash Bros. on the N64 and Super Smash Bros. Melee on the Gamecube, then you are going to pass out with sheer joy when you get a hold of Super Smash Bros. Brawl.

SSBB is, of course, a brawler game where players take control of their favorite Nintendo character and bash the duodenums out of each other! Up to four players can brawl at the same time in a match, and characters can be controlled by either human players or the CPU. Every character has a variety of regular attacks, special attacks and throws which players use to systematically wear down their opponents. The more damage you take, the more prone you will be to being launched off of the screen. Basically, the object of the game is to send everything and everyone flying off the screen except yourself. First off is the single player modes; the Classic mode makes a return, once more allowing players to play through 12 levels. Each level has you fight off computer-controlled characters in circumstances ranging from normal to just plain ridiculous. In between certain levels are "Break The Targets" sub-levels where you have to break 10 bullseyes in a limited amount of time. In the last level you have to face off against the returning Master Hand.

Although SSBB is basically a brawler game, it also features a new, story-driven adventure mode called the

Brawl also has a new, story-driven adventure mode called the "Sub-Space Emissary." In this mode, you play alone or with a friend through an adventure that involves the unique situation of each of the many, many Nintendo characters. Soon every character's circumstances intertwine to have them all fight against a common evil force. It's actually interesting to note that none of the characters speaks a single word in the "Sub-Space Emissary" adventure, so the whole story is told through character animations. That's an amazing feat. It is also simply outstanding how many characters are in Brawl. A grand total of 35 unique characters are usable and it's not just Nintendo characters! This game is so huge that SEGA and Konami have partnered with Nintendo to include staple characters such as the ever-famous Sonic the Hedgehog and the star of the Metal Gear Solid series, Solid Snake.

Multiplayer brawls are always a great way to knock out a few hours, and now players can brawl against each other online. Nintendo has allowed players to brawl with friends, or with anyone, over the Nintendo Wi-Fi service. A pretty nifty addition to being able to brawl online is the ability to spectate online matches. Now don't go saying, "Who the hell cares about spectating?" just yet; when you spectate on an online match, you get to bet coins on who will win the match. Coins can then be used in the coin launcher mini-game to unlock in-game stickers and trophies.

There is so much stuff you can do in Brawl that you might get lost in this freakin' game. I noticed that Nintendo decided to keep the "Break the Targets" mini-game, but got rid of the "Board the Platforms" mini-game. It's kind of a shame; "Board the Platforms" was a fun and challenging addition to Super Smash Bros. Melee. Also, every once in a while you might encounter some lag when playing online; of course, Nintendo can easily fix this with a system update. Super Smash Bros. Brawl is riddled with awesome gameplay and nostalgia, but I gotta warn you: when playing Brawl you're going to notice big chunks of time passing by and wonder where the heck the whole day went. Don't worry, that's normal.

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The much-anticipated third-person shooter Army of Two revolves around 2-player cooperative combat. Two American soldiers make a bundle of money working for privatized military corporations and look cool doing it!

Army of Two for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3; Publisher: Electronic Arts; Developer: EA Montreal; Release Date: March 6, 2008; ESRB Rating: M for mature; Genre: third-person shooter; Players: 1-2; Support: split-screen; Online: 2-player coop, 2-4 online multiplayer

The shooter games just keep on rolling out. But hey, I'm not one to complain; people love shooter games and it gives game developers the opportunity to really shine. EA has just released a much-anticipated third-person shooter entitled Army of Two. This 3PS revolves around 2-player, cooperative combat. The story goes that America has allowed large military companies to do business as privatized military-for-hire. Two American soldiers named Elliot Salem and Tyson Rios realize that they could be making way more money working for these privatized military corporations and decide to go for it. Soon Salem and Rios are making way more money and looking cool doing it!

Army of Two allows you to play through the game either with a friend or with a computer-controlled partner that you can give orders to. To be honest, don't play this thing by yourself; this game was made to be played by two people and that's when it is most fun. Army of Two has an offensive and defensive system called "Aggro." At the bottom right of the screen is an Aggro meter which you can control by firing at enemies; as you attack enemies more and more, your Aggro meter will fill. Only one player can have Aggro at a time, and the more Aggro you have, the more enemies will pay attention to you. That means that your partner can sneak in unnoticed and tear through enemies from a different angle.

Not only do you earn money throughout the game to buy new weapons, you can also buy upgrades for your existing weapons, such as larger ammo clips, modified barrels and front-mounts. Remember, because this isn't the U.S. military, there are a few little extra things you can do to customize your Army of Two experience. Instead of helmets, Salem and Rios wear steel masks to add to the intimidation factor and, of course, protect their faces from bullets. As you earn money, you can buy new masks with different designs.

You can also "pimp" your guns (sounds like a show that Xzibit would host!). Seriously though, you can actually spend in-game money to cover your guns with diamonds, gold and all kinds of other things to make your gun, dare I say, "bling bling." The cool thing about doing so is that it actually directly affects gameplay. Pimping your gun makes you more likely to build Aggro; so you will have a hard time sneaking up on enemies with such a shiny gun, but your partner will be able to sneak in no problem if you got all the enemies focused on your ice.

Like I said before, you have to play this game with a friend to get the full experience. When playing a single-player game, the CPU-controlled character will spend most of the time doing exactly what you do not want him to do, which means you will be spending most of the time dragging him out of fire when he gets hit -- so it's not really Army of Two, it's more like "Army of Me"! The special abilities in Army of Two are just awesome; when one player gets a full Aggro meter, the team can then activate "Overkill," which lets one player shoot in power mode and the other player shoot in stealth mode while everything goes into slow-motion. "Back-to-Back" is also a great ability; both players stand in one spot and are both in power mode, which means that you can take a lot more damage than normal and you can give a lot more damage than normal, all without reloading your gun. In early builds of Army of Two, a fallen partner would have to be resuscitated with CPR, which meant both of you would be vulnerable during the CPR process. Thank God that EA decided to change that. Now when your partner falls, he can't go anywhere, but he can still aim and shoot. Then you can administer some first aid while your partner is taking enemies out and, bingo, he's back in the fight.

One thing that upsets me about Army of Two is that there is no way to connect through system link on the Xbox 360. Unless you want to play on a split screen, which is still awesome, you and a friend are both going to have to sign on to Xbox LIVE or PSN and play online. Also, the game is over far too quickly and, because Army of Two is so engaging, it leaves you wanting more. All through the game, Salem and Rios crack jokes back and forth, making the game hilarious as well as a satisfying shooter. The dialog between Salem and Rios is relatable; you'll be cracking up the whole time. You can even walk up to your partner and give him either a high five or smack to the side of the head just for fun. Army of Two is an excellent shooter game and one that EA should be proud of. What EA should really do is make an Army of Two 2, or Army of 2 Two, or... whatever.

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Weird little games are freakin' cool. Patapon is a fun little rhythm game for the PSP with a charming art style and endearing sound bytes and music.

Patapon for the Sony PSP; Publisher: SCEA; Developer: Interlink; Release Date: February 26, 2008; ESRB Rating: E for everyone; Genre: rhythm; Players: 1; Support: N/A; Online: N/A

Weird little games. First it was a small blob with a happy face that absorbed his blob friends to become an even bigger blob; now it's a bunch of little one-eyed tribesmen who won't walk or fight unless their god bangs on a drum. But who the hell said that was a bad thing! Weird little games are freakin' cool. Ya got all these big, realistic games coming out, so you need some little, weird ones to balance things out a bit. Patapon is a fun little rhythm game for the PSP with a charming art style and endearing sound bytes and music.

In Patapon you take the role of Kami, the god of the Patapon. You must restore the former glory of the Patapon by guiding them to their promised land, where they believe that "IT" awaits them. Players guide the little Patapon through hunts, journeys and ferocious battles against giant beasts and against their sworn enemies the Zigoton tribe. The only thing that the Patapon will respond to is the sound of the drums. How you play the drums is by hitting specific button combinations on the PSP exactly to the beat of the game. There are only a few tunes to play for the Patapon, but each tune orders them to perform a different action. There is a tune that, when played correctly, will order the Patapon to advance. Another tune will order them to attack. Yet another tune will order them to defend. When you play the tunes perfectly, in succession, the Patapon will gather into a fever. When in a fever state, the Patapon's attacks will do more damage and be more spectacular.

It sounds easy, but keeping the rhythm going in Patapon is actually not as easy as it seems. When you're not out on an adventure with the Patapon, you can take the many items that you have acquired from your adventures and create new Patapon soldiers, new weapons and new armor. Rather than rely strictly on finding items during battles, players can also look to Pan the Pakapon to get rare items simply by playing a tune along with a very weird, talking tree. As you play music with the tree, he will drop items that you can use.

The graphics are simple and flat 2D colors and shapes, but they really give the game a tribal feel. The music and sound effects also add to that feel, with the little Patapons' tribal chanting, singing and war cries. The voiceovers for the Patapon sound like they were done by young kids, which is good because the voices fit the size of the Patapon perfectly. Equipping the Patapon with new armor and weapons is fun, but it is also an essential aspect of the game. Equip the wrong Patapon with the wrong gear and be ready to lose some Patapon in battle. If a Patapon does happen to die, it will leave behind its cap; if you collect the cap, then you can resurrect that Patapon after the mission is over -- you just have to be careful of animals that can swallow the Patapon and its cap whole.

It's exclusives like this that make the PSP worth having. The only thing about Patapon is that sometimes you will swear that you played your tune correctly, but the Patapon didn't recognize it, so you will lose your fever in the middle of a battle. As you play Patapon more and more, you will notice that this will happen less often. Patapon is a charming and unique game and, with a release price tag of only $20, you get way more than what you pay for. It might not be for everybody, but everybody should play it at least once. Well done, Sony.

For the casual game player who’s also a movie buff, Buzz! The Hollywood Quiz offers sophisticated questions for the most hardcore cineaste.

Buzz! The Hollywood Quiz for the Sony PlayStation 2; Publisher: SCEA; Developer: Relentless Software; Release Date: March 11, 2008; ESRB Rating: T for teen; Genre: quiz; Players: 1-8; Support: Buzz! buzzers, EyeToy camera; Online: N/A

Nowadays, more and more games are being geared toward the casual gamer. If you yourself are a casual gamer, then you're probably familiar with games like Scene It! for the Xbox 360, Brain Age for the Nintendo DS and Buzz! The Mega Quiz for the PlayStation 2. Of course you probably remember that we've been down this road before with Buzz!, but now Sony has released a more specific version of the Buzz! franchise with Buzz! The Hollywood Quiz.

Like Buzz! The Mega Quiz, Hollywood Quiz is a game show-style game, but with questions and answers specifically about movies. In Hollywood Quiz, players view scenes and images from movies and have to answer questions accordingly. Real movie buffs will love Hollywood Quiz because though some of the questions can be answered by the typical moviegoer, only the most hardcore movie enthusiast will be able to answer the more sophisticated questions.

Hollywood Quiz uses the same buzzer controllers that Mega Quiz used on the PS2 and you play Hollywood Quiz the same way. There is still the pie round, the lightning round, and so on and so forth. The graphics in Hollywood Quiz have been changed a bit to match the scenario. Now there are curtains, red carpets, spotlights and all kinds of images of award statues that resemble, but are legally distinct from, the Oscars. (I know, I know. I stole that last one from Futurama; sue me.)

Buzz! The Hollywood Quiz is basically like Mega Quiz, except it’s about movies. Some changes include new animated characters players can choose for contestants and new sound effects for buzzers. © SCEA.

Players can choose from a new list of animated characters to represent them as contestants. Also there is a new list of sound effects to choose from as your buzzer sound. That's basically it; there's not much more you can say except that it's just like Buzz! The Mega Quiz, but about movies. It's cool that now we have all kinds of new questions about movies and, by all means, it's fun. I just think that this should be a PS3 title as well as a PS2 title and here's why. If Sony plans on making a new Buzz! game every few months and releasing it at a low purchase price for the PS2, then that's all well and good. But if this were also a PS3 title, then Sony could release one Buzz! game on the PS3 and release new question and answers as downloadable content on PSN. This would cater to hardcore gamers who own a PS3 and the casual gamers who own a PS2.

Personally I feel that if Sony had to choose one system (which they've done already), then keeping Buzz! on the PS2 is a good move, since more people own a PS2 anyways. Buzz! The Hollywood Quiz is definitely fun, despite the annoying, muppet-head host. Don’t' forget to play this with friends; if you don't have friends, then it's time to make some!

Peter Rizkalla is a lifelong aficionado of video games and the video game industry. He has worked in video game companies such as THQ and Namco, and has won several awards for his animated short films, including his videogame-themed Flash film Toadstool Funk. Peter can be reached at PRizkalla@gmail.com.

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