Jacquie Kubin points out ten new games for the new console systems that are worth taking for a spin.
Batman, Daffy Duck, Peter Pan and their pop culture brethren have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I first met these folks in the pages of comic books or in movies, or on Saturday morning cartoons. The newer generations still have the old fashioned ways to meet these stars but new icons have emerged in the form of video game superstars.
And that is truly the point of all this. Lots of people play video games these days and many, like myself play to become immersed in new levels of animation and mind blowing action.
The graphics horsepower behind the new console systems -- Microsoft's Xbox, Nintendo's GameCube and Sony's Playstation 2 -- have given me, and plenty of other pop culturists reason to pick up the controller and spend some time in a world of pixels.
Here are 10 current titles (priced at $49.99) from the 3 hottest systems that need to be added to any gamer's core library.
DC Comics' Batman may be one of the most diversely interpreted pop culture characters of our time. And unfortunately, up until now, I have been left less than enthused by the stories and oversimplified four-color animation of past Bat-video games.
Batman Vengeance (Rated Teen; Ages 13+; By Ubi Soft for Playstion 2) brings fans a game based on the old cartoon series The New Adventures of Batman. Keeping the game parallel to the cartoon, it features the same voice actors battling it out in a very familiar Gotham City, while the tighted one is drawn in an overly muscular, square chinned, glowing eye sort of way. The environments are extremely dark, befitting the grittier side of Gotham City. Batman Vengeance also reincarnates my favorite Bat-villain, the Clown Prince of Crime, the Joker. An added bonus is the video cinematics that serve to motivate players to get to the next level.
My favorite aspect of this game may be the ultra-mobile three-dimensional Batman that in addition to some very cool Bat-gadgets, such as the Bat-communicator, Bat-grapple, Bat-launcher, Bat-cuffs and Flash Bombs, has more than 500 animated movements creating realistic flight and fight. And the pièce de resistance, for this Bat-fan, is the crime fighter's really cool, new multi-functional cape with its very own artificial intelligence. I mean, how cool is that!
Technically, the game is fluid and fun to play. Players will find success in pounding those villains using a button mashing or more controlled fighting technique. It is not easy to get through all 19 levels, set within five huge and vastly different episodes, where players will find a myriad of Gotham City criminals, like Mr. Freeze, Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy to name a few. Batman not only flies around courtesy of his cool new cape, he also has the Batmobile and the Batplane at his disposal.
Jak and Daxter roam lush islands on their adventure. Jak & Daxter: The Precursor Legacy is a trademark of Sony Computer Entertainment America, Inc. Created and developed by Naughty Dog, Inc. © 2001 Sony Computer Entertainment America, Inc.
Jak & Daxter: The Precursor Legacy
I like games that are pretty to look at and just fun, putting Jak & Daxter: The Precursor Legacy for Playstion 2 (Rated Everybody; Animated Violence; By Naughty Dog) near the top of my game play pile.
Bright yellow hair and ears to make Spock jealous, Jak and sidekick Daxter set off to explore ancient ruins that are, of course, located on a forbidden and foreboding island. It is on the island that Daxter is transformed into a weasel, known as an Otsel, after being knocked into a vat of Dark Eco, which is very nasty stuff indeed.
The game takes Jak and Daxter on a free-roaming 3D adventure to find the one person that can transform Daxter back. More than 100 power cells are hidden throughout the game's gorgeous and lush graphically rich environments. There are tons of strong character designs, anime inspired animation and a fun plot that makes you want to help Daxter return to his original elfin form. Super surprise-ending makes getting there only half the fun!
A lot of gamers have grown up never knowing a world without the little mustachioed paisano. Now Luigi, younger brother of the Mario Brothers, has his own title, Luigi's Mansion (Rated E; By Nintendo for GameCube). The only problem is that this block and mortar castle is filled with ghosts and Luigi's only tools are his imagination, courage, a flashlight and a special ghost-sucking vacuum.
The mansion environment, and the GameCube's horsepower, allows for lots of spectacular graphics peppered with spectral images of see-through ghosts, mirrored images and special "ghostly" effects -- like Luigi's rigged out Hoover that not only inhales ghosts, but also the dust on the chairs and the mist from the freezer.
As to be expected, there are lots of silly, slapstick shenanigans and while this game will not keep the hard-core gamer glued to the controller, the GameCube offers some interesting play control. And even though it might not be the most difficult game to play, I found it a fun, mindless diversion that is as easy to play as it is to put down and then return to.
Maximo: Ghosts to Glory
Great cartoony graphics and huge environments make Maximo (Rated T; Violence Ages 13+; By Capcom for Playstation 2) a fun game, but it is tough to play. Maximo tips its cap to the 2D platform genre such as Ghouls n Ghosts as its hero returns to his homeland only to find that more than 5,000 square miles of terrain are loaded with roaming hoards of undead that cavort from the Boneyard to Castle Maximo's Dungeon of Despair.
With levels in between having names like Voodoo Village, Captain Cadaver the Pirate and Lord Gutterscum the Demon lets players know that this is a great hack-n-slash game that has lots of ghosts, goblins and skeletons just waiting to be decimated -- before Maximo loses all his armor. Success is only achieved once the four wise Sorceresses have been found and Princess Sophia is freed from the evil Achille.
This game, which is easy to play but hard to master, offers hours of thumb-numbing play. My personal suggestion is that even if you never buy a strategy guide, you just might want to this time!
Star Wars: Rogue Leader, Rogue Squadron II
I saw the first Star Wars: A New Hope film in 1977 so I am thrilled that this particular universe has found extended life in the video game realm as we wait for the continuing sequels. I am equally happy with GameCube's Star Wars: Rogue Leader Rogue Squadron II (Rated T; By LucasArts). Out of all the Star Wars video game incarnations, Capcom hits the nail on the head with high polygon counts that make you feel as though you have jumped into the cockpit of your very own X-Wing!
Of course, R2D2 is sitting shotgun as you find extreme adventure on eleven different and exciting missions taking young Jedi's through thirteen challenging levels.
I loved being able to pilot to familiar places such as Hoth, the Cloud City and of course, the ominous Death Star. Plus, I found the controls easy to manipulate. A game highlight for me was the marvelous soundtrack. Composer John Williams keeps the memories alive with a robust score that evokes memories of all that has been and will be Star Wars.
The name Rez (Rated E; Mild Violence; By Sega for Playstation 2) does not do justice to this great game. A fast moving, wire-frame adventure designed by Tetsuya Mizuguchi (Space Channel 5 and Sega Rally), the story takes you deep into a mega-computer that has been developed to handle the massive amounts of information being generated during the present information age. At the center of this world comprised of circuits and undefined space is Eden, a mega form of artificial intelligence. Being this highly evolved intelligent being, Eden gets smart and takes off into the computer's mainframe, leaving the player to take control of the whole network while searching feverishly for Eden.
The game's most base description would be a shooter as it requires players to battle through the computer's firewall, which was designed to keep intruders out, in order to gain control. The game has a flowing artistic nuance that will be familiar to fans of Tron and that is enhanced by a techno music soundtrack. A cool auditory additive to game play is the way explosions and blasts become part of the soundtrack, keeping the game replay fresh.
Halo Combat Evolved
I must admit I am not that fond of combat games. I don't know if it's because I am a girl, or just not into a lot of violent game play, but I do admit to enjoying Halo Combat Evolved for Xbox (Rated Mature; Blood, Gore and Violence; Ages 17+; By Bungie and Microsoft).
Halo combines vehicular combat in an action-shooter game that puts the player deep into the muck of it on a hostile alien world within a marvelous melding of game play, graphics and sound. Players must first escape to their ship, the Pillar of Autumn, before it is destroyed by the Covenant alien race. The goal is to find the secret to the planet of Halo -- a powerful artifact that will shift the balance of power -- before the Covenant does.
While the first person shooting aspect left me waned, I loved the vehicular combat. A lot of this game's power comes from its artificial intelligence component that allows fighters -- good and bad guys alike -- to utilize the environment to their advantage. I also loved the way a buddy would follow me into a vehicle, like a jeep, to man the turret.
Also, this game is for Xbox which means attention to details that only Mr. Gates' creation allows. Shine a light at a window and it shines back. Look into glass or a mirror and see a perfect reflection. Walk past a field and watch the grass move. Leave your footprint in the sand.
Chaos surrounds the hillside castle of the noble Princess Uki, who has been captured and now fears for her life. Responding to the Princess's call for help is one swordsman, Samanouske, who vows to find the Princess and defeat a legion of demon warriors. With an epic story line filled with drama, love, courage and magic, Genma Onjmusha (Rated M; By Capcom for Xbox) is an action-packed adventure game, which may have been tailor made for this gamer.
Originally created for the Playstation 2, this Xbox version takes full advantage of the system's powers. The game presents a lot of new elements -- a new group of levels, new armor that can only be achieved on the Xbox version, new secrets and objectives, and the ability to collect bonus Flourites, all enhanced by overall sharper characters, environments and lighting. In addition to all that, this game is simply hard with strong enemies ready to stop you from collecting the soul points you need.
Technically there is a lot about Max Payne (Rated M; Blood and Violence; By Rockstar Games for Xbox) to like. Its film-noir ambience, New York underground location, photo-realistic visuals and movie-quality effects for instance.
Max Payne is that unique third-person shooter video game, in the same realm of James Bond Goldeneye, that actually has a story line. Max, who is being framed for murder, is driven by revenge in a fight to uncover the truth in a seedy world awash with murder and corruption.
However, beyond the story, the music, the seedy film-noir genre that is so aptly reproduced, what makes playing Max Payne ultra-cool is the two-fisted gun-play and variety of weaponry -- from shotgun pistols to Molotov cocktails.
What makes all this even better is the ability to slow down the action -- literally being able to shoot, dive and roll in slow motion á la The Matrix. Among the game's pretty cool graphics are some very twisted elements that make me shy away from this game -- like a tightrope of blood, the bleeding rain and I found the screaming of Max's dead wife and child rather unsettling. Definitely not for the young.
Can hiphop be evergreen? Enter Parappa the Rapper 2. Parappa the Rapper is a registered trademark of Sony Computer Entertainment America, Inc. © 2002 Sony Computer Entertainment, Inc. © R.G./I.P/SCP/CX·SVW. All rights reserved.
Parappa the Rapper 2
Melding rap and video gaming into a new realm of gaming, the social music genre, Parappa the Rapper started a new rage in 1997 helping couch bound gamers become expert rappers with his first self-titled release. The little orange beanie-wearing pooch has returned in Parappa the Rapper 2 for Playstation 2 (Rated E; Comic Mischief; By Sony). The game's objective continues to be to bust-a-rhyme and get the party started, while using your best rapping skills to stop the Evil Noodle Syndicate plot of world domination.
This second version includes a variety of new music tracks and a "Simon-Says" inspired game-play mechanic making dancing and rapping that much more fun.
Parappa stays at the top of my list for its light-hearted approach, simple, fun graphics, bright colors and a hopping soundtrack all making Parappa the Rapper an evergreen hit for this gamer.
Jacquie Kubin, a Washington, D.C.-based freelance journalist, enjoys writing about the electronic entertainment and edutainment mediums, including the Internet. She is a frequent contributor to the Washington Times and Krause Publication magazines. She has won the 1998 Certificate of Award granted by the Metropolitan Area Mass Media Committee of the American Association of University Women.