- The Washington Times - Friday, June 20, 2003

As superheroes and cartoon characters have become integral parts of the electronic entertainment industry. Around the world, youngsters and guys who can’t get dates spend countless hours in front of their computers and video-game systems.

With this in mind, I salute the melding of pop-culture character and Silicon Valley with a look at some …

Comics plugged in

Marvel Comics’ jaded giant makes a smashing debut on the Xbox, PlayStation 2 and GameCube entertainment consoles in Vivendi Universal Games’ Hulk ($49.99). Taking place one year after the events of director Ang Lee’s blockbuster film, the third-person action game has a single player control two tragic characters in 25 detailed levels of action that demand a mix of stealth tactics and unbridled devastation to succeed.

What’s the story? The plight of troubled scientist Bruce Banner and his enraged alter ego, Hulk, continues as they battle against the terrifying forces of the Leader — a villain intent on using the Hulk’s gamma energy to unleash a relentless army of gamma creatures on the world. Betrayed by his longtime colleague and mentor, Professor Crawford, Bruce unwillingly releases the essence of the Hulk into an Orb, falling prey to the Leader’s sinister plot. Now Bruce must pursue his new foe through San Francisco, into Alcatraz, out of heavily guarded military installations and finally to the terrifying Freehold of the Leader himself.

Characters’ character: Developer Radical Entertainment wastes no time in throwing the player into a Hulkified experience as Banner changes into his favorite pal, busts out of Kirby’s Fueling Station and takes on an assault by soldiers, helicopters and a tank.

The game pays homage to both film and comic book through a computer-generated animation style.

Presenting such legendary villains as the Leader, General Ryker, Ravage and Madman while displaying a graphics design that reminded me of Stuart Immonen’s sequential-art illustrations, the action allows Hulk to act and react just like his sequential-art counterpart, including performing those gigantic jumps.

Cinematic memories to the title include battling those gamma-enhanced dogs, bonus access to film clips and using the voice of actor Eric Bana, who re-creates the role of Bruce Banner.

Levels involve controlling Bruce as he sneaks through warehouse and laboratories, unlocking computers in timed challenges and then taking command of the Hulk as he ferociously destroys everything that comes near, such as an unending supply of soldiers, gas tanks, building supports, mechanoids, train cars and steel doors.

Especially resilient players eventually will open up a challenge mode featuring five more games to further test the Hulk’s strength and endurance.

How would Lt. Frank Drebin fare? As the Hulk, Drebin found the level of fighting combinations manageable and appreciated that as his avatar dished out and absorbed more pain, he became even more unstoppable as his rage meter burst from its seams.

As Banner, Drebin often became frustrated because even the slightest mistake caused opponents to capture him and force him to replay a level. Additionally, the computer puzzles became an exercise in thumb-twitching stress while he was trying to configure numbers and letters into a proper sequence in a set amount of time.

Dudley Doo-Right’s blood-pressure meter: 190/140 … send in the stretcher. Just watching what the Hulk could do to a soldier made the Mountie faint. Punching, stomping, throwing him off the side of a building, dropping a forklift on him, shockwaving, pile driving, this brute could be controlled to never show any mercy. Hulk can grab, throw, swing or pummel just about anything in his sight, and the sheer amount of human, mutant and structural devastation created by this menace will leave teenagers exhausted from doling out the carnage. The Mountie also alerted his local chapter of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals about the green goliath drop-kicking those poor mutant mutts.

What if I feel like reading a book? Marvel offers the perfect trade paperback for readers looking for a hunk of Hulk sequential art. It contains the official comic-book movie adaptation, written by current Hulk scribe Bruce Jones and drawn by Mark (Ultimate Spider-Man) Bagley, along with Incredible Hulk No. 34, the Ultimates No. 5 and the Hulk versus Spider-Man story arc from Ultimate Team-Up Nos. 2 and 3 ($12.99).

What’s it worth? A camera that sometimes refuses to follow the action, the pointless missions using Banner and some annoying stutters between scenes keep the game from perfection. However, for the sheer Hulkacity of it, the title offers the perfect tension release from any teenage human’s mundane existence.

Buying the strategy guide from Brady Games ($14.99) is not crucial to enjoying the game, but I suggest it for the poster, interviews with the designers, character renditions and all of those marvelous cheat codes that unlock the likes of invincibility and playing as a gray version of the Hulk.

Pop bytes

A brief review of game titles that didn’t have time to get fully plugged in.

• The Incredible Hulk, by Buena Vista Home Entertainment (for DVD-enabled computers and home entertainment centers, not rated, $14.99). Marvel Comics’ mean green man was the star of three cartoon series between 1966 and 1997. Fans get a smattering from two in this delightful DVD filled with action and memories. First, “The Incredible Hulk” cartoon from 1996 provides highlights through four episodes that include the voice-over work of Luke Perry, Lou Ferrigno and Mark Hamill — with characters ranging from Iron Man to the Abomination to the Leader.

Fans can enact an “Inside the Hulk” option that occasionally has his head pop up in the corner of the screen to signal viewers to hit the enter button and get some trivia from 12-year Hulk scribe Peter David and Stan Lee.

A real treat for animation buffs comes in another bonus that offers the first episode from the 1966 Grantray-Lawrence Animation show that was part of the “Marvel Superheroes” hour. It featured a hilariously bad theme song and a terrible animation technique — but brilliantly used the original artwork of Hulk co-creator Jack Kirby.

• The Incredible Hulk Collection, by Anchor Bay Entertainment (for DVD-enabled computers and home entertainment centers, not rated, $29.98). After a successful five-year run of “The Incredible Hulk” on the CBS network between 1977 and 1982, Bill Bixby as David Banner and Lou Ferrigno as the goliath returned to television in a trio of two-hour made-for-TV movies. Viewers of this two-disc DVD get two of the three, 1988’s “The Incredible Hulk Returns” and “The Trial of the Incredible Hulk” (from 1989), along with a small batch of extras to satisfy the nostalgia bone.

Although I appreciated the Stan Lee interview, the 84-minute documentary on Mr. Ferrigno returning to competitive body building and the boatload of production photos, the duo of boob-tube epics offer a painful reminder of what Marvel fans would endure to see their heroes in a televised format.

Soap-opera angst and music combined with laughable special effects just look uncomfortably amateur in today’s computer-generated, multimedia world. Even Thor, Daredevil and the Kingpin can’t save the schmaltzy dramas.

Zadzooks! wants to know you exist. Call 202/636-3016, fax 202/269-1853, e-mail jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com or write to Joseph Szadkowski at The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002.

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