- The Washington Times - Friday, April 8, 2005

Superhero 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

The Punisher

(THQ, $49.99)

The brutality of Marvel Comics’ famed vigilante gets exposed in this video game. THQ gives PlayStation 2 and Xbox owners the chance to control Frank Castle as he embarks on a path of torture and murder to exact justice upon deserving criminals.

What’s the story? Frank Castle’s life changed the day his family was murdered. A part of his soul died, too. What was left dedicated the rest of his life to revenge on the scum of the world. He was reborn as the Punisher.

This obsessive madman’s methods are harsh and brutal, striking fear into the darkest hearts of the criminal underworld as he delivers vigilante justice to every thug he can lay his hands on.

Characters’ character: Thirty years of Punisher history greet the solo player in a game that offers a level of multimedia authenticity rarely devoted to comic-book properties.

First, comic-book creators Garth Ennis and Jimmy Palmiotti have created the story, which has the antihero explore 16 seamy locations to shut down the Gnucci crime family, Kingpin and Yakuza mafia while battling the likes of famed archenemies such as the Russian, Bushwacker, Jigsaw and Bullseye.

Next, appearances by such heroes such as Black Widow; Iron Man and S.H.I.E.L.D.’s top dog, Nick Fury, remind players of the game’s sequential-art origins between the on-screen bloodbaths.

Additionally, the Punisher has a ridiculous stash of armaments at his disposal, just as in the books, and the game gives players a special interface to torture information out of thugs. Especially proficient killers are rewarded with views of comic-book covers, newspaper clippings and concept art.

Finally, the lead characters are perfectly computer-rendered and often look like three-dimensional representations of an amalgam of artist Michael Zeck and Timothy Bradstreet’s styles. Even actor Thomas Jane, who portrayed the Punisher in the 2004 film, lends his voice to the game.

How would Lt. Frank Drebin fare? Considering the unstoppable power and firepower of the Punisher, the game makes killing way too easy as the player eradicates bad guys, often after pumping them for information. The lieutenant found changing weapons, homing in on enemies and delivering punishment a button flick away as he carved a swath of destruction through depressing urban decay.

Parental blood-pressure meter: 200/150, coronary arrest. Let me repeat: Players get to torture the bad guys. Oh, sure, shooting an innocent victim means the player immediately loses, but the liberal amount of bone breaking, face smashing, bullet riddling, appendage drilling, burning and even mulching of really nasty characters will horrify Mom and Dad. Only the most sane individuals, 17 years and older, should dare take part in the mayhem.

What if I feel like reading a book? Writer Garth Ennis continues his creative assault on the Punisher legend through a monthly comic devoted to the hero’s adventures. They should be enjoyed by only the most mature of readers ($2.99 each).

What’s it worth? The game exists to appeal to the sadistic side of the veteran gamer but has no place in a civilized society. It too realistically dishes out justice while forgetting to remind players that it is merely a stress-relieving distraction.

Pop bytes

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

The Batman TV Games

(Jakks Pacific, $19.99). Stand-alone unit requires four AA batteries, rated Everyone, suitable for players 6 and older

The Dark Knight makes his debut on a plug-and-play video-game system to give children the chance to help him capture some of Gotham’s most dangerous villains. Based on the Kids WB cartoon series “The Batman,” Jakks Pacific has created an interactive Batarang that, after being attached to any television with standard audio-video jacks, controls a side-scrolling, 25-level adventure.

Simplistic graphics, MIDI soundtracks and repetitive sound effects greet junior crime fighters as they battle the Joker, the Penguin, Bane, Mr. Freeze, Firefly and their henchmen while engaging in gaming styles that include hand-to-hand, platform, driving and vehicular combat.

Players will be happy to know they can save their progress and use some of Batman’s famed gadgets, such as the Batgrapnel, Batboat, Batmobile and Batcycle.

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

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