- The Washington Times - Friday, April 14, 2006

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

Snake, a legend in intelligence and covert operations, returns to Sony’s hand-held entertainment system, the PSP, in Metal Gear Acid 2 ($39.99). Konami combines the use of virtual decks of collectible cards with comic-book-style graphics and animated action to deliver a turn-based challenge for up to a pair of players.

What’s the story? On an island off the coast of North America belonging to the military contractor SaintLogic Inc., the hardened veteran Snake infiltrates the facility to acquire data on SaintLogic’s secret projects.

Forced to accept the mission because FBI agent Dalton holds his other team members hostage, Snake finds the routine assignment quickly spiraling into a confrontation with military troops, SaintLogic’s independent Security Unit, and the newly activated Metal Gear robot as the fate of the world hangs in the balance.

Characters’ character: Kojima Productions continue to captureartist Yoji Shinkawa’s stylized presentation in a game that offers beautiful visuals (even when confined to a 4-inch-wide screen). The player must use over 500 different cards to strategically move and engage Snake within 3-D environments that use cel-shaded characters to create an interactive, sequential art and cartoon feel.

Much like being caught within a multimedia-enhanced board game, the main characters move a square at a time during their turns and can execute a variety of weapons, traps and equipment — all of which are dictated by the select set of point-weighted cards held in a player’s hand. The cards are compiled in a robust deck editor to create powerful sets.

Actions can find Snake as he moves through control rooms and taps against a wall to draw opponents toward him to explode a claymore mine, call in an air strike or flank a giant ape with detachable arms that wants to pulverize him.

As if the game were not enough, players can take pictures of action scenes in the PlayStation 2 title Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence ($49.99) and port over the masterpieces into the Acid title. There they can view the pictures and, with the help of a binocularlike cardboard 3-D viewer called the Solid Eye (included in the package), can watch Metal Gear movies (sometimes of scantily clad woman with weapons) or play the game in eye-popping glory.

Parental blood-pressure meter: 180/110, highly elevated. For a game requiring so many stealthy maneuvers for success, Metal Gear Acid 2 is also loaded with plenty of blood and violence: Snake (and his fellow assassin Venus) can methodically immolate, shoot, cut and blow apart enemies at every turn. Only Mature gamers, 17 and older, need apply to this brutal lesson in strategy and death.

What if I feel like reading a book? IDW Publishing started to chronicle the adventures of Solid Snake in the Metal Gear comic book series back in 2004. Metal Gear Solid: Vol. 1 trade paperback ($19.99) compiles the first six issues of the series, which highlights the amazing, digitally enhanced, painted art style of Ashley Wood.

What’s it worth? Overall, Metal Gear Acid 2 brilliantly brings the franchise to the world of hand-held gaming as it exposes players to fantastic artwork and clever game play. Players should expect to spend many hours trying to manage their decks and conquer the missions, with a chance to battle bosses from previous Metal Gear games available to add to the time consumption.

Pop bytes

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

Naruto: Clash of Ninja

(D3 Publisher of America Inc., for Game Cube, rated “T,” for players 13 and older, $39.99)

toon Network’s pint-sized ninja-in-training becomes part of a 3-D fighting game through arena matches that mimic the animated series. The popular trend of cel-shaded graphics continues here and visually pays off for up to two players who choose from eight familiar characters from the program in one-on-one battles.

To control cartoons as they fight behind gorgeous environments is not new, but the beauty and action of the Naruto universe is exploited through easy controller commands to unleash powerful combination moves on opponents.

Special Jutsu moves are especially spectacular and include Naruto Uzumaki’s Barrage, in which a quintet of clones of the hero attack an opponent, and Haku’s Crystal Ice Mirrors, which engulf an enemy in reflections that attack.

Although the title does not offer as deep a play experience as Atari’s Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi

cq or Tecmo’s Dead or Alive, Naruto: Clash of Ninja will captivate the 12-year-old fan just beginning his exploration of the 3-D fighting game genre.

The Silent Hill Experience

(Konami for PSP, rated “M,” for players 17 and older, $19.99)

Owners of Sony’s hand-held multimedia machine explore the Midwich Elementary School to find digital horror comic books and a selection of music and media based on the Silent Hill video game franchise in the latest content innovation for the PSP.

Featuring IDW Publishing’s comic book series “Dying Inside” and the new sequential art story “The Hunger,” the UMD disc adds music and animation to the dialogue bubbles and book panels to bring some disturbing imagery to two-dimensional life.

Readers use a DVD-like control interface to start up and follow the stories but have no control to zoom into some of the frighteningly beautiful artwork.

Also included on the disc are interviews and a trailer for the new “Silent Hill” movie, in theaters next week, as well as an art montage, scenes from the games and music from series composer Akira Yamaoka.

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