- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Here’s a look at some games that make cooperation with teammates a must for success.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, from Buena Vista Games for PlayStation 2, GameCube and Xbox; rated T: for fantasy violence, $49.99. C.S. Lewis’ classic story of the Pevensie children battling the White Witch to save Narnia has translated brilliantly into a blockbuster film as well as a team-based third-person video-game adventure.

A pair of players can jump through the wardrobe and control Peter, Edmund, Susan or Lucy (the computer handles the characters the players do not choose) as they work through 15 levels of puzzle-solving and combat within complicated environments.

Each child has skills to allow the group to succeed. Peter uses his strength along with fists, swords and sticks. Edmund is the climber, but he also can use fists, swords and sticks. Susan can throw snowballs and use a bow, while Lucy can climb into caves and restore health to the team.

All of the characters can pair up to get out of sticky situations. When they’re standing near one another, for example, Susan can climb on Peter’s back to protect herself when shooting arrows or Edmund can grab Lucy to fling her at enemies or through barriers..

Here’s a taste of the extensive cooperation involved: A level in which the heroes battle an ogre requires Peter to smack the beast with a sword to lower its defenses, thus enabling Lucy to jump on its back and confuse it.

More attacks from Peter then give Edmund a chance to jump aboard the creature after Lucy is pulled off. (Did I mention the other heroes must battle goblins at the same time?) Just when the ogre looks finished, enemy archer dwarves show up and start shooting arrows at any heroes on the ogre’s back. Susan then pulls out her bow to take out the pesky archers while Peter, Lucy and Edmund continue to try to defeat the ogre.

From trying to escape from a burning building to saving a beaver from wolves, similar brow-sweating challenges occur throughout the game. In a rousing final battle against the White Witch, the children attempt to cross a frozen lake by choosing the correct ice chunks.

The title is also one of the best-looking and more challenging video-game odes to a movie, thanks to voice talent from the film; the appearance of all the film’s creatures (including Minotaurs, Cyclops and centaurs); and, my favorite trick, the seamless integration of lots of real scenes from the film with the virtual action.

Gauntlet: Seven Sorrows, from Midway for PlayStation 2 and Xbox; rated T for violence, $49.99. A classic 1980s Atari arcade game returns for another sequel that has a team of heroes from barbaric times slashing their way to victory against six mutated men and their minions.

The third-person adventure leads up to four players by the hand as they control a warrior, elf, wizard or Valkyrie through cursed lands and kingdoms loaded with mud corpses, pirates, sorcerers and blood beasts just looking for a beating.

Although a narrator — who sounds like Ian McKellen being directed by George Lucas — blathers on incessantly about the seriousness of the adventure while Frank Frazetta-like illustrations help overdramatize the story, the game quickly turns into a thumb-blistering, combination-move-delivering, button-mashing free-for-all as heroes constantly hack away at enemies and destroy the pods that spawn them.

The “Conan”-meets-“Lord of the Rings” shenanigans do not necessarily rely on team spirit, as a single player can conquer alone, but it’s a ton more fun to have a buddy at your side violently dispatching hordes of skeletal scorpions by using enormous axes and swords.

An online multiplayer mode continues the cooperative action, as teams of up to four players can challenge the Gauntlet world.

Ratchet: Deadlocked, from Sony Computer Entertainment America for PlayStation 2; rated T for fantasy violence and mild language, $39.99. The famed furry mechanic and his robotic companion return in an intense sci-fi gladiatorial adventure mixing humor, third-person action and vehicular combat.

The pair are captured by demented media mogul Gleeman Vox for his game show, “DreadZone,” forcing them to compete in the televised intergalactic competition, which resembles a much more intense version of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “The Running Man.”

The clever cooperative mode has one player act as Ratchet and the other take on the role of Alpha Clank, sporting a combat-ready chassis, as they battle hordes of heavily armed robots for glory and freedom.

Although the game is hampered by an annoying split-screen presentation, nuances deliver a fun experience. They include having the team members bound to one another by collars (stray too far away from a pal and it detonates), the capability of unleashing heavier attacks by simultaneously pressing buttons, and the ability to perform separate tasks while in vehicles.

Cool features and cinematic presentations also make this multitiered, complex gaming epic worth purchasing.

My favorite enhancements include riding in a Landstalker (think a spidery attack vehicle from “Star Wars”), having a pair of controllable robots at my side during the single-player campaign, crafting Ratchet’s weapons powers through numerous upgrades, and using an online multiplayer mode for up to 10 players to take part in the “DreadZone” competitions.

Write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002; or send e-mail (jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com).

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