- The Washington Times - Friday, May 18, 2007

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 meld of pop-culture character and Silicon Valley with a look at some …

Comics plugged in

Spider-Man 3

(Activision for Xbox 360, rated Teen, $59.99)

Sony Pictures’ latest ode to Marvel Publishing’s famous web slinger offers an outline for a new third-person action game that plunges a solo player into 42 missions centered in the Big Apple as he tests the powers and might of your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.

What’s the story? The citizens of New York City have finally embraced Peter Parker’s alter ego, Spider-Man, as a hero. Now in the spotlight, he explores the streets of the Big Apple to stop any criminal activity and save the day whenever possible. Unfortunately, a host of villains and thugs have not found him to be such a swell guy and would like nothing better than to, in the words of Venom, “kill the spider.”

Characters’ character: The barest threads of a plot lead the player on a story line scavenger hunt to trigger missions and find an outstanding assortment of Spidey’s arch-villains, including the Lizard, Kraven the Hunter, Scorpion, Kingpin, New Goblin, Sandman and Venom.

The game structure makes it easy to roam, climb and swing around New York City, interact with citizens, and battle thugs through a mix of Spidey’s traditional powers with action sequences delivered by pressing the correct order of controller buttons.

A very intuitive 3-D map of the city quickly identifies and sets new missions or activities so the player will never feel lost in the big city.

When Spider-Man is not on a mission, he will find plenty of criminal activity to extinguish; three gangs are wrestling for control of the city. He’ll have opportunities to take photographs for the Daily Bugle, defuse bombs, practice skills in time trials and even a chance to take his best gal on the ride of her life.

As Spider-Man succeeds in stopping criminals, he unlocks more acrobatic moves, and about halfway into the game gets to wear the aggressive black symbiote costume that makes him a much stronger and darker force with which to reckon.

Also, he uses a slick Spider Sense power that provides him with an infrared and X-ray look into the world to find clues and paths to succeed in his quests.

Although the costumed and creature characters look great, the computer-animated human cast is a fright and includes a Tobey Maguire virtual double who looks as if he barely survived a George Romero film.

The voice-over work is mainly provided by most of the film’s cast and is pretty lifeless. Narrator Bruce Campbell does his best to liven things up while Mr. Maguire and J.K. Simmons (the voice of J. Jonah Jameson) occasionally offer some passion, but the other actors have still not quite figured out how to emote in a video game environment.

I was also disappointed by the lack of bonus content — usually offered as clips from the movie and game scenes, comic covers, character biographies, etc.

How would Lt. Frank Drebin fare? The lieutenant had his brain jumbled in pivotal battle sequences that require everything from button mashing to following on-screen button commands (much like the game God of War) to hitting a button to duck an attack in slow motion (when an icon over the enemy’s head appears) and quickly responding with another button to initiate a maneuver.

The methodical and difficult mix of action systems needed to trigger events might be a bit too complicated for the average human, who will get very irritable during portions of the game.

Thankfully, the most visually stunning part of the title, swinging through the city on webs, is simple to execute and a very fun experience between fights.

Parental blood-pressure meter: 120/80, normal. The Teen rating is not for any blood-soaked battles but for the realistic presentation of Spider-Man’s violent world. Think a PG-13-rated movie: Spidey can get run over by cars, crunched through spiked rollers and beaten to a pulp with umbrellas, but it is never a graphic death and he comes back to life (with full health) to try the level again. Also the supervillains really look scary and deliver their nastiness in quite a dramatic fashion.

What if I want to read a book? The Spider-Man Family bimonthly series ($4.99 each) offers more than 100 pages of action, mixing new stories with some classic reprints. The second issue is a beauty, with a new Venom tale as well as more symbiote high jinks in Amazing Spider-Man No. 347 (with lively art from Erik Larsen), Green Goblin action with Amazing Spider-Man No. 177 and a translated Spidey manga (Japanese comic).

What’s it worth? Although the Spider-Man 3 game improves on the previous Spidey titles through fantastic swinging controls and slicker cinematic moments, Activision’s 2005 Ultimate Spider-Man game is still clearly the best of the bunch.

Additionally, with a $60 entry fee, I suggest fans try a rental before taking part in this above-average web-head experience.

Pop bytes

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

Spider-Man 3: 3-D Color V.I.E.W. System

(Techno Source, stand-alone product requires three AAA batteries, $24.99)

A bulky Viewmaster-like pair of goggles allows owners entrance into a colorful, three-dimensional comic-book world where they control Spider-Man in a battle against the evil Sandman.

Techno Source’s virtual interactive entertainment window (V.I.E.W.) system sounds more impressive than it is in reality. The player peers into the visorlike contraption (with Spidey’s mask embedded in its front), sees an LCD screen and gets two permutations of a very low-tech game for his reward.

Basically, he uses buttons on the sides of the device to control a slightly 3-D version of Spider-Man, who moves left and right to avoid the Sandman’s punches as he shoots web balls at the foe and at water pipes to stop him and gain points.

Younger players (in the 7-year-old range) who have never been exposed to a video game system will enjoy the action for a little while, but the design is so rudimentary I felt as if I were playing an early 1970s arcade game complete with bad sound effects.

However, the idea is solid and with a bit more technological punch, the next generation of V.I.E.W. could make for a much cooler experience.

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