- The Washington Times - Friday, November 14, 2003

Superhero and cartoon character 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 Dark Knight returns to Xbox and PlayStation 2 entertainment consoles in the action-packed third-person adventure Batman: Rise of Sin Tzu ($49.99). For the first time ever, a new villain has been introduced into the Caped Crusader’s world via video game and through the creative and illustrative talents of sequential-art master Jim Lee. A single human must work through 12 levels of thug-saturated battles, or up to two players can enjoy multiple levels of “versus” or “co-operative” modes.

What’s the story? It’s a bad night in Gotham City. There’s been a full-scale breakout at Stonegate Prison, and Arkham Asylum has been seized by Gotham’s newest supervillain, Sin Tzu. In search of a worthy adversary, Sin Tzu has targeted Batman as his enemy and Gotham as his battleground. Using his Mehta-Sua energy, the ancient power to control the mind and body, Sin Tzu has rallied Bane, Scarecrow and Clayface to help him bring Batman to his knees. Batman must clean up the streets of Gotham City — rampant with criminals — and make his way into the bowels of Arkham for his final confrontation with Sin Tzu.

Characters’ character: Players can choose to control Batman, Dick Grayson as Nightwing, Tim Drake as Robin and Barbara Gordon as Batgirl in a universe resembling Bruce Timm’s noir-deco animated style as they eventually unlock 35 martial-arts moves and combos to defeat waves of brutes found throughout Gotham.

Each character conforms, in movement and fighting style, to its cartoon/comic-book equivalent and can use a Batarang, Bat Grapple and smoke pellets to assist in administering justice.

One of the coolest missions in the game, in which I took command of Batman, features an encounter with the mind-controlling Scarecrow and his henchmen. During many of the battles, Scarecrow will drop his fear-inducing nerve gas to cloud the hero’s mind as he fights transformed and very creepy adversaries in a swirling environment — culminating in a final Scarecrow battle with Batman taking on the spirits of the Joker, Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn.

As points accumulate for particularly dazzling takedowns of enemies and completed levels, a player is rewarded with points that may be used to buy supermoves or various metallic coins to acquire trophies.

These prized possessions include comic-book pages, photos of the current lineup of Mattel Batman action figures, 3-D character models and game concept illustrations, all housed in Bruce Wayne’s trophy room.

How would Lt. Frank Drebin fare? This button-mashing spectacular demands that the lieutenant jump into a wide variety of traps and simply punch, kick, clobber and use gadgets to keep moving on. The learning curve for moves is minimal, and players will delight in the devastation.

Parental blood-pressure meter: 120/90, slightly elevated. Mom and dad should have no problem watching teens smash and bash some legendary villains from Bob Kane’s vivid comic-book universe. Just groans, though — no bloody carnage or graphic imagery. However, they might have a problem with dropping $40 on a game that probably can be beaten by a 6-year-old (in the easy level) in a few days.

What if I feel like reading a book? Any self-respecting comic-book fan must read artist Jim Lee and writer Jeph Loeb’s, 12-issue Hush story line ($19.95 for hardcover compiling issue Nos. 608 to 612; 19.95 for next trade paperback, due in January and compiling the last seven installments) featured in the current Batman title.

What’s it worth? The redundancy of challenges — i.e. rescue civilians, beat a boss, defuse bombs, etc. — will leave hard-core gamers fuming over the tedium. Still, the casual game player who loves Batman will truly appreciate the tribute to this legendary superhero as well as the unyielding donnybrook afforded him.

Pop bytes

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

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles by Konami (for PlayStation 2, Xbox and GameCube, $39.99). Featuring cel-shaded characters to make the title look as though it were ripped from the popular FoxBox cartoon series, this third-person brawler takes children through six stages and 35 Ninja action levels as they assume the roles of the legendary comic-book terrapins — Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael and Michelangelo — who love pizza and battling the Shredder.

Aside from the repetitive audio clips, such as Raphael constantly screaming “get off you nimrods” as he whimsically skewers thugs, and the Three Stooges sound effects, the game faithfully re-creates the TMNT experience with awesome battles, extended cartoon clips and action balloons.

For details, check out the back of the manual for a four-page mini comic book as well as the latest TMNT series from Dreamwave Productions, featuring the writing of Peter David and fantastic art by LeSean (priced at $2.95 each).

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, D.C. 20002.

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