- The Washington Times - Friday, October 17, 2003

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

Namco’s legendary, weapons-based fighting simulation returns in a sequel that promises a gluttonous stream of action. Soul Calibur II ($49.99) features 23 warriors from which to choose eventually, 200 unusual weapons to own, 10 game modes and a unique combatant based on the gaming system chosen to enjoy the adventure.

PlayStation 2 owners can command Tekken’s Heihachi; Nintendo GameCube owners can control the Legend of Zelda’s Link; and Xbox owners get the chance to manipulate Spawn, the comic-book vigilante created from the fertile imagination of sequential-art master Todd McFarlane.

What’s the story? A plague of suffering and violence has swept Europe into an age of heroes and villains. Driven by the legacy of two cursed blades, people from all nations are gathering to retrieve the evil sword, Soul Edge, but their goals are just as diverse as their backgrounds. Some seek the legendary blade for salvation or freedom, while others crave power … and there also are dark creatures who would wield the sword for their own evil intentions.

In the center of the maelstrom are some of the finest warriors who have ever lived.

Who will be able to stop the nightmare of destruction that burns throughout the land?

Characters’ character: Although characters such as the sultry Ivy from London or the heavy-hitting Nightmare will appeal to the Soul Calibur historian, I chose comic-book anti-hero Spawn to begin my journey through gorgeous surroundings peppered with pirate ships, marble statuary and Egyptian ruins.

Of the numerous modes available — ranging from simple Survival in which the player challenges computer-controlled opponents to Team Battles with two players — solo gamers will most enjoy the Weapon Master challenge, which demands that they battle through 10 chapters filled with the full arsenal of characters and fighting permutations to collect gold, buy weapons and unlock goodies.

The player works his way across a location map while he reads about and takes part in a robust story of conquest that entails his visiting more than 50 areas to succeed.

A stop by a booby-trapped dungeon within the stone temple of Schedar, for example, will result in multiple battles with berserker behemoths, while entering the Talitha Gambling Den will find Spawn in an electrifying duel against Leon.

Spawn can obtain a myriad of medieval axes to dispense justice, uses an 8-Way run system to maneuver within the 3-D environments during battles and, with the use of a correct combination of controller buttons, delivers lethal combination moves.

How would Lt. Frank Drebin fare? “Practice, practice, practice,” the lieutenant screamed as he button-mashed his controller until his thumbs bled. However, he eventually learned such devastating blows of Spawn as the Night Stalker Flurry, the Hell Spiral and Gut Wrench Kick.

Parental blood-pressure meter: 190/150 … very elevated. Although no gratuitous bloodshed can be seen, the player must swing any number of weapons at an opponent; stomp on him; head-butt, rip and drop-kick him until his health meter has been exhausted. In light of the violence and occasional profanity spewed by characters, only teenagers and adults in need of a stress release need apply for this action-packed adventure.

What if I feel like reading a book? The sequential-art version of Spawn continues to appear on store shelves on a monthly basis, courtesy of Image Comics ($2.50 each).

What’s it worth? Gorgeous graphics combined with seemingly limitless moves and the Weapons Master journey make Soul Calibur II one of the best fighting games in the history of the medium.

I strongly suggest that those uninitiated to the Soul Calibur experience buy Brady Games’ Limited Edition Fighter’s Guide ($24.99), which contains tips for unlocking all the extra costumes, characters, chapters and weapons; an exclusive two-sided poster; warrior biographies; a look at all of the armaments; and the Soul Calibur II soundtrack CD.

Pop bytes

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

Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman, by Warner Home Video (for DVD-enabled computers and home entertainment centers, $24.98). The Dark Knight has female competition when a new vigilante hits town, stealing his persona and seeking revenge on the Penguin and a couple of crime bosses. The latest direct-to-DVD animated release boasts 75 minutes of superhero action and appearances by Robin, Batgirl and Bane and stars the voices of Kevin Conroy as Batman and Kelly Ripa as Rocky.

The DVD also boasts a nice selection of extras that includes a complete deconstruction of the animation process viewed through short vignettes; the new five-minute cartoon “Chase Me” — featuring a voiceless, classic confrontation between the Bat and Catwoman infused through jazz tunes — character biographies; and a playable preview of the PC game Toxic chill, in which the Dynamic Duo must stop the Riddler from contaminating the Wayne Chemical Factory.

Zadzooks the clueless

Everybody knows Flash Gordon, not Buck Rogers, fought Ming the Merciless on Mongo … everybody except me, that is.

Last week’s column placed Ming in the Buck Rogers mythos, and it may take me until the 25th century to get over it.

Zadzooks! wants to know you exist. Call 202/636-3016, fax 202/269-1853, e-mail [email protected] or write to Joseph Szadkowski at The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002.

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