- The Washington Times - Friday, August 20, 2004

Superheroes 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

The famed feline sinks her claws into home entertainment consoles with Electronic Arts’ release of Catwoman ($39.95). Based on the Warner Bros. movie starring Halle Berry — with only the most minor of resemblances to Batman’s primary flirt and occasional enemy — the game gives a single player the chance to control the leather-clad heroine as she crosses six seamy locations to stop a megalomaniacal villainess, Laurel Hedare.

What’s the story? Patience Philips is a shy, sensitive artist who works for Hedare Beauty, a giant cosmetics company on the verge of releasing a revolutionary anti-aging product. Tragically, her life is cut short after she stumbles across a dark corporate secret.

As her body lies washed ashore on a beach, an otherworldly Egyptian cat named Midnight happens upon her and brings her back to life, transforming her into a being with the agility, speed, strength and senses of a cat. Equipped with new powers, Patience vows to exact revenge on her enemies, treading a thin line between good and bad.

Characters’ character: Make no mistake about it; the developers of the title were much more enamored with the idea of players controlling a near-perfect-looking rendition of Miss Berry in her dominatrix-looking costume than with bothering to create a well-rounded action game.

This flirtatious avatar has the ability to jump, crouch, run on all fours, execute a backward flip and perform a variety of acrobatic kicks. She also uses her signature whip to unlock handles, disarm her prey and swing between points and poles.

Also, in an ode to voyeurism at its finest, the foxy feline won’t be ignored. Fail to move her with the game’s controller, and after a minute or so, she performs a few sultry moves on her own … with close-ups of her best features highlighted.

Unfortunately, the game demands that players spend way too much time performing an Olympics-worthy gymnastic program through alleys, rooftops and collapsing catwalks rather than battling opponents.

Those who are proficient in battle and meet specific enemy-demoralizing scenarios are rewarded with points that will enable them to unlock other maneuvers via a misnamed comic-book bonus menu.

One of the few interesting aspects of the character’s persona comes from using a first-person perspective, labeled Cat Sense, to follow trails from Catwoman’s furry pal Midnight that will help lead her through the game.

How would Lt. Frank Drebin fare? Just as the lieutenant began getting used to controlling characters’ fight moves primarily by pushing buttons in most third-person action games, Catwoman requires that he rely on the combination of an analog control stick and shoulder triggers. Of course, it was quite a disaster for the first couple of levels. Because the majority of the enemies offer very little resistance to being kicked in the face or cracked with a whip, the lieutenant had more trouble maneuvering through 11 scenes because of terrible camera response rather than defeating opponents.

Parental blood-pressure meter: 120/90, slightly elevated. I’m not sure if Catwoman excites her enemies more than damaging them, as they never really die but often run away in shame after an encounter with her. Teenage boys will walk around with grins on their faces for a week, and not because of the groundbreaking nature of the title … if ya know what I mean (wink, wink, nudge, nudge).

Say no more.

Recommended reading: DC Comics’ Catwoman: The Movie and Other Cat Tales (trade paperback, $9.95) compiles the official “Catwoman” sequential-art adaptation Catwoman, Vol. 1, No. 0; Catwoman, Vol. 2, No. 11; and a special sketchbook by Jim Lee.

What’s it worth? The game perfectly mimics the movie (as in plenty of eye candy but no substance). Plus, anyone infatuated with Halle Berry will temporarily appreciate the onscreen shenanigans — but even they will look elsewhere for a real video-game fix.

Pop bytes

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

Justice League: Starcrossed the Movie, from Warner Home Video (for DVD-enabled computers and home entertainment centers, $19.99). A two-part story marks the end of Cartoon Network’s animated ode to DC Comic’s legendary superhero team, and possibly one of its most powerful members.

This DVD captures the final pair of episodes in both full-screen and widescreen formats, as it intensely explores the ramifications of an invasion of a Thanagarian armada upon Earth in the guise of saving the planet from an impending invasion of troll-like beasts.

The bonus features do not deliver as well as the excellent 68 minutes of well-thought-out storytelling. However, they do offer an eight-minute segment comparing the legend of Hawkman in comics to his portrayal in the Starcrossed narrative, a walk-through of the Justice League’s space station and the Watchtower.

The narrative is punctuated with remarks by all of the producers of the show and resident DC Comics fan boy and superstar artist Alex Ross. Also featured: biographies of the main heroes told through text, narration and video highlights.

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, DC 20002.

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