- The Washington Times - Friday, January 23, 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

A 12-year veteran of the video-game industry returns with a passel of pals in the third-person, the 3-D platforming challenge Sonic Heroes ($49.99). Sega and Nintendo give GameCube owners the chance to control Sonic the Hedgehog and 11 other characters — broken up into four teams — through 14 levels of lightening-fast action as they attempt to thwart the plans of Dr. Ivo “Eggman” Robotnik.

What’s the story? Sonic is off touring the globe and having fun when a mysterious letter arrives. Knuckles and Tails quickly recognize Eggman’s scrawl and know they have to get the letter to Sonic right away. It turns out that the evil doctor has put the finishing touches on his most fearsome doomsday machine to date, and the tenacious trio has just three days to stop him from unleashing it on the world. Tails looks worried; Knuckles clasps his hands and cracks his famous knuckles; and Sonic’s eyes gleam with anticipation. “I wouldn’t miss this party for the world,” Sonic exclaims, and Team Sonic is off and running.

Characters’ character: The father of Sonic, game developer Yuji Naka, has put together an amazing challenge that will appeal to every class of player by incorporating three characters into four stories that all involve teamwork and revolve around the classic confrontation between Sonic and Eggman.

Each team member brings to the table either speed, power or flight to assist the others, along with a special attack that can be executed with the combined might of the members to conquer hostile landscapes and opposing teams, collect rings and also battle level-ending monstrous metallic bosses concocted by the Eggman.

Average gamers will want to select Team Sonic to use the brute strength of Knuckles and his Fireball Jump, Tails, who can carry her friends to the skies and shoot them like cannonballs; and Sonic, who can zoom around with others in tow and create a tornado.

More polished gamers will jump to Team Dark to control Shadow, an evil duplicate of Sonic; Rouge the bat; and the robotic Omega to tackle complex battles with the help of a time-stopping blast and Dummy Ring bomb attack, in which Rouge shoots land-mine-like rings on the ground to inflict damage on enemies.

Younger players will stick to Team Rose, consisting of Amy Rose, Big the Cat and Cream the Rabbit, as they attempt to find Sonic and can use such powers as the tornado hammer and also use Cream’s companion Chao to attack enemies.

How would Lt. Frank Drebin fare? Wielding the strengths of three characters simultaneously and at various points of missions can be quite a challenge as he blurrily passes by signals telling him which hero to empower — while attempting not to lose all his health-sustaining rings after encounters with robots, perilous precipices and pesky casino managers. Luckily, a tutorial for Team Rose made life a bit more digestible before the spinning chaos ensued.

Parental blood-pressure meter: 120/90, slightly elevated. Stopping evil in a nonviolent setting, especially in lush landscapes that are laid out perfectly to accommodate Sonic’s speedy acrobatic maneuvers, will keep mom and dad at bay and should be a flashy fun fest for all family members involved.

What if I feel like reading a book? Adventures of the blue speedster and his Freedom Fighters protecting planet Mobius from Dr. Ivo Robotnik have been chronicled via a sequential-art format since 1993 through Archie Comics’ Sonic the Hedgehog (priced at $2.19 each). Readers looking for a quick Sonic fix should stop by the company’s Web site store (https://stuffshop.archiecomics.com/sofrgo.html) to buy a year’s supply of books. Fans can choose books from 1996 to 2002 for only $20.99, plus shipping.

What’s it worth? A gorgeous-looking game combines a rich character history with exhilarating action that does the Sonic legend proud.

Pop bytes

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

• “Spider-Man: The New Animated Series,” by Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment (for DVD-enabled computers and home entertainment centers, $29.99). MTV’s computer-generated version of the famed web slinger arrives in a special, two-disc digital video package that highlights a cool first season of animated shows, along with a smattering of informative extras.

With actor Neil Patrick Harris (of TV’s “Doogie Howser” fame) voicing Spidey, I wasn’t quite sold on the new cartoon last year. However, I quickly became a fan after seeing the finished product — featuring tales in the edgy spirit of comic-book writer Brian Michael Bendis’ Ultimate Spider-Man (he wrote the pilot) along with such celebrity voices as Rob Zombie (Lizard) and Michael Clarke Duncan (reprising his role as the Kingpin). Add to that a dynamite animation technique that pays off during any action sequence.

All 13 episodes are presented within the DVD set. The set also features optional fact nuggets on the production that pop up on the screen, plus extensive audio commentaries by co-executive producer Audu Paden, its writers, directors and selected cast members.

On a somewhat disappointing note, MTV apparently has nixed a second season of the program, which shows how unhip the cable network has become. Thankfully, fans have a great DVD collection to savor the memory of the short-lived, groundbreaking cartoon.

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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