- The Washington Times - Friday, January 14, 2005

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

Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords: LucasArts delivers an awesome look into the life of a Jedi knight 5,000 years before the heroics of Luke Skywalker. Its role-playing strategy game Knights of the Old Republic II ($49.99) gives Xbox owners an experience that is both time-consuming and richly rewarding.

What’s the story? It is a perilous time for the galaxy. A brutal civil war has all but destroyed the Jedi Order, leaving the ailing republic on the verge of collapse. Amid the turmoil, the evil Sith have spread across the galaxy, hunting down and destroying the remaining Jedi knights. Narrowly escaping deadly Sith ambush, the last known Jedi clings to life aboard a battered freighter near the ravaged world of Peragus …

Characters’ character: A single player assumes the role of male or female Jedi guardian, sentinel or consular and, after personalizing his new being with facial features and name, becomes part of the “Star Wars” struggle of good vs. evil.

A mind-blowing number of actions must be performed by the new character and his team members, met along his quests while he’s piloting the weathered freighter Ebon Hawk to such exotic locales as the crystal cave of Dantooine, the old Sith academy on Korriban and a secret Jedi training facility in the polar regions of Telos.

Imagine a complicated Dungeons and Dragons type of turn-based action as the computer realistically calculates one’s fate based on a careful balance of experience points (acquired to produce a character with strength and dexterity, with wisdom and charisma becoming equally important), maintenance of a well-stocked arsenal and supplies, and training in the ways of the light or dark side of the Force.

A full cast of characters, not part of the common lore of “Star Wars” but part of the extended Knights of the Old Republic saga, returns; the title takes place five years after the first game. In addition to Wookiees, HK-50 droids and Mandalorian warriors, the player will find a pair of female Twi’Lek known as the Twin Suns wielding spinning blades; the giant earwig hybrid Kinrath Matriarch; and the Lord of the Hunger, Dart Nihilus.

Rousing music inspired by John Williams adds to the excitement, as does an unending stream of Force maneuvers such as seeing through doors, manipulating minds and targeting multiple enemies with a thrown light saber.

How would Lt. Frank Drebin fare? Knowing that at any time, conversations and actions could eventually turn a powerful Force-filled being from a protector of the galaxy into dark lord of the Sith made the police detective uneasy during every decision. Trying to manipulate, calculate and facilitate everything for his character, Roshian Zad — carefully building a light saber, taking part in a Swoop race, remembering to wear a Telos Mining Shield while running through the bowels of the Paragus Mining Facility — caused a headache of mind-numbing proportions.

Parental blood-pressure meter: 120/90, slightly elevated. Mom and dad should appreciate any game in which teenagers must not only think, but also be responsible for their actions. Violence and blood flow are there but are not excessively graphic as the player fights his way past bands of Sith assassins, dunderheaded bounty hunters and potentially evil members of the party who have turned to the dark side of the Force.

What if I feel like reading a book?# Dark Horse Comics produces “Star Wars”-based comic books every month. The company’s 1994 Star Wars: Tales of the Jedi — Knights of the Old Republic ($14.95) compiles the first five issues of the Tales of the Jedi series and features a 136-page effort focusing on Ulic Qel-Droma and Nomi Sunrider, two young novices training to become Jedi warriors.

Additionally, Prima Games has done a magnificent job with its 301-page game guide ($16.99), which goes above and beyond what any rational human might need to know as he becomes part of the Knights of the Old Republic mythos.

What’s it worth? Anyone obsessed with the intense dedication required to become a Jedi master will relish the laborious inventory-management minutiae and gorgeous confrontation sequences. Unfortunately, I have a rather busy life and found LucasArts’ Star Wars Battlefronts (for Xbox and PlayStation 2, $49.99) a better fit for my limited time because of quick third-person battle action that immediately gets the player into the action and requires more reacting than pondering.

Pop bytes

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

Spider-Man TV Games, by Jakks Pacific: A stand-alone unit requiring four AA batteries, rated “Everyone,” suitable for players 6 and older, $19.99).

The company becoming known for plug-and-play video games teams up with Marvel Comics to produce a half-dozen TV-based challenges crammed into a unit surrounding the sequential-art world of the famed Web Slinger.

The player simply plugs a joystick device designed in Spider-Man colors and themes into a television’s audio and video jacks and controls the superhero as he battles archenemies such as the Vulture, Venom, the Lizard and Rhino.

Games include a side-scrolling adventure among the buildings of Manhattan, maneuvering through a sewer maze in the first-person perspective and taking web target practice on character images taken right from the current line of comic books.

The unbalanced joystick will frustrate younger players as they try manipulate on-screen movement using a handle not really mounted to anything. Even older players will get a cramping wrist workout as they try to hold the base firmly while maneuvering the stick.

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

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