- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Here’s a look at some hardware and software that’s available:

Viewtiful Joe 2 from Capcom for PlayStation 2, rated T: content suitable for ages 13 and older, $39.99; and Sly 2: Band of Thieves from Sony Computer Entertainment for PlayStation 2, rated E: content suitable for ages 6 and older, $39.99. The art of cel-shading the design of a video game has given players the chance to control characters that look as if they were ripped from cartoons or the pages of comic books.

Used in a 2-D format during side-scrolling fighting games over the years, the format was elevated to three dimensions when Sega’s Wacky Races hit store shelves for the Dreamcast in 2000. The technique requires less emphasis on realism and more illustrative expression that salutes traditional animation.

Two of the latest efforts offer great-looking experiences for gamers and utilize wacky, action-packed adventures to bring colorful universes to life.

First, Capcom, the company well-known for some of the finer 2-D cel-shaded fighting games, including Street Fighter, offers a sequel to its 2003 smash game about a normal guy and his girlfriend caught up in a stunt-filled B movie.

The button-stomping brawler, Viewtiful Joe 2, now allows the single player to utilize the talents of both Joe and his pompom-wielding gal pal Silvia. The pair is transformed into a fictional superhero team who, while in Movie Land, confront extraterrestrials and a demanding director not afraid to yell “Cut” at a subpar performance.

The fast-paced, Wachowski Brothers and John Woo type of fun demands a player keep swinging, kicking, moving and thinking to fight himself out of seven reels of episodic chaos.

The game requires that the heroic pair explore classic cinemascapes to restore happy endings, receive Rainbow Oscars and collect film canisters. Numerous powers are available, such as the ability to speed up, slow down and repeat time a la Microsoft’s Blinx the Timesweeper, as well as a zoom function that delivers screen-rocking damage to opponents during especially harrowing confrontations.

Hue-saturated graphics combine with cheesy dialogue and sound effects, making the title a very amusing MTV generation-meets-“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” experience. Taking on a Tyrannosaurus drill sergeant, Japanese-inspired robots and a mad scientist does not hurt the weird festivities either.

Next, children looking for a blast of cartoon-inspired, cel-shaded fun will appreciate Sly 2: Band of Thieves, which will steal their time away as they maneuver some “pop culture icons in the making” to pull off some major heists.

Talking animal-themed characters abound in this third-person platform title as Sly the raccoon teams up with Bentley the Turtle, a computer-hacking genius, and Murray the hippopotamus, a brawny bruiser, to stop the Klaww gang from reassembling the robotic remains of Sly’s arch nemesis, Clockwerk.

Eight heists lead the player across the globe to exotic locations such as Paris, Prague and Cairo, all of which are illustrated in cartoony brilliance and filled with humorous bad guys.

The missions are all broken into Saturday morning cliffhangers, complete with title screens naming the level and a “We’ll be right back” screen during game pauses.

As the player controls Sly with his golden cane, Murray and Bentley are armed with a dart gun. The trio can sneak across ledges, climb poles, hop across rooftops, tight-rope walk along wiring and crawl through ventilation ducts to spy on a villain, reposition satellite dishes and, of course, pilfer items.

In addition to collecting coins to purchase powers and equipment from Bentley’s online source, Thiefnet, the player routinely takes reconnaissance pictures, picks the pockets of characters, tosses around thugs and even controls vehicles.

My only gripe with this otherwise thoroughly enjoyable simulation is that being a thief usually involves stealth tactics in dark areas or at night, which reduced my ability to take in some of the beautiful graphics.

As an added layer of interactivity, the player also can plug a USB-connected headset into the game and lure guards away with voice chat or listen to Bentley’s helpful advice.

Write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002; or send e-mail ([email protected]washington times.com).

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