- The Washington Times - Friday, November 18, 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

Ultimate Spider-Man

(Activision, for Xbox, Game Cube and Playstation 2, $39.99)

Marvel Comics’ web-slinging teenager returns in a third-person video game mirroring the mythology of the legend’s current comic-book reincarnation. A classic struggle of good versus evil resides in a player’s hands as he controls both the heroic Spider-Man and chaotic archvillain Venom for control of the Big Apple.

What’s the story? The Venom suit was designed by researchers Richard Parker and Edward Brock in an attempt to develop a cure for cancer. Recently, their sons Peter Parker and Eddie Brock Jr. discovered the final remaining sample of the suit and unleashed the nightmare, and not a cancer cure, of Venom. When Eddie and the suit vanished in a flash of electricity, Peter learned one fundamental rule of the superhero business: “If there’s no corpse, the guy’s alive.”

Now, three months later, Peter continues his double life as both high school student and Spider-Man. Unbeknownst to Peter, Venom is back and terrorizing the streets of New York.

Character’s character: Sequential art meets he latest cel-shaded, 3-D inking technology to deliver an eye-popping virtual adventure based on a story from comics scribe Brian Michael Bendis and character designs by Mark Bagley (who both work on the monthly Marvel comic-book series Ultimate Spider-Man).

The gorgeous game allows players to roam a city freely as they use both Spider-Man and Venom to either restore order or heap chaos upon unsuspecting denizens.

As Spider-Man, they possess such powers as the ability to climb walls, swing through cityscapes, hang enemies from web lines, perform acrobatic fight moves and use spider sense to avoid danger.

When they’re Venom, darker powers reign supreme: The lumbering, carnivorous criminal can be controlled to break the backs of foes, pound faces into the concrete, perform powerful jumps and use its tentacles to attack and feed on humans to regain health.

With the help of beacon-guided maps, each character seeks out events in the massive environments and satisfies conditions to continue the story, which has them eventually confronting the Rhino, Electro, Green Goblin, Human Torch, Carnage, Silver Sable and the Shocker.

Additionally, fluid computer-generated animation has them meeting Mary Jane Watson, General Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Sharon Carter — all luminaries in Spidey’s history.

Just taking part in a battle between Venom and Wolverine is such a classic sequential-art moment that players may pass out from the overwhelming enjoyment of the hands-on experience.

The feral X-Man is as potent as ever as he uses adamantium claws on the black symbiote; Venom responds by throwing him around a biker bar like a missile.

Making the sequential-art melding experience even sweeter is the chance to collect 75 comic-book covers strewn about Manhattan and various tokens that can be used to unlock special costumes and view famous landmarks.

Parental blood-pressure meter: 140/100, elevated. Stopping muggings, delivering people to hospitals, foiling armored-car robberies and taking care of some road rage as Spider-Man balances against the graphically violent exploits of Venom to provide a game that will thrill teens and only slightly bother mom and dad while the comic-book mayhem dominates the screen.

What if I feel like reading a book? Marvel Comics’ trade paperback, Ultimate Spider-Man: Volume 6 ($15.99) compiles issues Nos. 33 to 39 from the monthly series and covers the reluctant hero’s first encounter with Venom in the teen-friendly Spider-Man universe.

What’s it worth?

I must sound like an idiot reporting almost every month that I have found “the” game that completely plunges a player into a comic-book universe. This month will be no exception, as Ultimate Spider-Man sets a daunting standard for future sequential-art-based games even to try to reach.

Pop bytes

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

Teen Titans From Majesco

(for Game Boy Advance, rated Everyone, suitable for players 6 and older, $29.99)

DC Comics and Cartoon Network’s junior superhero team enters Nintendo’s hand-held gaming system in a great-looking side-scrolling adventure sure to entertain comic-book and cartoon fans of all ages.

Offering the Japanese anime style of the current show in a 2.5-inch-wide screen, the game involves controlling Robin, Starfire, Cyborg, Beast Boy and Raven as they battle the minions of Brother Blood and his Hive Academy, which even includes stopping clones of Titans themselves.

The single player will find a very accommodating control scheme enabling him to switch heroes quickly to take advantage of such powers as Cyborg’s ground pound; Beast Boy’s transformation into a hawk, rhino, tiger and gorilla; and Raven’s hovering, telekinetic attack.

Pleasant nuances include a battery-save system (no inputting of level codes required) and the chance to unlock character art, to battle hero-specific enemies and to hear that great theme song from Puffy Ami Yumi.

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

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