- The Washington Times - Friday, October 14, 2005

Superhero 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

X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse

(Activision, for Xbox and PlayStation 2, $49.99)

Marvel Comic’s myriad of mutants return to entertainment consoles in a sequel to last year’s game that became a legend in interactive superhero entertainment. The action-packed role-playing game continues to allow up to four players to co-operatively customize and control teams selected from 16 popular X-Men and Brotherhood villains featured in the famous comic book universe.

Now the choices, powers, enemies and stakes are much more complicated for players who take on missions in 70 free-roaming zones to save the world from Homo Superior’s most dangerous foe.

What’s the story? A secret prophecy has fallen into the hands of the megalomaniac Apocalypse, and he is ready, once again, to create the perfect society, no matter the cost to mutant or man. Even the X-Men, protectors of humanity, cannot hope to defeat the powerful villain and his Four Horseman themselves.

Out of necessity comes an unlikely alliance. The X-Men and the Brotherhood of Mutants have joined forces to salvage the situation. Magneto, Professor X and all of their allies are aligned, with the common goal of taking down Apocalypse.

Characters’ character: Players manipulate such sequential-art stalwarts as Wolverine, Juggernaut, Magneto and Scarlet Witch (each wielding signature powers) while fighting over 100 types of villains like Mr. Sinister, Lady Deathstrike, the Brood, Sauron, Omega Red, Zealot and Morlocks. The game uses cel-shaded designs so characters appear three-dimensionally popped from a comic book.

This time out, instead of meeting at Charles Xavier’s mansion, the team’s base of operation varies depending on the missions. It might be the Sanctuary in Genosha or Avalon in the Savage Lands. Wherever it is, the temporary headquarters allows mutants to converse, get mission briefings, take a trivia quiz to build up attributes, train in the Danger Room and get taken to adventures around the globe.

The title returns with a power, health, level up and equipment management system to give the heroes an edge, either determined by the player or now assigned by the computer, as they successfully progress through the hostilities.

Some new features to the sequel include using the mutant Blink’s powerful teleporting abilities to rescue a team from a losing situation, visiting locales such as Egypt and the Weapon X facility, and a deluge of new powers for the team members such as Magneto forging a metal minion to fight alongside him and Jean Grey’s ability to ressurect a fallen friend.

—To cement the authenticity of the multimedia comic experience, beautiful full-motion videos highlight the story, characters can change costumes matching X-Men book series variations and even actor Patrick Stewart (X-Men leader in the movies) again lends his voice to Professor X. A host of other actors offer over-the-top vocal performances to bring the heroes to life.

How would Lt. Frank Drebin fare? The control schemes are so fluid and simple to execute that the Lieutenant could only marvel at how many ways Wolverine can slice up a foe and how easy it is to swap characters, allow a buddy to join in the action and even go online to join players around the world to battle the Apocalypse scourge.

Parental blood-pressure meter: 140/100, elevated. Teamwork moments — ranging from Iceman building a bridge for his pals to Nightcrawler teleporting a wounded comrade from a battle — mix with stopping a genocide in this cartoony violent world. Bad-guy body counts will be high but never graphic as teens attack without mercy.

What if I feel like reading a book? Marvel Comics has more X-Men books on the market than Carter has liver pills (ask your grandpa what that means). I would start purchasing the four-volume trade paperback set X-Men: The Complete Age of Apocalypse Epic ($29.99 each, Vol. 1 currently available, Vol. 2 arriving in November) which compiles the entire story arc from the 1995 cross-title series that shook the famed mutant universe.

What’s it worth? Nowhere in the galaxy will comic book fans find a title paying such respect to the X-Men mythology in a video-game format. Mesmerized players will gladly spend large chunks of time trying to strategize and learn all of the title’s nuances while controlling their favorite children of the Atom.

Pop bytes

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

Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects

(Electronic Arts for PlayStation 2, rated “T,” suitable for players 13 and older, $49.99)

Artist Jae Lee receives a three-dimensional and interactive tribute to his moody interpretations of the Marvel Comics Universe within a fighting game that delivers much more style than complex execution.

Sequential-art gaming fans will appreciate the effort while reading a six-issue comic book series ($2.99 each, sold separately) complementing the game’s story of the extraterrestrial Dr. Van Roekel, who through cybernetic control uses heroes to develop and test an unstoppable army.

The tale basically provides the backdrop for two player battles, either online or on the same console, that deliver spectacular action through very limited control schemes.

Fantastic-looking versions of such legends as Spider-Man, Daredevil, Wolverine, the Thing and Elektra now battle one another and war against six newly created superbeings in a beautifully rendered and nearly fully destructible world.

A story mode allows a single player to take on Van Roekel’s minions and heroes in a button-mashing, thumb-blistering frenzy. Successful fighters can unlock characters to use in the versus mode, trading cards, game movies and multimedia presentations of comic book pages.

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, DC 20002.

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