- The Washington Times - Friday, August 18, 2006

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 meld of pop-culture character and Silicon Valley with a look at some …

Comics plugged in

Monster House

(THQ for PlayStation 2, rated E, $39.99)

Sony Pictures’ latest computer-animated adventure becomes a third-person action game in Monster House ($39.99). THQ brings to life the Monster House world (which, it so happens, was co-developed by Rob Schrab, creator of the comic-book series Scud: The Disposable Assassin) as a single player takes control of the heroic characters of the film and explores a spooky mansion.

What’s the story? Twelve-year-old D.J. Walters has monitored the unexplainable activities in the house across the street since he was a child. He knows something is just not right. The house is owned by the mysterious and reclusive Mr. Nebbercracker, and it can make things and people disappear. Determined to find the secret to this ravenous piece of real estate, D.J. and his friends Chowder and Jenny concoct a plan to battle the ominous “Monster House.”

Characters’ character: The player takes part in a pivotal point in the movie after the three heroes are consumed by the house. Now within its confines, he must separately control each and roam through its levels to take part in scavenger hunts and ultimately try to destroy the residence.

D.J., Chowder and Jenny are armed with an upgradable water gun (and infinite water supply) and secondary weapons to fend off attacks by such diabolical creations as spinning floorboard creatures, snakelike lamps, hungry chairs, radiators that spit steam, monstrous wood stoves and an electrifying chandelier.

The atmosphere of the game is fantastic: Scary sounds, creepy music, claustrophobic environments, surprise attacks, startling killer drainpipes (that blast through the floor and walls to impede progress) and tree limbs (that burst through windows) will deliver the willies to those who play with the lights out.

Also, whenever the player disturbs the surroundings, such as breaking a vase to collect a power-up, the house shakes, roars its disapproval and unleashes more attacks upon him.

As added missions, the player can collect monkey toys to unlock an art gallery and tokens to play the retro side-scrolling game featured in the film “Thou Art Dead.”

However, Monster House cries out for a co-operative, multiplayer element to give friends the chance to join in and fight the supernatural forces.

How would Lt. Frank Drebin fare? The camera that is used to follow the player within the action wreaked havoc with the lieutenant’s ability to track enemies and keep his lunch down. Also, the inability to target specific creatures and to constantly pump up his squirt gun to reload led to many a return visit to the nearest bathroom (also known as the last point where the game automatically saves a player’s progress).

Parental blood-pressure meter: 120/80, normal. Characters water-blast an assortment of possessed furniture until it dissolves back into the house, and the heroes never die but pass out from depleted energy. Sounds good so far, but mom and dad will not be pleased to learn that a character’s health is only replenished if he drinks massive quantities of soda pop, and they will find the “Thou Art Dead” simulation much too violent for the children; the warrior uses an ax to kill creatures that love to scream in pain.

What if I want to read a book? IDW Publishing released a 56-page sequential-art companion to the movie. Named Monster House ($7.99), it covers an encounter between heavy metalist Bones and old man Nebbercracker’s residence.

What’s it worth? Younger fans of the film will appreciate the game’s authenticity, but too much repetition and a lack of multiplayer possibilities doom the title to being a rental, at best, for the hard-core gamer.

Pop bytes

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

Super Dragon Ball Z

(Atari for PlayStation 2, rated “Teen,” $39.99)

After the brilliant, option-overloaded Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi, I had to warm up to this three-dimensional arcade-style fighting homage to Akira Toriyama’s comic-book universe.

My slow take quickly changed once I figured out how to finesse the analog stick on the controller and unleash a Kamehameha beam on an enemy and transform myself into a powerful Super Saiyan to inflict more damage.

This one-versus-one challenge is a customizable blast that allows up to a pair of players to choose from a selection of 18 heroes and villains from the Dragon Ball Z universe and battle in such famed locations as the planet Namek, Kami’s lookout and even King Enma’s palace.

Legends available such as Cyborg Frieza, Majin Buu and Goku, along with the chance to change costumes, hear the characters voiced by the same North American actors used in the cartoon series, and perform signature moves make it a cool homage to the 17-year-old pop-culture phenomenon.

The key to a long relationship with the game is first to create a custom character card and collect experience points in the Z-Survivor (an ultimate endurance battle) or receive dragon balls for success in a few of the modes. Both enable players to expand and personalize a character and unlock new fighters.

Graphics throughout the contests and load screens are colorful, frenetic and cartoony; a bold explosion of words is splashed across the screen (just like a comic book) every time a massive attack is delivered.

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