- The Washington Times - Friday, July 14, 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 melding of pop-culture character and Silicon Valley with a look at some …

Comics plugged in

Teen Titans

DC Comics’ famed team of younger superheroes becomes part of the PlayStation 2 and Game Cube entertainment console universes in Teen Titans ($19.95). Based on the popular Cartoon Network/Kids WB! animated show, THQ’s third-person adventure gives younger players the chance to control their favorite heroes as they try to stop more than 10 of the team’s most dangerous villains.

What’s the story? An unexplained video game has been sent to Titan Tower, and it stars the Teen Titans. When they turn on the game, strange things begin to happen. Is the new game playing the Titans, or has a mysterious villain breached their defenses and taken control of the heroes?

Characters’ character: Despite developers’ use of a design more three-dimensional than cel-shaded to re-create the show (a cel-shaded approach would better complement the original source material), fans will find an incredibly authentic experience loaded with characters, humor and action from the cartoon.

With the concept of teamwork infused into the fun, up to four players can each grab a controller at any time and become Robin, Starfire, Beast Boy, Cyborg and Raven — the core team of Titans.

The heroes move together through more than a dozen environments, many ripped from the show, and work through 15 missions in the story mode to stop a rogue’s gallery of their most famous villains, such as Slade, Mumbo Jumbo, Jinx, Gizmo and Dr. Light.

Each controllable Titan has a full range of upgradeable signature powers, such as Robin’s staff swing or Raven’s beamed Circle of Trigon. Beast Boy especially is able to shine as he uses his animal morph ability to turn into an elephant, gorilla and ram.

A Master of Games challenge also can be found. It’s a classic “versus” mode in which players control and eventually choose from 36 characters, including less-prominent stars of the series, such as Speedy, Terra, White Raven and Hotspot, who battle one another in a set arena.

To offer more levels of authenticity to Teen Titans, the developers use the voice-over actors from the show and play the infectious Puffy Ami Yumi theme song throughout.

Additionally, the silly hero from the dimension Four and Nine-Eights, Larry the Titan, can be found in each mission to unlock video clips and tons of still art from the comic book and cartoon.

How would Lt. Frank Drebin fare? A surprisingly expansive control scheme allows the lieutenant to use a number of combination moves to unleash potent attacks, hold down buttons to release a secondary level of powers and use tag-team attacks when one of his pals holds an enemy. If he can find the Full Screen Attack icons, he can deliver an awesome display of might that consumes the screen with animation. Beast Boy’s Gorilla Pound easily was the favorite.

Parental blood-pressure meter: 130/85, slightly elevated. One battle against giant pink rabbits that hurl explosive carrots pretty much sums up the absurdity and fun of the game. Parents will find the humor and cartoon violence more than tolerable. They even may want to pick up a controller and take part in the action.

What if I feel like reading a book? Every month, DC Comics brings the animated style, fun premise and plot nuances of the Cartoon Network show to the sequential-art medium with a very kid-friendly Teen Titans Go! comic book ($2.25).

What’s it worth? It may be a poor man’s X-Men Legends, but the colorful brawler still provides a high entertainment level for the 10-year-old player. At its dirt-cheap price, it’s a must-have even for the occasional fan of the brilliant, but apparently cancelled, show.

Pop bytes

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

Metal Gear Solid: Digital Graphic Novel

(Konami for PSP, rated Mature, for players 17 and older, $19.99)

Let’s call this UMD disc a multimedia exercise into the unknown that attempts to bridge the gap between static sequential art, the video game and the capabilities of Sony’s hand-held multimedia machine.

With IDW Publishing’s first comic-book series (based on the Konami stealth-action video game) as the content provider, the viewer enters the world of the interactive comic book, which not only automatically works through pages and highlights dialogue for him, but adds sound effects and music.

The story, originally drawn by Ashley Woods, finds special-forces operative Solid Snake attempting to thwart the plans of the Sons of the Big Boss terrorist group, which has taken over Shadow Moses Island’s nuclear waste plant.

Mr. Woods’ sketchy and gritty illustrative style is beautifully brought to the PSP system’s 4-inch-wide screen, and easy navigation menus enable the reader to view any of the nearly 300 pages.

A second level of fun allows the reader to enter a search mode in which he moves around with a target reticule on each screen panel, magnifies areas and collects memory elements from the Metal Gear Solid mythology. These then must be connected to reassemble Solid Snake’s memory and other resources within a giant three-dimensional puzzle matrix.

If this type of digital comic ever gets ported into high-definition DVD and shown routinely on homes with big-screen televisions, the days of the paper comic book may be numbered.

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