- The Washington Times - Friday, March 17, 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

Dragon Ball Z: Shin Budokai ($39.99)

Atari uses Sony’s hand-held multimedia machine the PSP to give teenagers the chance to enter the world of Akira Toriyama’s famed Japanese anime and manga series. The three-dimensional fighting extravaganza has players choose from more than 18 characters as they battle one another or enter a solo story mode based on one of Dragon Ball Z’s latest movies.

What’s the story? Here it is, according to the official Dragon Ball Z Web site at www.dragonballz.com: “An industrial disaster in Other World has unleashed a gargantuan monster, and the Z Fighters are taking action. Janemba’s arrival has thrown the dimensions into turmoil, leaving the door between worlds gaping open, and the dead are rising from their graves. To combat this juggernaut, Goku must power up his rare Super Saiyan 3 form, but it is not enough. As time runs out, Goku stumbles across a weary Vegeta and devises a risky plan that might be the universe’s only hope Fusion Reborn.”

…Characters’ character: Legendary battles, on against one, take place within a 33/4-by-21/4-inch screen using cel-shaded graphic designs and actors’ voices from the animated series that plunge the player into a colorful and chaotic cartoon universe.

Famed heroes such as Goku, Gohan, Piccolo, Pikkon and Krillan challenge Cell, Frieza, Kid Buu, Broly and the demon Janemba as they unleash their high-speed signature moves, perform complicated hand-to-hand combat, fly and recharge their Ki energy as well as transform themselves into more powerful beings.

The Dragon Road story mode places a single player in an adventure based on an extended version of the 1995 “Dragon Ball Z: Fusion Reborn” movie. It has him work through multiple chapters filled with matches in which he spars with friends and enemies while even occasionally controlling the bad guys as he works through the miniepic.

Other modes allow a variety of timed and survival contents that all lead to collecting Zenie points, which can be used to buy art elements to modify a player’s visual calling card. This calling card must be presented when challenging another human wirelessly. (The other player must own a PSP and game cartridge.)

How would Lt. Frank Drebin fare? Old fumble fingers appreciated the dazzling demonstrations of a character’s superpowered attacks, such as Piccolo’s Special Beam Cannon, Gotenks’ Galactica Donuts and Frieza’s Death Ball, which are delivered just by pressing a couple of buttons. Life and button-pressing get more complicated as the real or computer-controlled opponents get wiser, but the visual feast of hues is well worth the occasional thumb blisters.

Parental blood-pressure meter: 130/90, mildly elevated. The game offers mild profanities within the text-based, corny dialogue shown during the story mode, and characters do pummel one another with fiery displays and rapid-fire kicks and punches. However, the violence is very cartoony, and even the fights in Hell were a Willy Wonka-like dream, complete with multicolored gumdrops and globules, to offer nothing to frighten the older children.

What if I feel like reading a book? Viz Media has tackled the translation of many of the Dragon Ball Z sequential-art books for American audiences. Fans will appreciate diving into 25 black-and-white volumes, averaging 190 pages each ($7.95 each).

What’s it worth?

Dragon Ball Z heads have a reason to drop $250 and buy a PSP. The game shines with incredible visuals, sounds and adherence to the cartoon property. Players also should grab a DVD copy of the uncut “Fusion Reborn” movie (Funimation Productions, $24.99), just hitting American store shelves, to embellish the action.

A note to Funimation on a missed opportunity: If the company also had released the animated film in Sony’s UMD format (compatible with the PSP), that would have been the ultimate Super Saiyan-saturated experience for its mobile gaming fans.

Pop bytes

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

Sonic Riders from Sega

(for PlayStation 2, rated “Everyone,” suitable for players 6 and older, $29.99)

This latest addition to Sonic the Hedgehog’s video-game legacy has a single player or pair (cooperatively and against one another) controlling familiar characters riding air boards as each attempts to win Dr. Eggman’s EX World Grand Prix challenge.

Yes, it’s high-speed racing within 13 courses as the player performs tricks, uses power-ups and collects chaos emeralds and plenty of rings to upgrade his equipment. The action often is frustrating and difficult, thanks to the need for pit stops to refuel the craft with air; the feature brings the fun to a dead and often losing stop.

However, racing Miles Prower through a lush landscape and large waterfall or maneuvering Knuckles the Echidna around a factory swimming in molten metal is a breathtaking experience.

I usually really hate extreme sports driving games, but Sonic Riders is worth a look for the absolute beauty of the tracks and on-screen effects, especially zooming through turbulence trails.

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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