- The Washington Times - Friday, October 20, 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

One Piece: Grand Adventure

(Namco Bandai Games for PlayStation 2, rated Teen, $39.99)

The popular Japanese comic-book and cartoon series created by Eiichiro Oda returns to video-game realms as part third-person role-playing and part fighter challenge. Players take control of dozens of scalawags, visit 20 ports along the high seas and battle in the Great Age of Piracy to swashbuckle their way to animated glory.

What’s the story? As a young boy in a small port village, Monkey D. Luffy was inspired to become a pirate by his childhood hero, Red-Haired Shanks. However, when he accidentally ate the cursed Gum-Gum Fruit, he gained the power to stretch like rubber — at the cost of never being able to swim again. Despite this limitation, Luffy vowed to grow up to become the king of the pirates and find the greatest treasure of all — Gold Roger’s legendary One Piece.

Characters’ character: The deep Adventure mode is what takes the game above the standard 3-D fighter fare. A single player controls a captain from the One Piece universe and challenges familiar characters either to join his band of pirates or beat archrivals as he gains experience points and steals treasure to strengthen his powers and crew.

The action consists of moving a ship around various points on world maps to find challengers and an arena in which to fight. These condition-specific (i.e. win in a set amount of time, win without using a superattack, etc.) versus matches could involve the chance to beat a bunch of pirates or strike down a single very strong enemy such as Buggy the Clown or Dracule “Hawkeye” Mihawk.

The fun begins with Luffy, as the captain, quickly persuading Nami, Roronoa Zolo, Sanji and Usopp to join him (if, of course, the player first defeats the pirates in a fight) on a journey that stops at such familiar locales as the Baratie Restaurant, Drum Castle (complete with pink snow) and Syrup Village.

Nuances to the action include the use of allies in fights (a couple of buttons quickly bring them into a conflict), the ability to swing and throw objects and the participation in minigames such as a duck race.

Each character has multiple levels and types of powers seen in the show. For example, Luffy uses Gum-Gum elastic punches. Luko uses three sword attacks, and Usopp uses his trusty slingshot, the Kabuto.

Once a player tires of the Adventure mode, he can jump over to the one-versus-one Grand Battles, where he can enter tournaments against computer opponents or grab a friend against whom to fight.

Fantastic illustrations of the One Piece world decorate all menu screens, and characters come to life through the actual voices of actors from the cartoon and three-dimensional designs that look nearly as detailed as their two-dimensional cartoon counterparts.

A treasure chest of unlockable content also greets the pirate as he succeeds through either mode. Not only will he get to look at all of the characters in all of their various costumes as 3-D models (with zoom and rotation options) but he will be able to listen to loads of musical selections and scrutinize virtual versions of more than 250 One Piece collectible trading cards.

How would Lt. Frank Drebin fare? Those who, like the lieutenant, prefer to mash buttons will be able to conquer many a foe, while those who take the time to learn the nuances of the Accel-Heat System will unleash a cacophony of colorful combination attacks that will look ripped right out of the cartoon.

Parental blood-pressure meter: 120/80, normal. Slapstick violence, explosions, punches and swordplay dominate the screen during the matches, but no blood is shed. Other than the creepy look of Buggy the Clown possibly inducing nightmares, the game maintains a cartoony atmosphere within the aggressive and noisy battles.

What if I want to read a book? Viz Media has translated and compiled the original One Piece serials that appeared in the Shonen Jump anthology magazine into 192-page trade paperbacks ($7.95 each). Fans can choose from 12 volumes of black-and-white comics.

What’s it worth? The game is a grand adventure and will be a joy to the dedicated One Piece fan.

Pop bytes

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

Enchanted Arms

(Ubisoft for Xbox 360, rated Teen, $59.99)

A nice extra immediately greets the player of this gorgeous video game as soon as he opens the package. Before he takes the plunge into the massive role-playing adventure, he can learn about a few of its characters in the included 48-page black-and-white, traditional-style Japanese comic.

Once it’s digested, he can get lost in a beautifully designed fantasy world ruled by turn-based battles on chesslike maps and stuffed with more than 100 controllable creatures.

As is typical for a role-playing game, the player will extensively interview characters; fight monstrous foes; accumulate, manage and build items; acquire experience points and explore wondrous lands.

In the case of Enchanted Arms, the player controls a fellow named Artsuma who attempts to stop the next Golem War with the help of his right arm and robotic servants.

The experience is a time-consuming affair with more than 50 hours of linear action that will dazzle the eyes, thanks to computer-generated Final Fantasy-like scenes and incredible detailed environments.

Parents may want to be aware that one of the key characters is, according to the game manual, a “flamboyant transvestite.” I couldn’t care less about his lifestyle, but developers present him in a cliched and insulting manner that just perpetuates stereotypes. Younger teens definitely do not need to be exposed to that.

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