- The Washington Times - Friday, April 20, 2007

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 characters and Silicon Valley with a look at some…

Comics plugged in

TMNT

(Ubisoft for Xbox 360, rated E+10, $49.99)

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have returned not only to the silver screen in a new computer animated film from Warner Bros. but to the video game realm, in a third-person action game. A single player controls each of the four green warriors and works through 16 missions loaded with acrobatic conundrums and packs of thugs ready to beat the heroes back into the sewers.

What’s the story? From the game’s Web site: “Since rescuing the four brothers from mutagenic ooze as youngsters, Master Splinter has nurtured and trained the turtles for life in a dangerous world. Passing on the mastery of the martial arts and selecting each of their weapons for them at an early age, he has made sure they have always been ready for a fight. But since the Shredders’ death, these heroes from the sewers have drifted apart. Now a new force of evil is silently gaining strength in the city — one that will certainly give the team its toughest test yet.”

Characters’ character: Let’s first get a very sour note out of the way. It’s not possible for four people to play this game and that is inexcusable. Developers must have been sniffing toxic ooze to forget that this franchise is based on teamwork. To not include this type of action, as well as any type of online multiplayer option, is really dumb.

Now for the better news.

The game allows the player to control Leonardo armed with his katana, Raphael (and his alter ego the Nightwatcher) with his sai, Donatello with his bo staff and Michelangelo with his nunchuks through mainly solo missions as they travel above and below ground in urban terrains and stop familiar foes such as the Purple Dragons, Foot Clan and Black Gators.

Each turtle has a slew of acrobatic maneuvers to get him through the plethora of pure platform environments. That means the chance to jump, swing, climb, hang, run and bounce along walls, floors, rooftops and ledges through high-speed maneuvers Lara Croft would appreciate.

At the end of each mission, the player will be graded on his fighting abilities, his speed and the amount of coins he’s collected. Those who earn an “A” are awarded with another side challenge to sharpen skills.

In some missions, the player can temporarily bring in a second turtle to help his brother jump across large distances or deliver a heavy-duty Super Family Attack.

Both are nice additions, but in no way makes up for the lack of cooperative play.

The graphics look very sharp on the Xbox 360 and slightly make up for the repetitive game play and terribly redundant voice-over work. The turtles’ designs look ripped right from the movie and their fluid movement is very lifelike — and especially eye-popping when set against the moody locations.

How would Lt. Frank Drebin fare? The game is painfully easy for the Lieutenant, who will feel he is taking part in a preschool version of Prince of Persia, another game from Ubisoft. Unfortunately, the constant button mashing on opponents became tedious, even with the combination moves afforded the turtles.

Parental blood-pressure meter: 120/80, normal. Characters spend plenty of time slicing and dicing the bad guys but they meet their demise with a stream of glowing red puffs of pyrotechnics. Also, the turtles never die but need only be re-energized by pounding on a controller button.

Read all about it: Mirage Studios, the original publisher of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic books, offers five sequential art issues ($3.25 each) under the TMNT Movie Prequel banner. A book is devoted to each turtle, and a fifth to a friend of the heroes, April O’Neil. Also, the company has published the official comics adaptation of the movie ($4.99). All books are in black-and-white format with color covers.

What’s it worth? Lots of pretty environments and character moves will not impress the veteran gamer in search of a more complicated and intense challenge. TMNT needs a lower price ($29.99 seems fair) and should really be targeted to the 7-year-old who will appreciate ripping through the levels and will marvel at some of his character’s heroic actions.

Pop bytes

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

Marvel Trading Card Game

(Konami for PlayStation Portable, rated “Teen,” $29.99)

Upper Deck’s complex collectible trading card game, based on the Marvel Comics universe, gets translated into Sony’s handheld entertainment system to give players a virtual version of the popular table-top challenge.

The action has the solo player compile a custom deck of cards consisting of characters, equipment, locations and plot twists as he duels either a computer-controlled player or uses the PSP’s wireless system for a live opponent.

A time-consuming story mode spearheads the design and provides extensive tutorials and challenges to hone skills before taking part in matches.

Cool artwork from favorites such as Pat Olliffe and Dave Ross are highlighted between a presentation that mixes comic panels, splash screens, attack animations and a board interface that will look like a street satellite map to the uninitiated.

Marvel’s sequential art is well represented throughout, with more than 1,000 cards that incorporate the X-Men, Fantastic Four, Avengers and Spider-Man universes. Those familiar with Upper Deck’s “Vs. System” card game will find an authentic experience. Those new to the game will find their eyes glazing over as they delve into a myriad of strategies and game nuances that will test their brain’s absorption capacity.

The game is also supported with an online community that includes participation in tournaments, card trading and ways to buy additional decks and booster packs to make it a highly replayable purchase for the lover of card dueling.

Zadzooks! wants to know you exist. Call 202/636-3016, fax 202/269-1853, e-mail jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com, visit Zadzooks at the blog section of The Washington Times’ Web site (www.washingtontimes.com/blogs/) or write to Joseph Szadkowski at The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002.

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