- The Washington Times - Friday, March 9, 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 character and Silicon Valley with a look at some …

Comics plugged in

Ghost Rider

(THQ for PlayStation 2, rated Teen, $29.99)

Marvel Comics’ Spirit of Vengeance not only delivers his fiery brand of justice on sequential art pages and the silver screen but as a video game character in Sony’s entertainment console. Through third-person action, a single player takes control of Ghost Rider on foot, as well as atop his famed flaming cycle, to stop Armageddon.

What’s the story? From the game manual: Cheated by the devil Mephisto, Johnny Blaze is cursed to spend his nights as the Ghost Rider and hunt down evildoers. Although Mephisto is the cause of his eternal suffering, Johnny is forced to help him when summoned to hell. Johnny must become the Ghost Rider to take on hell’s worst nightmares in order to save the life of his girlfriend, Roxanne, and at the same time save the world.

Characters’ character: The game’s paper-thin story picks up from the end of the film and is revealed through narration by the Caretaker and sequential art panels peppered on the screen to integrate into the art likenesses of most of the actors seen in the film (except for Nicolas Cage).

The tale’s weak construction used the combined talents of comics masters Garth Ennis and Jimmy Palmiotti, a fact that I found hard to swallow considering the resume of these two.

Ghost Rider must deliver an unending stream of punishment upon the best hell has to offer. He first fights his way out of the Underworld and eventually battles though such locales as Caretaker’s graveyard and Quentin Circus to confront some of his famous foes, such as Mother of all Demons, Lilith, the vampire Blackout and the bodiless spirit of Ebenezer Laughton, aka the Scarecrow.

The hero uses flaming fists and retractable chains to unleash an impressive variety of moves that become more numerous as he collects the souls held by the defeated forces and purchases additional combination attacks.

He also has at his disposal a handy Hellfire Shotgun, a chain to wipe out all on-screen foes and the visually slick Penance Stare, which, when called into play, allows the Rider to grab any opponent in the battle and force him to experience the pain he has caused others.

While on his bike, the Rider must speed through, jump over and slide around a series of obstacle courses and evil minions that will test a player’s reaction times and patience, especially when they get lost or turned backwards. An uncontrollable camera perspective makes some of the rides almost unmanageable.

Those who successfully beat the game can play through the story again as other characters, such as Blade, Ghost Rider 2099 and Vengeance.

Where the game really shines is in the bonus content purchased when a player has accumulated enough souls.

An onscreen comic book reader is most impressive for the fan: He can peruse 21 multipage segments of comics published over the history of Ghost Rider’s sequential art career.

Portions of issues such as Ghost Rider, Vol. 1, No. 10 from 1974, and Spirits of Vengeance, No. 1 from 1994, appear ripped right from the books with a function to zoom into the individual panels.

How would Lt. Drebin fare? Once the lieutenant had enough souls to purchase upgrades to his health meter and max out his shotgun, this button-mashing frenzy was a conquerable load of fun. Although he could simply close his eyes and just mash away in many of the heated battles, he was mesmerized by some of the effects of the Rider’s moves — such as those that have the hero spin in the air with his chains ablaze or use a flaming head butt and grab a stunned opponent to deliver some major vengeance on his body.

Parental blood-pressure meter: 140/95, very high. Defeated foes such as bats, crows, demon bikers and ax-wielding clowns do not bleed but burst into a variety of colorful orbs Ghost Rider absorbs. So, not so graphic on the gore.

However, success in the game depends on the level of consistent violence a player can dish out upon his foes. In fact, he is rewarded for the amount of hits delivered — and the stylish combinations used through a Vengeance bar that, once full, allows the player to extract more souls and purchase more stuff.

What if I want to read a book? Besides the selection of sequential art found in the game’s bonus content, players get a 12-page comic book in the package that offers the plot prequel to the Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer video game.

What’s it worth? Although the constant beatings delivered to hordes of hell’s minions can get tedious, fans of the Ghost Rider legend will find the price is right as they revel in the variety of attacks and extra content paying homage to this legendary comic-book vigilante.

Pop bytes

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

300: March to Glory

(Warner Bros. Interactive for PlayStation Portable, rated “Mature,” $39.99)

The game is based on the movie that, in turn, is based on creator Frank Miller’s comic book take on the Battle of Thermopylae. In it a player in need of stress release gets involved in a violent conflict on Sony’s hand-held system as he controls King Leonidas to try to save Greece from the Persians.

In third-person, sword-and-spear-style action, he hacks and slashes his way through armies of enemies as blood spurts, decapitated heads roll and mutilated appendages litter the battlefield.

To break up the relentless combat, the king can occasionally take cover with his shield to protect against a barrage of arrows and can also rally his troops into the famous phalanx battle formation and attack multiple enemies and unruly elephants.

Upgradeable weapons and armor, unlockable combination moves, plot points revealed through comic panels and a great interview with Mr. Miller also complement the slaughter.

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


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