- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 12, 2008

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

A Norse warrior comes back to life to wreak havoc on the evil scourge set upon his lands in Viking: Battle for Asgard(rated M for mature, for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, $59.99).

Sega takes a single player into an oppressive world of viking mythology where gods and mortals battle in a “Lord of the Rings”-style conflict full of blood-soaked combat Beowulf would admire.

What’s the story? Paraphrased from the game’s manual: After centuries of bloody and relentless war between Asgard and the underworld, Hel and her army of undead vikings, the Legion, have targeted Midgard. Hel despises the viking’s allegiance to Freya, Goddess of Light, and is determine to steal the souls of the children of Asgard to create her own Valhalla — the resting ground for the dead.

Freya has resurrected Skarin, a champion of Midgard cursed by haunting visions, to help her marshal an army strong enough to vanquish Hel and her legion, ending the war against men and gods alike.

Characters’ character: The player controls a muscle-bound, lumbering, longhaired Norseman within a swords- and sorcery-enhanced epic marked by battlefield-sized skirmishes and the occasional dragon.

Wielding a sword and battle ax, the Frazetta-styled hero explores caves, strongholds, lairs and beautiful coastlines to collect gold, free his brethren, talk to fellow vikings, barter for upgrades and mainly butcher any opposition in his way.

The hack-and-slash combat-style action mixes with just a pinch of role-playing to immerse a player in a world where evil is defined by a cloudy weather forecast and victory leads to a sunny day.

As the player uses his trusty amulet, the Brisingamen, to reveal a map with key mission locations on three Nordic islands, he can walk or use the magical viking transportation system called Leystones to teleport quickly.

Adventures are varied and might find Skarin climbing walls to sneak into one of Hel’s fortresses and steal a dragon stone or freeing some pals caught in a holding tank before wiping out a garrison of orclike bad guys.

The highlight of the game takes shape in the massive battles where hundreds of troops fight and the hero is right in the middle of the melee. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to be able to control a fire-breathing dragon to drop a stream of molten hurt on some nasty Shaman.

How would Lt. Frank Drebin fare? With the mash of a few buttons,the lieutenant had no problem slicing and dicing most of Hel’s minions.

A slew of slow-motion-type kills are available and prompted by the flashing of the “X” button. Each attack unleashes a slaughterhouse-size accumulation of body parts.

The player can enhance his weapons with magic to burn, freeze or electrocute a foe or buy and learn new moves with help from the ghosts of Valhalla in an arena situated on a beautiful piece of real estate.

A mixture of button sequences, a la the God of War prototype, also is used to take down boss-size enemies.

Parental blood-pressure meter: 250/150, dead and eviscerated on arrival. The repetitive and desensitizing slaughter of enemies becomes a Monty Pythonized experience about an hour into the game.

I’m not guessing this will cause a weak-minded player to arm himself with a supply of medieval weapons and launch an attack on a local community. However, it needs to be reiterated that the gratuitous — and encouraged — on-screen rampages should be left to older players who are in serious need of a stress-relieving experience.

Read all about it? The viking has had a varied history in the sequential-art world, spearheaded by the exploits of Marvel Publishing’s Thor. So I offer three suggestions that would fit perfectly with Skarin’s adventure.

First, the monthly Vertigo series Northlanders ($2.99 each) is a great start to appreciating the Norseman in sequential art. The well-researched series by Brian Wood stars Sven, an arrogant warrior who fights to free his people in the grittiest of worlds.

Next, a better fit for the fan of dumbed-down violence is the bloody 2003 series from Marvel Publishing, Thor: Vikings. It not only includes undead warriors that attack New York, but also features the brutal writing style of Garth Ennis. The five books are compiled conveniently in a trade paperback ($29.99).

Finally, creator Gareth Hinds’ three-part sequential-art interpretation of Beowulf, which features a dragon, is a visual masterpiece and available as a trade paperback from Candlewick Press ($9.99).

What’s it worth? This is not your daddy’s Hagar the Horrible or even Conan the Barbarian. The average player will be able to succeed in Viking: Battle for Asgard, but there isn’t enough extra content to make him want to return to Midgard after beating the game. A rental should easily satisfy the bloodlust of most in love with the Nordic legends.

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 (https://video1.washingtontimes.com/zadzooks/) or write to Joseph Szadkowski at The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002.

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