- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 21, 2008

Here’s a look at a couple of the latest video games. Devil May Cry 4: Tome of Knowledge (from Capcom for Xbox 360, rated M for mature, $59.99)

The latest chapter of Capcom’s premiere stylish combat franchise beautifully assaults a player’s entertainment console, demanding that he control a new hero to drive demons from the magical lands of Fortuna. The cocky young warrior — Nero this time, not familiar friend Dante — is the focus in a story on the grandest scale loaded with heinous bosses, monstrous minions, beautiful women and Gothic architecture.

Nero is armed with a revolver nicknamed the Blue Rose (with unlimited bullets), a Final Fantasy-style sword called the Red Queen and a glowing right arm that is the source of special moves and is attached to a grappling-hook-like “Devil Bringer.” He finds himself in a 20-mission epic blending cinematic cut scenes and lightning-fast action.

Gamers wield a controller in precise button-mashing frenzies to chain together combat moves and collect gelatinous red and green orbs for health and power spewed from fallen enemies. Their work ultimately is rewarded with a grade and upgrades from the Devil May Cry deities.

Those not familiar with this brand of interactive entertainment might be a bit disappointed. The cinematic grandeur of the story is lost in mission screens that would be more at home in a mall arcade’s Virtua Fighter machine than in a virtual epic loaded with movie magic.

Yes, it is spectacular to battle a gigantic toad that dangles a pair of translucent females as bait and just as stunning to control 6-foot-tall bladed gyroscopes — spinning-top weapons that mow down helpless scarecrows in their path. Yet some of the breathtakingly designed hallways, mountain pathways and outside terrains feel empty.

The past hero, Dante, eventually show ups, with a few other protagonists, and he is a controllable character — but his presence feels forced.

In the end, Tome of Knowledge is a comforting hack-and-slash ballet for Devil May Cry fans, but for the uninitiated, it’s a slightly innovative visual feast.

PixelJunk Monsters (from Sony for PlayStation 3, rated E for everyone, $7.99). As much as Devil May Cry 4 can dazzle, I was just as impressed with a new real-time strategy game that can be downloaded for Sony’s entertainment console.

Developers call this miniwar spectacle a “tower defense” experience. Basically, a player builds structures along pathways and watches enemies get slaughtered as they pass by. Unless enough towers are in place, it gets ugly for the defenseless citizens they protect.

In this game, players protect 20 villages that can be accessed as points on a map, with three difficulty levels spread among the areas.

An average of 20 waves of enemies will assault the villagers, and it’s up to the chief general/engineer, a frenetic tiki-doll-styled fellow, to turn trees into towers, grab coins and jewels from fallen foes and set in motion research on new defense systems.

Enemies can range from lumbering stone monsters to quick-moving spiders. A player, always with limited resources, is tasked with balancing weapon towers and their placement to the variety of foes.

Foes that get past the towers — giving the player a helpless feeling — send the villagers to the heavens. Those who lose the villagers lose the level.

The best part of the PixelJunk experience is a cooperative mode in which two friends work together to stop the marching hordes.

It’s a simple idea using hand-drawn 2-D animation done brilliantly by developers Q-Games. Amazingly, for less than the price of a movie ticket, PixelJunk Monsters provides hours of challenging and addictive fun guaranteed to keep the brain stimulated.

Write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002; or send e-mail (jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com).

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