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VIDEO GAME REVIEWS

Chad Serrant’s IAP Game Guide

Pikmin

Published by Nintendo

Nintendo Gamecube

$49.99

Rated E for Everyone

Pikmin is definitely a try-before-you-buy game. Nintendo has created another unique game that barely fits in the adventure/real-time tactics/puzzle genre. It is an excellent one-player experience, but also a brief one.

Captain Olimar is flying through space in his spaceship when a comet slams into it. He crash lands and finds an onion that produces a strange creature. It has a leaf on top and an animal on the bottom. Olimar calls it a pikmin and he notices that it follows his every move. If Olimar can use these creatures to recover his missing ship parts, he can get back home. He has to hurry because the planet’s atmosphere is poisonous to him.

With only 30 days until his life-support fails, Olimar must learn how to use the pikmin effectively. They can carry food to the onion and produce more pikmin. They can drink nectar and become faster and stronger. More importantly, pikmin can work together to push blocks, destroy walls, and fight the local predators.

Red, yellow, and blue pikmin have different abilities. Red pikmin are strong and immune to fire. The yellow ones can carry bomb rocks and are thrown the highest. The blue pikmin are amphibious. The trick is to figure out who you need, where to go, and what to pick up, and make it home before sunset. There are five areas to search that are loaded with bridges, ship parts, and giant monsters.

The boss fights require you to find the boss’ weak points or overcome their defenses before you can damage them. A mushroom boss converts pikmin into mushrooms that attack you. The bird-headed snakes fall quickly if you can get the pikmin on their heads.

The game has lighthearted touches. The pikmin are absolutely adorable. Olimar adds to his captain’s log every night and you get to see inside his head. The challenge mode opens when Olimar completes his quest. Though fun, it’s also very short and adds little to the game. You start with three of each color of pikmin and you have one day to make as many pikmin as possible.

Time is the problem with Pikmin. The 30-day time limit destroys your ability to sit back and smell the flowers. This game lasts for only a few hours and can be easily completed in a rental period. The lack of a multiplayer mode hurts its replay value even more.

The foreign world is very beautiful. The developers went to real forests and took lots of pictures, and the effort definitely paid off. You can easily confuse the game graphics with photographs. The pikmin look a little blocky, but are fluidly animated.

The music is very calm and quiet. The pikmin have different sounds for their actions. You will know when they are under attack and when they are knocking a wall down, and you’ll love their hello noises.

Gamecube owners should definitely rent this. It is a brief, yet calming experience that you won’t find often.

SSX Tricky

Published by Electronic Arts

PlayStation 2, Nintendo Gamecube, Microsoft Xbox

$49.99

Rated E for Everyone

The SSX Tricky circuit is waiting for some nice riders to race down the slopes and get tricky. The hot PlayStation 2 snowboarding game got a little tricky and is playing on the Gamecube and the XBox as well.

Yeah, you’re snowboarding. But you gotta do tricks. Grab some air and do tricks to get a boost. When your boost is full, it’s time to get tricky. Do seven Über tricks and you get infinite boost.

There are ten courses in the SSX circuit. They’re loaded with jumps, rails, and shortcuts. Tokyo Megaplex has several vertical air vents that give you plenty of time to pull some sweet, funky, dope maneuvers. The Aloha Ice Jam lets you rail throughout most of it and ride through some sweet pipe shortcuts if you can jump that high.

Twelve boarders are available for this year’s circuit. Each has different friends, enemies, Über tricks, and different types of boards. Alpine boards give you a big speed boost, while freestyles let you redefine style with some sweet tricks. BXs are right in the middle.

When you’re racing, get in the top three places three times to advance to the next course. If you push people, you get an automatic tricky and your boost fills. But that isn’t nice! And I’m sure your “friends” will remember. Keep it up and you’ll have 5 others playing rough with you.

If you would rather show off, you can try to beat the top three scores for the area. There are extra rails and ramps for altitude adjustments. Don’t forget the score multipliers of 2x, 3x, and 5x. Get a 5x, get a big air bonus, and do an Über trick.

I would be lying if I said the graphics are like riding a transition in a dream. While the models are well done, the snow is blurry and I can tell where the textures end.

The sound doesn’t get any better than this, though. High-quality voice acting ensures cringing from the over-the-top lines and not poor acting. And the music keeps you on your toes. When you’re in last place, the music loses several instruments and you’re left with just the drums.

SSX Tricky is on the PlayStation 2, Gamecube, and XBox, but you should get the PS2 version. While the Gamecube and XBox versions have light-bending and self-shadowing effects, they are loaded with slowdown. You can’t stay fluid with six racers on the screen on the more powerful systems. All of the DVD content can’t fit on the Gamecube’s 1.5 GB discs, so the character videos have been compressed. And the large “making of” section that is on the PlayStation 2 has been reduced to one video on the other consoles. The XBox controller only has two top buttons, so Electronic Arts had to remove tricks from it. Definitely not what I wanted.

Extreme G 3

Published by Acclaim

PlayStation 2 and Nintendo Gamecube

$49.95

The Extreme G series began with a futuristic bike racing game similar to Wipeout, which debuted on PlayStation. Extreme G 2 tried its best to be even better, but the N64 couldn’t handle the graphics and was plagued with slowdown. The physics engine was pretty lousy and hitting a wall at high speeds would automatically flip you around. Acclaim went back to the drawing board, and they have produced an excellent racer in Extreme G 3.

Unlike G 1 and G 2, the bikes have the same stats, so your character choice is a matter of taste. There are 10 courses, separated into four leagues. You earn cash for placing in seventh or higher, and you can use it to buy upgrades for your bike.

The Gamecube controller is perfect for this game. The A button accelerates, while X and Y act as support for boosting and weapons. The B button gives a rear view and the shoulder buttons act as side air brakes. The slippery PlayStation 2 analog sticks don’t have as much grip as the Gamecube sticks, so turning and leaning is a little more difficult on the PlayStation 2.

G 3 concentrates more on racing than weapons. There are no more weapon pickups along the track, and you can’t destroy all of your opponents like in G 2. Instead, you need to make fewer mistakes than your opponents. You must navigate turns correctly and lean into hills and inclines for more wheel grip. And because using your boost costs shield energy, you must avoid taking damage.

The computer AI treats everyone equally. It’s no longer you versus team CPU, but a twelve-bike free-for-all with one or two bikes controlled by humans. Computer bikes shoot at each other, boost ahead, bump into walls, and miss important shortcuts. In other words, they act like humans would, and it’s about time a game did that.

The weapons have been toned down so the game concentrates more on racing than fighting. Those who liked the explosive aspects of Extreme G will be disappointed. The heat seekers always hit their marks, but are weaker than the straight-ahead rockets. The rear blasters have no range, and the micro mines seem to be the only overwhelming weapon.

The game has multiplayer options. The arcade mode is entertaining but deceptive, since the game is about racing. You can choose a cooperative career mode and play two members of the same team if you want an extra buddy during those really tough races.

Most racing games don’t have enough tracks. G 1 and G 2 had 12 tracks, so 10 tracks don’t excite me. This game really needs a track designer, even an incredibly limited one.

The sound and graphics are impressive. The shadows are affected by multiple light sources. The engines and explosion effects are appropriate. As you approach the sound barrier, the screen gets fuzzy. When you break it, the screen ripples and the models stretch back. The music has moved from trance to something I can’t describe.

Extreme G fans, get your Gamecubes ready; welcome to the best of the best.

Batman Vengeance

Published by Ubi Soft

PlayStation 2, Nintendo Gamecube and Microsoft XBox

$49.95

Rated T for Teen

Batman’s exploits have been related, translated and interpreted through television, movies, and comics. There have been a few Batman games, but they couldn’t capture the feeling of being the Dark Knight. Batman Vengeance manages to stay loyal to Batman and is the best Batman game ever made. In terms of gameplay, however, it is very limited.

The storyline of Batman Vengeance emulates The New Batman-Superman Adventures series on the WB network. In this game Batman rescues a woman whose son has been kidnapped by the Joker. At the end of a climactic battle, the Joker jumps off Gotham Bridge. His death spurs a crime wave with Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy riding the crest. Batman discovers a link connecting all of the events, and he must stop the source before all of Gotham is destroyed.

Batman Vengeance lets you act just like Batman would. Throw a batarang to disarm gun-wielding maniacs, or sneak along walls and batcuff them from behind. The combat system is simple, yet highly effective. You can punch, kick, block, or use special attacks to pummel evildoers. Other enemies won’t approach if Batman is in a one-on-one battle, which makes 3-on-1 matches a lot easier. The grappling hook lets him move only on specific surfaces that are marked for grappling, which really limits where you can go.

Limited movement is the game’s major problem. Batman Vengeance is a 19-stage linear action game. I had hoped to travel around Gotham City finding clues to the next area, solving side mysteries, or scouting neighborhoods and stopping common thieves, but Batman Vengeance directs me along a specific path, and the stages boil down to “beat badguy, open door, beat badguy.” The Batplane and Batmobile stages are welcome changes, but they’re not enough.

The graphics need a bit of explanation. The art deco style mixes the dark, cel-shaded cartoon with the 3-D aspects of video games. It is truly a compromise between the two styles. Gamers will find the textures too plain, while cartoon fans will resent the 3-D. Everything looks like the cartoon would if it were in 3-D. Batman has an overly square jaw, Joker has inverted eyes (black outside, white pupils), and Gotham City has a red sky. The game is very dark, though the brightness adjustment helps some. However, the shading on some textures looks downright ugly. The PlayStation 2 version suffers from framerate problems, while the Gamecube and XBox versions run at a stable framerate.

The game’s voice acting is straight from the cartoon. Kevin Conroy is Batman, Mark Hamill is still the Joker, and Tara Reid plays Batgirl. The music creates a very dark atmosphere and isn’t meant to be on a top 10 songs list.

Batman Vengeance isn’t on my top ten video game list, but it is a great achievement that compromises nicely between an action video game and the beauty of the license on which it is based.

Super Smash Bros. Melee

Published by Nintendo

Nintendo Gamecube

$49.99

Rated T for Teen

Super Smash Bros. Melee is the product of Nintendo’s evolution of the N64 fighting game Super Smash Bros. Nintendo’s major icons duke it out to see who’s the best brawler of ‘em all. Melee’s many gaming options and standout graphics make it the best Gamecube game yet.

The Gamecube controller is well-equipped for this game. However, the Z button, which grabs, is awkwardly placed above the R button. That’s more of a controller fault than a game defect. However, the buttons can’t be reconfigured.

The damage system is very different from that of other fighting games. Instead of damage reducing health, damage makes you fly farther when struck. To KO an opponent, you must knock him out of the arena.

The roster for Melee has 25 entries, including Ness, Captain Falcon, Bowser, and Peach, Princess Zelda, and the Ice Climbers. Eleven of the characters are hidden and must be unlocked. While some of these characters are actually new and require new gameplay strategies, others are very slight modifications of others.

Melee has several new offensive moves. You can charge up your smash attacks, you can control the direction of your throws, and your character has an extra-special attack. Super Smash Bros. Melee stresses more defense than its predecessor with extra defensive moves, such as sidesteps, parries, and mid-air evasions.

The one-player mode has been expanded considerably. Classic mode is just like the one-player mode of the original game, but with random matches. The adventure mode emulates the games from which the characters originated. The Home Run Contest tests how far you can knock Sandbag and the Multi-Man. Melee tests your endurance against the fighting wire frame team.

With so much variety, one-player mode is never boring. You can choose any character in one of five costumes and battle it out in almost 30 arenas. You can set the number of lives, grab coins from your opponent, or try to earn bonus points. Special rules make the fighters invisible, small, giant, or extra slow. There’s even a 64-player tournament.

Melee has over 300 trophies to be found or earned. Some are familiar 2D figures while others will only be recognizable to Japanese importers. The trophies are highly detailed, and I couldn’t count any polygons, despite the great zoom-in feature.

The graphics are top-notch. Characters are fleshed out in extra detail. I loved the concentric screens effect in the PokÉmon Stadium, and the cel-shading abuse on the PokÉ Floats. Not all is perfect, though. The cape effects are average, and some of the backgrounds are low-resolution and blurry. The water textures are too small and too repetitive.

Melee’s music and sounds are also excellent. Many of the songs have been remixed from their previous versions. Most of the familiar voices are back from the earlier game.

Two weeks after the Gamecube’s launch I looked for extra controllers, which seemed to be sold out. One of my friends pointed out the most likely reason: everyone bought the Gamecube with three extra controllers, and preordered Super Smash Brothers Melee.

Tony Hawk Pro Skater

Published by Activision

PlayStation, PlayStation 2, Nintendo Gamecube

$49.99

Rated T for Teen

In Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater you need to complete objectives to reach the competitions. This game is about stringing together a series of tricks on the obstacles placed throughout a stage. Every trick performed increases the score multiplier, and if you can keep it up, you can earn a huge score.

Beating the competition clears the way for even more stages. When you catch some air you can grab and kick your board. Grind a rail or lip a ramp for some serious points. With a full meter you can perform special tricks that net mega points.

The locations vary. You can go to Canada, suburbia, and a cruise ship, where you have to impress the seven Neversoft babes. In every stage you have to find the letters S-K-A-T-E, the secret tape, and 5 stat points to increase your skills. There are high scores to beat and objectives that are specific to every stage.

You can skate with one of ten pro skaters (Tony Hawk being the most obvious one), or you can make your own character. There are a ton of customization options, so two custom skaters will never look the same. You can modify their hair, height, shirt, pants, tattoos, and shoes, as well as most of their colors. Give them a name, an age, and a cool place of birth (Mars). Even their tricks can be edited.

In addition to customized characters, you can make your own stages. Add ramps, rails, pools of lava, loop-de-loops, a diving board, and anything else you can think of. This is a big bonus over other skating games, in which course creators are still unheard of.

Tony Hawk features some hidden extras. You can unlock secret videos by finding all of the secret tapes for one custom character and all of the professional characters. You can also unlock modes that change the camera angle, change the physics, and unlock two secret characters. Earn more bonuses by finishing all of the objectives multiple times.

In multiplayer mode, you can go for basic point contests and graffiti mode. To tag a section of the stage you have do a trick on it. Your opponent can tag it if he performs a trick that is worth more points that the trick you used to tag. While Sony’s official internet adapters haven’t been released yet, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 supports several third party adapters for multiplayer capabilities.

Too bad the graphics aren’t up to par. The models are a bit skimpy, and the animation is a little too bland. The shadows are always underneath the boarder, even in a well-lit house with multiple light sources. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 isn’t pushing any graphical envelopes. Sound quality depends on your tastes. There aren’t many sound effects, and the voices are a little cheesy. As for music: if you like punk and rap, then rock on.

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 wanted to be a skateboarding game, and that’s what it is. Nothing more, and nothing less.