Xplore your options

By Jae-Ha Kim and Misha Davenport
Chicago Sun-Times
December 20, 2001

Videogame players in this country spent nearly $8 billion last year on consoles, software and accessories. That figure is expected to increase dramatically with the introduction of Nintendo’s GameCube and Microsoft’s Xbox, which are giving Sony’s year-old PlayStation 2 a run for its money.

While the price tags, which range from $199 for the GameCube to $299 for the Xbox and PS2, may be hefty for parents trying to make their kids’ holiday dreams come true, the platforms aren’t the big moneymakers for companies. That’d be the games.

“I liken the gaming business to the movie business,” says Perrin Kaplan, Nintendo’s vice president of corporate affairs. “People don’t go to see a film because of the theater–they go because of the movie that’s playing. A lot of people will buy a platform depending on which game titles they like best.”

Haven’t decided which platform suits your needs the best? We’ve reviewed some of the hottest games for all three to help solve your dilemma.

GAMECUBE

“Star Wars: Rogue Leader” (LucasArts) Rated T for teens 13+ (violence) • Highly recommended

If you’re ambivalent about which platform to purchase, “Rogue Leader” will help sway you toward the GameCube. Simply put, this is the best-looking video game I’ve ever seen. The battle sequences are stunning and take place on such locations as Cloud City and Hoth–sites familiar to fans of the film. Rogue Leader is a sequel to Nintendo 64’s Rogue Squadron, but it’s light-years ahead in terms of polish and feel. When the X-Wings and Star Destroyers blast laser fire, you can almost feel the impact. As for the images, they’re perfection. The ships are depicted down to the most minute detail, as are the troops marching below. The load time is almost nonexistent, making it a game that is fast, addictive and fun. —Jae-Ha Kim

“Pikmin” (Nintendo) Rated E for everyone • Highly recommended

This game is all about hunting, gathering and exploring. The main attraction is Olimar, a cute little alien whose spaceship is blindsided by a comet. Crashing on unfamiliar turf, Olimar discovers his ship is missing 30 parts. He finds salvation in a field of creatures who look like feisty carrots. They grow like plants but, when plucked, reveal quasi-human forms. Olimar gets them to do all sorts of things for him–build bridges, blow things up, fight the enemy. In exchange, he does his best to protect them. Once you get over the pimplike relationship between Olimar and the Pikmin, you can’t help but have fun. As the game progresses, you realize that Olimar is pretty good at keeping things in order. He sends his Pikmin off to fight hungry animals that may or may not eat them in retaliation. But when they’re successful in killing the beasts, they Soylent Green them for their own purposes. —Jae-Ha Kim

“Super Monkey Ball” (Sega) Rated E for everyone • Recommended

The premise: A monkey is stuck in a transparent ball–a Monkey Ball, if you will. Your job is to guide the world in which it lives, but you have no control over what the super simian can do. The Monkey Ball rolls past obstacles, which vary from relatively simple to mind-numbingly impossible. Do your job right and you’ll see your opponents teeter off the stage. The graphics are colorful and pop from the screen. An added bonus is that Super Monkey Ball is geared for gamers who enjoy playing with others. Four may play just as easily as one. Subgames such as Monkey Fight–in which your monkey’s ball is equipped with a fist that lets you whack around your opponents–are a hoot. The soundtrack keeps players pumped for action, but the monkey’s furtive cries are weak and grow old fast. —Jae-Ha Kim

PLAYSTATION 2

“Monsters, Inc.” (SCEA) Rated E for everyone • Somewhat recommended

Based on the charming animated film of the same name, this game won’t hold the interest of players over the age of 10. The goal is to help Sulley and Mike become Top Scarers. When tots scream, the monsters generate much-needed energy for their world. This worked well in the film, but the characters here are stiff and not particularly well animated. That said, it’s a good game for novices to hone their skills. You basically run into things or jump over them to score points. If you can’t manage this, there’s a monster training program that teaches you how to pounce, break crates and jump. —Jae-Ha Kim

Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty (Konami) Rated M for mature (for animated violence and blood) • Highly recommended

Look out evildoers: Cigarette-smoking, mullet-wearing spy Solid Snake is back! A high-tech weapon called Metal Gear Ray is about to be hijacked from a military tanker and it’s up to Snake to infiltrate and carry out a covert operation to prevent the weapon from falling into the wrong hands. Hands down, this is the best game currently available for the Playstation 2. With a stylish, cinematic opening and the intermediate scenes of dialogue dispersed between game play with above-average graphics, MGS2 is an action game, story and movie all rolled up into one. You get the distinct impression while playing that the game is learning from you. From the guard-alerting sneeze I caught from being out in the rain too long to the trail of blood that led guards right to where I was hiding, MGS2 is relentless and unforgiving when showing the consequences to choices made during game play. Yet, its five levels of difficulty ensure that even a novice action player will find hours of enjoyment. Sheer gaming bliss. —Misha Davenport

“James Bond 007 in Agent Under Fire” (Electronic Arts) Rated T for teens (for suggestive themes and violence) • Recommended

If you’ve ever fantasized about donning 007’s tux, “Agent Under Fire” offers everything you could want from a Bond game and so much more. “Agent” finds Her Majesty much in need of Bond’s talents. A terrorist organization is threatening to clone an army and take over the world. Firearms, nifty gadgets and cool cars are all at your disposal in a game that also features, in the Bond tradition, scantily clad women who are either trying to kill or seduce you–or both. The only thing missing from this game is a martini, shaken, not stirred. “Agent Under Fire” is a thoroughly enjoyable game that moves beyond the first person shooter to include auto racing and a mission involving a tank. —Misha Davenport

XBOX

“Dead or Alive 3”(Tecmo) Rated T for teens (for violence and mature sexual themes) • Highly recommended

The plot is straightforward: select your fighter and pummel your opponents before they pummel you. What makes this game unique are the personalities and fighting styles of the 16 different characters. Each comes with a detailed backstory as to motivations for stepping into the ring. Gen Fu fights to raise money for a much-needed operation for his granddaughter. Kasumi enters to avenge the maiming of her brother, only to have to face another long-lost sibling in battle. Hitomi, meanwhile, wants to step out from behind the shadow of her father, a martial arts master. Everyone has something to prove and something to lose, and it’s this human element, along with the mind-blowing graphics, which sets this game above the rest. An astonishing amount of time has gone into the details: Hair moves and flows with every spin kick, biceps bulge with uppercuts, snow and leaves randomly fall. Tecmo has raised the bar on 3-D fighting games and created the best title available on the Xbox.–Misha Davenport

“Madden NFL 2002” (EA Sports) Rated E for everyone • Recommended

Are you ready for some football? “Madden NFL 2002” is just the ticket. The game allows the player to select not only home and away teams, but also the stadiums and weather conditions. You decide which plays to run from your playbook and have the option of selecting season mode, playing 16 games in your quest for the NFL championship. Franchise mode builds on the season mode and allows you to take part in NFL drafts, negotiate players’ contracts or sign free agents. The result is an experience not unlike owning a real NFL franchise, though at about $50 it’s cheaper than buying a team. Of course, it helps to have a detailed knowledge of the finer points of football, which might explain why this entertainment reporter’s Bears played less like the real Bears and more like the Detroit Lions. Yet the game held my attention, inadvertently giving me a new-found appreciation for the real players and coaches who face the scrutiny of John Madden and every other sports reporter and armchair quarterback each weekend.–Misha Davenport

“The Simpsons Road Rage” (Electronic Arts) Rated T for teens (for mild language, suggestive themes and violence) • Recommended

I never cared much for “Crazy Taxi.” So it’s surprising how much I enjoyed “Road Rage,” as it’s basically “Crazy Taxi” set in the cartoon town of Springfield in all its garish, pastel glory. The plot of this road-racing game incorporates much of what makes “The Simpsons” a hit. Machiavellian Mr. Burns has purchased Springfield’s mass transit system, converting all the buses to nuclear power. It’s up to the residents to beat the clock and ferry passengers around town in their own cars to earn fares and tips to raise the $1 million needed to buy back the system and put the hazardous buses to bed for good. While you initially start with only the Simpsons family and vehicles, as you advance through the game and earn money, new characters and settings become available.  Of course, “Road Rage” has one thing “Crazy Taxi” doesn’t: the voice talents of the entire “Simpsons” cast. The irreverent and sarcastic tone of the animated series is present in every one of the 25 or so characters. Fans of the show should buy it now or say “Doh!” later.–Misha Davenport

“Shrek” (TDK Mediactive) Rated T for teens (for comic mischief and mild violence) • Not recommended

There is an unwritten law in video gaming that states all titles based on movie tie-ins must stink. The folks at TDK Mediactive have taken things far too literally with “Shrek,” releasing a game where burping and flatulence are not only common, they’re part of game strategy. The plot is typical of platform action games. Merlin, an evil wizard, has kidnapped Princess Fiona and locked her in a tower surrounded by thick fog. To clear the fog, battle Merlin and rescue Fiona, you first have to complete good deeds that consist of moving objects from one place to the other while being chased by a foe, setting enemies on fire, or simply belching or breaking wind to disable them. You repeat these actions so many times, game play can’t help but be boring. All of the creativity and imagination that went into the film are painfully lacking in this game. To quote a line from the movie: You cut me, Shrek. You cut me real deep. —Misha Davenport

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