A-Z: Videogame reviews

By Jae-Ha Kim and Misha Davenport

ALL-STAR BASEBALL 2003 (Acclaim, E for Everyone, GameCube)

Type A baseball gamers will love this. The rosters are accurate, reflecting Tsuyoshi Shinjo’s recent trade from the New York Mets to the San Francisco Giants. All the major stadiums are featured in a realistic manner. And with the franchise mode, gamers have access to each team’s records from the last two decades. There are plenty of options to keep gameplay interesting, including quick play (two randomly selected teams pit against each other), home-run derby or all-star. Guessing the correct pitch enhances your chance of hitting a home run. But you can’t be a passive player. Snooze at bat and the pitcher will whip a fastball past your head before you can blink. And just like in real baseball, there are flukes. Balls bounce at varying speeds on the playing field. Watching the infielders fumble is as much fun as watching them make an awesome save. Sure, you don’t get hotdogs and beer at these ballparks, but you also don’t have to watch players readjusting their, um, undergarments in between innings. –Jae-Ha Kim (reviewed 8/26/02)

ALL-STAR BASEBALL 2004 (Acclaim, E for Everyone, GameCube)

This one hits it out of the ballpark. The All-Star franchise always was a winner, but this latest version lets players re-create elements from the 2002 season. We determine that season’s outcome. I got a particular charge in helping the New York Met’s Mike Piazza lose. The Mets lost that game in real life, but it was that much sweeter knowing I had something to do with it. Diehard baseball gamers may be disappointed they can only play these one or two innings at a time. But jumping from inning to inning also keeps the game from getting redundant. –Jae-Ha Kim (reviewed 7/14/03)

ALTER ECHO (THQ, T for Teen, PlayStation 2)

It is the future and if you’re a shaper, you’ve got it made. Using a substance called plast, shapers may create anything they want-like weapons of mass destruction, space-age style. You play as a fledgling shaper named Nevin. It’s your mission to stop power-hungry Paavo from trying to wipe out the human race with an uber substance he has developed called echoplast. Like the power of the ring in “The Lord of the Rings,” this echoplast is heavy stuff. The cartoon-style graphics aren’t up to anime standards, but they’re not bad. The thumping music is well suited for the game and the voices are appropriately theatrical. “Alter Echo” will provide plenty of fun, especially if you’re a good combat fighter. –Jae-Ha Kim (9/12/03)

AMERICAN IDOL (Codemasters, E for Everyone, PlayStation 2)

This is a fine example of a total waste of game-playing time. Here’s a singing game that doesn’t require singing. As a song plays, you hit or hold specific buttons to match an on-screen meter. It’s not like the button mashing matters. The judges’ comments seem to be random. In one round, Simon trashed me, Randy gave me a so-so score and Paula told me she was “glad the three were all in agreement because I rocked!” The game is nothing more than a blatant attempt to milk a cash cow. –Misha Davenport (reviewed 2/6/04)

AMPED (Microsoft; Rated E for Everyone, Xbox)

So, you’re thinking about jibbin’ for a livin’? For a real snowboarding experience without buying a board and hitting the slopes, look no further than “Amped.” You begin the game with crappy clothes and a lousy board. You make your way through a run trying to impress would-be sponsors and the media. Grab either group’s attention with real moves like stinky stalefish (grabbing the heel of your board while your knees are apart) and you’re on your way to new duds and boards. The graphics are awesome and the soundtrack includes electronic, emo, hip-hop and ska, among others. Plus, you can rip your own songs to the hard drive to listen to while you play. Duuuude, sweeeet! –Misha Davenport (reviewed 2/21/02)

ANIMAL CROSSING (Nintendo, E for Everyone, GameCube)

The GameCube’s answer to “The Sims” begins with you moving away from home to set out on your own. A train takes you to a town inhabited by cute, talking animals. This being a Japanese game, the sense of freedom is short-lived and soon replaced by the necessities of the real world (finding a job, paying a mortgage, keeping up with the Joneses and heck, even yardwork). The game comes with its own memory card, so no two towns or town residents are alike. Up to four gamers can each have a house in the town and play the game (though not at the same time). It makes “Animal Crossing” ideal for a family. (“Look, mom left me a bag of money and a note that says to do my homework before I think about playing this game …”) You initially have to do various errands for your neighbors to earn cash. Before long, you’ll be able to buy a shovel (useful for finding buried sacks of money), fishing rod (it seems nearly impossible to over-fish and your catch earns you a pretty penny at the market), a bug net (some of the rarer bugs yield a wad of cash, but they’re hard to catch) and a pretty useless axe. (Though it doesn’t earn you any money, you nonetheless need the axe to thin out the forests and keep the residents happy. Wouldn’t President Bush be proud?) It’s an open-ended game that allows players to determine what kind of game they want to play. Fish all day if you want to. Pick fruit if that suits you. It’s up to you and thanks to the GameCube’s internal clock–played in real time. It makes the game highly addictive”. If you don’t play regularly, when you do pick up the game again, you’ll be surprised to find weeds everywhere and half the town’s residences have pulled up stakes for greener pastures. –Misha Davenport (reviewed 12/22/02)

BACKYARD BASEBALL (Atari, Rated E for Everyone, PlayStation 2)

Ever wonder what Alex Rodriguez, Sammy Sosa and Derek Jeter were like as kids? I’m guessing they weren’t quite as adorable as their animated childhood counterparts in the latest of the “Backyard” games. But that doesn’t take any of the fun away from this interactive baseball game, where gamers get to choose from 10 pro players. Batters are up in a variety of makeshift 3D fields. You’ll hear the roar of a car driving by as young A-Rod hits a homer and scampers across the plate.The cute factor may dissuade some older gamers from giving this one a shot. But if you’re embarrassed, get your kid (or kid brother or sister) the game and insist on helping him or her brush up on their skills. You won’t regret it.  –Jae-Ha Kim (reviewed 4/16/04)

BACKYARD BASEBALL (Infogrames, E for Everyone, Gameboy Advanced)

Infogrames has delivered a surprisingly solid baseball title for the 10-and-under set. The game features pint-size versions of pro players like Sammy Sosa and Ken Griffey Jr. alongside kids of various races, colors and handicaps. Some of it is a bit too politically correct (the kid in the wheelchair happens to be the best outfielder), but with almost no learning curve and the option of playing tee-ball or regular baseball, it’s a great game for younger kids. –Misha Davenport (reviewed 8/26/02)

BACKYARD BASEBALL (Atari, E for Everyone, GameCube)

Sure, the 30 characters created for the game and 10 pro athletes are rendered as 3D cartoons, but features like practice, single game and full season mode will almost make you forget kids are the game’s target audience. Easy to pick up, yet challenging enough to hold interest, Atari’s “Backyard Baseball” is a highly polished sports game. –Misha Davenport (reviewed 7/14/03)

BACKYARD FOOTBALL 2003 (Infogrames, E for Everyone, GameCube)

You wouldn’t think a game designed for kids could be so much fun for adults, but this one is pretty darned cute. It’s best enjoyed when playing with a little kid. Infogrames’ latest pint-sized take on sports features kitschy humor that’ll drive you insane if you hate knock-knock jokes. It takes the game relatively seriously, but includes silly schoolyard plays such as the Roly Poly and Leap Frog that’ll keep the little ones chuckling. Thirty-two NFL teams are featured here, but only 10 pro athletes (including Jerry Rice) appear as their child-size animated doppelgangers. They look like adorable little Weebles, even when they fumble. There’s also some grrrl power here: Little girls aren’t relegated to the cheerleading squad. They get to play ball, too. That said, the game does grow repetitive after a few plays. So it’s best to rent this game rather than shelling out the bucks to buy. –Jae-Ha Kim (reviewed 12/10/02)

BILLY HATCHER AND THE GIANT EGG (Sega, E for Everyone, Gamecube)

Sometimes, a game comes along that makes you wonder just what the developers were smoking. “Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg” follows the adventures of its title character — a blond-haired, blue-eyed, overly-optimistic boy — as he dons a magical rooster suit and battles to save the world from the evil Crow King, who has vanquished daylight. Billy’s weapon of choice is eggs, and he rolls them over enemies and feeds them fruit so he can hatch them. This probably comes as no surprise to fans of Sonicteam’s work — they also developed the successful “Sonic” games which feature a blue hedgehog in sneakers. Beneath the offbeat characters and concept, “Hatcher” is at its heart a standard platformer. You run, jump, smash crates, solve puzzles and use power-ups to destroy bosses. Its colorful graphics and quirky game play set it above the rest. Finally, a GameCube title that gives players something to crow about. — Misha Davenport (reviewed 10/10/03)

BLOODRAYNE ( Majesco, Mature [extreme gore, violence], Xbox)

She’s young. She’s beautiful. She’s scantily clad and carrying an arsenal of weapons. Move over Lara Croft–Rayne is the new pinup in town. Part human and part vampire, Rayne was reared and trained by a secret society whose mission is to hunt down and destroy supernatural forces that threaten humanity. To explain away her bloody carnage, the game is set in the 1930s, and Rayne must stop the Nazis from using the occult to conquer the world. You have to go through two long training missions, though, before seeing your first swastika. The game, much like Rayne herself, is something of a mixed breed: part “Blade,” “Matrix” and any World War II game on the market. –Misha Davenport (10/28/02)

BLOODRAYNE 2 (Majesco; M for blood, gore, intense violence, sexual themes and strong language; Xbox)

Bloodrayne, the scantly clad heroine of the video game franchise of the same name, has certainly been all over the place. Some might say she was on the verge of being over-exposed a la the other video game character she is often compared to, Lara Croft. Rayne’s been in music videos. A film based on the franchise is currently being lensed. She’s even let it all hang out in the pages of Playboy. I think that’s a first for a video game character (though I’m not a regular reader, so it’s quite possible I missed the issue where Ms. Pac-Man took off her bow). It’s pretty evident that Majesco was more concerned with maximizing their brand-recognition than they were crafting a plot. The game’s story is the only weak point to an otherwise exciting, mature adventure. The first game had the “dhampir” (half-human/half-vampire) Rayne taking on both occult-dabbling Nazis during World War II and the vampire who raped her mother thus siring the heroine. Now that Daddy Dearest has been dispatched, the sword-wielding, Rayne has set her sights on doing a little pruning of the family tree. While beheading the remaining heads of the family, she uncovers a vampire plot to block out the sun and destroy the human race. If you’re going to steal the plot from “Blade II” at least solve its plot problems (namely, who will vampires feed on after there are no more humans?) Talk about biting the hand that feeds you. It is, however, a “Bloodrayne” game, so the plot doesn’t really matter. Much like the first game, this is purely a guilty pleasure. The action is violent, graphic and occasionally funny (Quentin Tarantino should really be directing the film). Rayne has picked up a few new skills (the ability to acrobatically leap from flag poles stands out) and new weapons (You may call her Ishmael — she wields a harpoon better than Captain Ahab ever did.). The boss levels are even easy so as not to take too much time away from the action inherent to any “Bloodrayne” game. Turn off the porch light, keep the Halloween candy for yourself and spend a few hours alone with Rayne. You’ll be glad you did. –Misha Davenport (reviewed 10/29/04)

BLOODY ROAR: PRIMAL FURY (Activision, T for Teens [blood, suggestive themes, violence], GameCube)

You have to love a game in which a giant bunnylike beast can beat up a thug. You have to love it even more if your human character can morph into said animal, performing a flurry of martial arts moves without mussing your hair, er, fur. The first traditional fighting game for GameCube, “Bloody Roar” pays homage to Japanese anime with its distinctive animation. Eyes are huge and breasts are heaving on the female characters. The men are simply animals. Gamers face off in nine arenas, each with multiple levels and walls and floors that may collapse from the fighters’ impact. Weather and sound effects add to the fun. There are buttons to control kicks, punches and other movements. But for those who can’t stand the regimen, pushing just about any combo of buttons will result in one cool move or another. –Jae-Ha Kim (reviewed 4/11/02)

BOKTAI (Konami, E for Everyone, Game Boy Advance)

Finally, a game that gets avid players off the couch and out of the house! Literally. You play as Django — the last in the line of vampire hunters. You’ve been dispatched to kill all of the immortals. Your weapon of choice? A gun that actually harnesses the sun. Game play is a cross between the dungeon searches seen in the “Legend of Zelda 2” and the stealth and ammunition aspects of “Metal Gear Solid.” The latter comes as no surprise, as the game was designed by Hideo Kojima who also created “Metal Gear Solid 2.” The characters are all well animated, and the game’s hues are soft and almost watercolor-like. Even though the game as a whole is rendered very well, you’ll still find it’s all about the sun sensor. “Boktai’s” greatest asset — the tiny black chip built into the game cartridge that detects sunlight — is also its Achilles heel. While you needn’t be outside (sunlight coming in from a window suffices), the sensor can’t be fooled by flashlights and lamps. Nothing is quite as frustrating as when you’re just about to defeat a level boss and a cloud rolls in and essentially blocks your access to ammo.  Still, clouds pass by and when the sun’s out, “Boktai” shines. –Misha Davenport (reviewed 9/26/03)

BOKTAI 2: SOLAR BOY DJANGO (Konami; T for animated blood and violence; Game Boy Advance)

The sun has faded a bit on Konami’s sequel to the game with the solar sensor built right into the cartridge. You still use sunlight stored into said sensor for the solar powered weapons you use in the game to defeat vampires and other sun-fearing ghouls. It picks up where the storyline of the original game left off with vampire hunter Django off to fight new creatures of the dark. It even gives you the chance to enter a code from the first game to upload all your weapons and experience points into the new game (a nice feature more sequels should take advantage of). So, what’s the problem? Try the weather. Chicago’s usual overcast, autumn days make playing the game nearly impossible. To make matters worse, producer and game designer Hideo Kojima has made the game harder. Unlike the first game, players can’t adjust the difficulty level and gameplay is on par with the first game’s most difficult setting. The end result is more trick and less treat. –Misha Davenport (reviewed 10/29/04)

BOMBASTIC (Capcom, E for Everyone, PlayStation 2)

This is like a weird game of Yahtzee, only with exploding dice, cutesy round-eyed creatures and a decent enough 3-D feel. Basically a puzzle game, “Bombastic” allows you to play as one of five characters. The roll of the dice determines your fate. Will you detonate or escape the dicey minefield? There are seven levels for which to strive, including the quest mode where you have to out-think enemies and scamper off before blowing up. — Jae-Ha Kim (reviewed 10/10/03)

BOMBERMAN JETTERS (Majesco; Rated E for everyone; GameCube; $19.99)

Taking off where the Bomberman Generation left off, this giddy, fun game is reminiscent of “Pokemon,” “Super Smash Bros. Melee” and “Super Monkey Ball.” The characters live in a fantastical world of water, fire, vegetation and — dun-dun-dun — the underworld. It’s your job to get from one place to the other. But don’t worry, there’s help on hand. The characters are adorable, but they’re not simple-minded. Run into a Charabom and you’re in good luck. The little critters can only be activated one at a time, though, so use them wisely. One aerobic charabom was good enough to win a gold medal for the high jump at the Olympics, but I found the critter that lets you fly to be the most beneficial. And the Bomberman himself can satiate his need for speed with a little upgrade as well as accessing a variety of potent bombs. That said, try not to blow yourself up. It’s easier to do than you’d like to believe. In one of the vignettes, the gamer is asked to round up a bunch of balloms, which are cherubic little beings who enjoy following the leader. The catch is that the more balloms you get, the slower your Bomberman becomes. But my particular favorite was the “Revenge” mode. After I accidentally blew myself up, I got to sit along the sidelines and play dodgeball with the remaining Bombermen. The revenge? My ball was a bomb, and once I hit a Bomberman, I had the option of making him switch places with me. Truth be told, it was just as fun torturing them from the sidelines. — Jae-Ha Kim (4/30/04)

BRITNEY’S DANCE BEAT (THQ, E for Everyone, PlayStation 2)

Can’t score a ticket to Britney Spears’ concert tonight at the United Center? Don’t fret. For about $49.95, you can bring Spears into your living room, courtesy of your PlayStation 2. Is the video game a good alternative for those who are ticketless? Nah. But I imagine more than a few teenage boys will like looking at the graphics as much as playing it. The celluloid Britney looks freakishly like the real thing, stiff dance moves and all. ‘Cause let’s face it, Spears is a lot of things (adorable, sweet, savvy, energetic), but she’s not the most naturally gifted dancer in the world. This game is all about style over substance. You job is to land a spot as one of her backup dancers. But unlike the cool dance-off between the Jets and the Sharks in “West Side Story,” the main competition here is yourself. You have shake you booty better than the other dancers to get past the 10 auditions. The beauty of this game is that even if you can’t dance in real life, you can shake it up like Ricky Martin with a one-two click of your fingers. But in the end, who cares? This game grows old fast. –Jae-Ha Kim (reviewed 6/20/02)

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER: CHAOS BLEEDS (Vivendi Universal, T for Teen, Xbox)

Whew–Buffy doesn’t bite. “Chaos Bleeds” is what the last “Tomb Raider” wanted to be: a great puzzle-solving, platform-jumping, fighting game. Based on the cult TV series, the game’s plot is a “lost episode” from season five. The First–the original source of pure evil–has created a dimensional bleed and it’s up to Buffy and the Scoobie gang (Xander, Willow, Spike and Faith) to once again stop the apocalypse. “Chaos Bleeds” essentially sends the TV series–which ended this year after seven seasons–out with another bang. (Rated: T for teen) –Misha Davenport (reviewed 8/29/03)

CASPER: SPIRIT DIMENSIONS (Nintendo, E for Everyone, GameCube)

How’s this for creepy: When you come right down to it, Casper is a dead baby. But unlike the cherubic cartoon character many of us grew up watching, this Casper can sport a demonic smile and a tough-guy attitude. And this is a good thing, considering that the usually friendly ghost must rid the world of some unwanted spirits.         All this would be a lot easier to do if he could bully his way through all the walls. But he’s young, so he’s only able to navigate his way through a few, which–considering this is a kids’ game–isn’t always easy to figure out. Good witch Wendy is there to help, but she grows irritating fast and you begin to wish Casper would make her disappear, too. The graphics are good, though too simplistic for older teens weaned on the likes of “Final Fantasy.” The little ones should get a kick out of this for at least a few hours. –Jae-Ha Kim (reviewed 10/28/02)

CASTLEVANIA: HARMONY OF DISSONANCE (Konami. T for Teens [violence], Gameboy Advance)

Dracula’s back and he’s kidnapped your best friend, Lydie. Never mind you look like the lead singer from Poison–you’re the one who must head back into the castle and rescue her. Crack the whip, defeat the enemies, explore the castle and rescue your girlfriend, already. Graphically, “Castlevania” is the best title for the Gameboy Advance this year. The castle is a never-ending maze of rooms, halls and courtyards that should keep you busy long after your little brother has eaten his last piece of candy and wants his Gameboy back. –Misha Davenport (reviewed 10/28/02)

CATWOMAN (EA, Rated T for mild language and violence, Playstation 2)

I’m suffering from a serious case of cat scratch fever. Halle Berry is without question one of the most beautiful women in the world. She’s leant her voice and likeness to the video game based on her latest movie, “Catwoman” and I can’t put it down. In pixilated form, Berry holds up purr-fectly well. Her cat just might replace Lara Croft as the sexiest video-game character. This game follows the plot of the film. Patience Philips (Berry) is a milquetoast graphic artist working for Hedare Beauty — a giant cosmetics company. While working on their latest campaign — a revolutionary anti-aging product — Philips inadvertently discovers the product has a deadly, long-term side effect. Company goons murder her before she can tell anyone about it. After her body washes up on the shore, a mysterious cat named Midnight breathes new life into her and Philips is reborn as Catwoman, possessing the speed, movement and agility of a cat. You control Berry as Catwoman on her mission to exact revenge. You’ll literally have to claw your way to the top — Catwoman has steel nails which enable her to scale walls and climb buildings and fences. The controls are the best part of the game. Instead of the usual button-mashing, players use the two analog sticks — the left controls movement and the right controls her whip and, when crouching like a cat ready to pounce, her highly choreographed set of combat moves. It enables you to whip or kick in every direction. Of course, this takes a bit of getting used to. I was a tad frustrated in an initial level when I had to use the whip to swing from post to post. Once I mastered it, it was as fun as web-swinging in “Spider-Man 2.” If there is one flaw, it’s in the enemy AI. Guards simply wait their turn to attack, even when they hopelessly outnumber the pretty kitty. Still, this action adventure game is the cat’s meow. Also available for GameCube, Xbox and PC. Alternative version also available for Game Boy Advance. — Misha Davenport (reviewed 7/23/04)

CHAMPIONS OF NORRATH: REALMS OF EVERQUEST (Sony Computer Entertainment; T for Teen, PlayStation 2)

Moving from one exotic setting to another, you use your sword (or other weaponry) to get from one place to another as quickly and efficiently as you can. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to advance to your next mission. If you’re not, you’ll have to listen to some guard lecture you ad nauseam. You have the option of playing as a number of heroes, both male and female. Unfortunately, the genders don’t look that different — except the women wear less clothing and are much more pneumatic-looking. The game’s developers did add a nice touch by giving players an allotment of points that may distributed as needed to increase a character’s intelligence, strength or endurance. –Jae-Ha Kim (reviewed 2/27/04)

CRASH ‘N’ BURN (Eidos Interactive, Rated T for mild violence, PlayStation 2)

The idea is to race cars and crash your competitors out of the race. Simple idea. Simple game. Unfortunately, there’s nothing more than that. The graphics are what you’d expect from a game that was more than two years old, not a 2004 title. As for the driving — well, it’s not a real driving game like NASCAR or WRC. The cars slide through burning oil and bounce off walls or each other.         The tracks are too simple to navigate and the racing is pretty pointless. If you race in the Championship series and don’t do well in a race, you have to start over. Unfortunately, you don’t have access to many racing venues until you successfully race through the series. The weakest aspect of this game is that for so simple a game, it’s only single-player, unless you want to play online. What good is a smash ’em up, crash ’em up game if you can’t send your buddy crashing into a ball of flames? –Jae-Ha Kim (reviewed 12/17/04)

CRASH TWINSANITY (Vivendi Universal; E for cartoon violence; PlayStation 2)

Trepidation abounded after the last Crash Bandicoot game, “Wrath of Cortex.” Fortunately things are much better this time. The Wicked Twins have set their sites on conquering the island Crash Bandicoot calls home. They also vow revenge on Crash’s arch-nemesis Dr. Cortex. You’ll take control of Crash, Dr. Cortex and Cortex’s goth niece, Nina, through various points in the game. You’ll also need to control Crash and Cortex simultaneously. Some of the game’s laugh-out-loud moments come when Crash sends the evil genius crashing into objects, tosses him up to objects otherwise unreachable, or even uses him as a human sled. The only things keeping this from being a great game are the camera issues that have plagued the franchise since Day One. You’ll lose many lives thanks to the shoddy in-game camera — something with which fans of the series are unfortunately far too familiar. –Misha Davenport (reviewed 10/22/04)

CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON (Ubisoft, T for Teen, PlayStation 2)

If you’re expecting a game as innovative as the film on which it’s based, you’ll be disappointed. But if you enjoy fighting — in a video game, that is — you’ll probably get a kick out of this martial-arts fighting game. You get to play as Li Mu Bai, Shu Lien or Jen, three warriors trying to retrieve the magical sword Green Destiny. The game’s selling point, unfortunately, also is its downfall. The battles are intricate and well-choreographed. However, once you figure out the right combo to fight your opponent, you have the key to winning every battle. In some cases, winning really isn’t everything. And this is a perfect example of where a little mystery would have gone a long way. — Jae-Ha Kim (reviewed 10/31/03)

CUSTOM ROBO (Nintendo; T for comic mischief and mild fantasy violence; GameCube)

When it’s robot-on-robot violence, is it really that compelling, worrisome or suspenseful? Nope. Let’s face it, these are mechanical robots we’re talking about, not brooding creatures like the one Jude Law played in “A.I.” So you lose a robo? Eh, no big deal. The premise here isn’t bad — a group of robots skitter around wreaking havoc. One, however, appears to be able to think for itself. (Insert your preferred sci-fi theory of choice here.) Unfortunately, there’s not much for gamers to think about because this is just an excuse to shoot ’em up. The main function of the game appears to be an exercise for your trigger fingers to fire away at everything in sight. While I won’t pretend that isn’t fun at times, it doesn’t sustain your interest in the long run.         It doesn’t help that the robos look suspiciously similar to one another during battles. But then again, does it really matter who wins? –Jae-Ha Kim (6/18/04)

DANCE DANCE REVOLUTION MAX 2  (Konami. E for Everyone, PlayStation 2)

“Dance, Dance Revolution Max 2” has players ditching the controller for a giant Twister-like mat with giant arrows up, down and left and right. A wide range of songs can be selected — everything from K.C. & the Sunshine Band’s “Get Down Tonight” to “Take Me Away” by 4 Strings. As the music plays, you step to the beat as arrows onscreen tell you which way to step.          What would gamers do without Konami? In the past month, Konami has gotten them off the couch and outside for some much needed sunshine (“Boktai”) and now the Japanese company succeeds in getting their heart rates up with this aerobic workout disguised as a video game. –Misha Davenport (reviewed 10/17/03)

DAVID BECKHAM SOCCER (Majesco, E for Everyone, Xbox)

David Beckham is the captain of England’s national team and probably the most famous soccer player after Pele. You’d expect great things from a game carrying his name. But you know you’re in trouble when the only thing positive you’ve written in your notes is “great soundtrack.” The end result here is a bit like France’s performance at the World Cup–overhyped and a bit of a bore. The game features decent graphics, more than 200 top international and club teams, reams of player data and a training mode. Too bad more attention wasn’t paid to game play. Controlling the players during a match was about as easy as bass fishing with spaghetti. And would it kill David to record a few lines of dialogue for the game? Oy! The boys in Manchester wouldn’t want it this way, mate. –Misha Davenport (reviewed 6/27/02)

DEAD OR ALIVE 3 (Tecmo, T for Teens [violence and mature sexual themes], Xbox)

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 (reviewed 12/20/01)

DESTRUCTION DERBY ARENAS (Gathering; Rated T for teen; PlayStation 2)

I’m torn when it comes to this game. While it’s loads of fun driving around in circles and crashing into other cars — without worrying about your insurance rates skyrocketing — it grows old fast. There’s a little bit of skill involved, but not a heck of a lot of finesse. You score points for hitting the other cars. The more complicated the crash, the more points you nab. Your high school driver’s ed instructor would be mortified, but he should take heart — the cars are too boxy to be mistaken for anything even remotely real. As for your kid brother or sister, they’ll probably think this is pretty darned cool. Too bad they’re probably too young to play it. — Jae-Ha Kim (4/30/04)

DISNEY SPORTS BASKETBALL (Konami, E for Everyone, GameCube)

Software giant Konami has taken it upon itself to answer the one question that has been plaguing mankind since 1927: Sure, the mouse is cute, but has Mickey got game? “DSB” is a kids’ game that features Mickey, Donald and others in exhibition, regular season, playoff and all-star game modes, just like the grownup titles. The two-player game was fun, especially when I played as Minnie and smacked the ball out of a certain sputtering duck’s hands, took a Hail Mary shot from midcourt and actually made the basket. The single-player games were a lot more difficult. Passing is the worst, because the player you are passing to is usually offscreen. Most of the time, the computer-controlled team ended up stealing the ball before I realized that my player was in position. It makes the game ideal for family fun (up to four can play against each other), but most kids are going to find the computer in the one-on-one mode too difficult. Now that that’s settled, we can move onto more pressing matters. Such as whether white ducks can jump. –Misha Davenport (reviewed 4/7/03)

DISNEY SPORTS FOOTBALL (Konami, E for Everyone, Gameboy Advance)

No offense meant to the female fans of Madden and other titles, but Konami may have inadvertently stumbled on a franchise that little girls will actually pick up and enjoy. That’s not to say it isn’t challenging (it is) and the plays involved don’t require knowledge of basic strategy that only comes from a few seasons of playing football (they do). The fact of the matter is that young boys who might find “Madden NFL” too complicated will pick up “Backyard Football” before they would this game, with its Disney characters. Unless they really have a desire to see Mickey mop the field with Donald Duck’s butt, of course. –Misha Davenport (reviewed 12/10/02)

DISNEY’S EXTREME SKATE ADVENTURE (Activision;E for Everyone, PS2)

Let’s call this game Tony Hawk Lite. Designed for newbie players who aren’t yet up to the task of grinding like Hawk, this Disney title offers easier tricks with some fun novelty value.       You get to take on the persona of characters like Buzz Lightyear, young Tarzan and even Simba. Is it realistic that the future Lion King is extreme skating? No, but then again he’s a talking lion.       Unlocking new levels will make you feel somewhat accomplished. But winning new clothes for your skaters is a neat little perk. The graphics pop and the sound is surprisingly realistic. –-Jae-Ha Kim

DOOM 3 Activision; M for 17 and older; blood, gore and intense violence; PC

Do not — I repeat — do not try anything cute like playing this game with the lights off and the speakers turned way up when you’re home alone. This game will scare the bejeezus out of you. Also — parents take note — this is an “M” title game, equivalent to a R-rated movie. That means it’s for players who are 17 or older, so don’t let your junior high kids play this no matter how much they beg. OK, now that I have those caveats out of the way, I can say “Doom 3” kicks major butt. This sequel to the 1990s franchise has the suspenseful intensity of a truly scary horror film and the intricate gameplay of a first-rate shooter video game. You’re a futuristic space warrior out to rid a Mars corporation of beings from hell. For real. As if that’s not enough of a problem, your nightmare kicks into high gear when your friends stop being your pals and morph into gross zombie-like monsters who hate you. Don’t be like those fools in the movies who want to see the good in their former pals. There’s none left. Kill them, and kill them fast because they won’t think twice about doing the same to you when it’s their turn to slice and dice. Note: Much of the action takes place in the dark, so be on the lookout for glowing orange eyes. Those belong to the demons, and will give you a clue as to when you’re about to be attacked. They’re not the brightest of creatures but they move surprisingly fast. Oh, and I know this is just a video game, but when your character is attacked, it’s pretty gory. And if they get you good, there’ll be too much blood and sticky parts in your eyes for you to see well. The less you protect yourself, the weaker you get, which will put an end to this game quicker than you may have liked. Clearly, “Doom 3” is not for the faint of heart. Nor is it particularly subtle. But if you like films such as “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” “Nightmare on Elm Street” or even those “Alien” flicks, you’ll probably get a kick from this well-worn franchise. –Jae-Ha Kim (reviewed 8/13/2004)

DOWNHILL DOMINATION Incog Inc. Entertainment, T for Teen, PlayStation 2)

The first downhill mountain bike racing game for PS2 rocks big time. The soundtrack gets you pumped to trick your way down the detailed mountains. The more impressive and difficult the tricks, the more points you score. The 3-D visuals are lifelike enough to make you feel as if you’re really racing through nature. But don’t get lulled by the beauty, because you’ll find yourself crunched in between a pair of bikers. –Jae-Ha Kim (reviewed 8/22/03)

DUKES OF HAZZARD: RETURN OF THE GENERAL LEE (Ubi Soft; E for alcohol reference, mild violence and suggestive themes; PlayStation 2

Let it be said I’m all for nostalgia. If someone made a Brady Bunch video game, I’d be first in line to initiate a slap fest between Peter and Bobby. But when you’re working with a kitschy series like “The Dukes of Hazzard,” it’s a shame to take such a serious approach to the game. The show wasn’t art and the game doesn’t need to be anything other than an outlet for some good ol’ boy racing. Unfortunately, it fails even in that aspect. Gameplay is uneven and the General Lee drives about as well as an out-of-gas sedan. There’s no hair-raising gameplay here, which is a shame when you’re already dealing with a couple of fluffy-haired heroes. –Jae-Ha Kim (reviewed 10/22/04)

EA SPORTS RUGBY 2004 (EA Sports, E for Everyone, PlayStation 2) 

Some 1,500 players have licensed their likenesses for this game. Chances are you won’t be familiar with any of them. But don’t let that stop you. Rugby is a tough sport that falls somewhere between the grace of soccer and the brutality of football. But it’s also fun. Don’t think that knowing how to score on Madden 2004 will help you here. Remember that your X button marks the spot for punting and you’re golden. If there’s one thing lacking, it would be the graphics, which appear less crisp than what we’ve come to expect from EA titles. (E for everyone). — Jae-Ha Kim (reviewed 10/24/03)

ESPN Major League Baseball (Sega; Rated E for everyone; PlayStation 2)

Take me out to the ballgame? How about leave me home to play “ESPN Major League Baseball”? This Sega winner is right up there with EA’s plethora of aggressive sports titles. You play as any of your favorite teams with their current real-life rosters. The controls are simple to navigate and very effective. It’s easy to steal, advance runners or even throw your heat (that’s a fastball to you, newbie) when it’s called for. As your players make the big play or drop the ball, their confidence level changes accordingly, affecting the rest of the game. Playing the game, you’ll quickly notice that the whole vibe is similar to watching a real ballgame on ESPN.  — Jae-Ha Kim (reviewed 5/21/04)

ESPN MLS EXTRATIME 2002 (Konami, E for Everyone, Xbox)

Playing a Konami sports title is akin to the U.S. competing in the World Cup. You can tell they’re trying really hard, but they’re out of their league. So, what’s good about this game? Well, I guess they deserve points for programming the Chicago Fire. Then again, there are only 10 teams in the MLS, so it’s not like they had a choice. Generic game commentary, the inability to control the direction of your pass and graphics that would hardly tax the engine of a PlayStation, let alone the more powerful Xbox–it all adds up to a red card. –Misha Davenport (reviewed 6/27/02)

ESPN NATIONAL HOCKEY NIGHT (Konami, E for Everyone, PS2)

Konami deserves to be sent to the penalty box for this one. Yes, a lot of detail went into the game, from players’ statistics to the look of both the arenas and the players themselves. Still, you don’t buy a video game for trivia or because it looks nice. You buy it to play hockey, and that’s where this game comes up short. Players were so unresponsive to my button and stick manipulation, I shouted more obscenities at them than a real NHL coach. In real hockey, players do things like race toward the puck and check someone into the boards. These features are missing from “ESPN National Hockey Night,” and the result is game play that’s less exciting than your average minor league team. –Misha Davenport (reviewed 2/21/02)

ESPN NBA 2 Night 2002 (Konami, Rated E for Everyone, PlayStation 2)

There was a moment when I thought I was watching the Three Stooges try to play basketball. The players got tangled up with each other. There was a flurry of arms and legs flailing about, but no one was getting anywhere. This may be how I play basketball in real life, but it’s not what I want in a game. Compared to the other offerings on the market, NBA 2 Night is amateur night. The players are less realistic looking, often with legs so large their heads appear pea-sized by comparison. And the movements are basic and not particularly challenging. I did enjoy playing the role of general manager, trading players and divvying up salaries. But the paperwork will just annoy some gamers, who’ll be frustrated by the front-office duties and the unfair nature of the trades–e.g., the opponents (OK, the computer) won’t offer any trades, but will just sift through your offers instead. —Jae-Ha Kim (reviewed 3/28/02)

ESPN NFL FOOTBALL (Sega, E for Everyone, Xbox)

It’s no “Madden” but you gotta give Sega’s “ESPN NFL Football” props for being innovative. The game puts players where they’ve never been before: in a first-person viewpoint that shows the field from the inside of your helmet. It’s a perspective that takes some getting used to, but it’s especially wicked when playing bone-crushing defense. Graphically, “ESPN” actually bests “Madden” in players’ facial renderings. The game also benefits from the great use of the ESPN license, which brings the cable network’s SportsCenter to your console.  It may be a rookie franchise when compared with “Madden,” but “ESPN NFL Football” is one rookie with promise. –Misha Davenport (9/12/03)

ESPN’S WINTER X GAMES SNOWBOARDING (Konami, E for Everyone, PS2)

Danny Kass just picked up a silver medal in the Olympics, so we’re inclined to award a similar medal to the Konami title because gamers have a chance to compete as him. You also have the option of starting from scratch with a lousy board and very little skills to create your own personality. The moves were trickier to execute than with “Amped,” but you have to love a game where points are awarded for charisma as well as talent. —Misha Davenport (reviewed 2/21/02)

ETERNAL DARKNESS: SANITY’S REQUIEM (Nintendo, Mature [blood, gore, violence], Gamecube)

Like to get the bejesus scared out of you? Then “Eternal Darkness” is the game for you. Each vignette brings you into a spooky new scenario. A church hides a dark secret. A girl tries to solve her grandfather’s murder. And all the while, monsters attack, forcing you to fight–or die. Each time you run into a monster, your characters chance losing a little of their sanity. Lose enough of this and you may lose your mind. Or your limbs. Or, more interestingly, turn into one of them. You may want to leave a night light on. Yes, it’s that insidiously creepy. –Jae-Ha Kim (reviewed 10/28/02)

EYE TOY: GROOVE (Sony; E for everyone; PlayStation 2)

Any misconceptions you may have about being a cool dancer will be negated when you play this harmless, but not particularly challenging game. Is it fun? Yeah, if you’re a little tipsy and enjoy karaoke-type events. But if you’re the least bit camera shy, don’t even attempt this because your image will be projected onto the TV screen as you’re busting a move. You need the Eye Toy camera to play this game, so dig up your old copy of “Play,” which came with one. Or you may purchase a bundle that includes the camera with the game. Just remember — “Groove” is unforgiving to the dance-challenged set and you might end up looking like a much more spazzy version of that frisky old man in those theme park commercials. –Jae-Ha Kim (6/11/04)

F-ZERO GX (Nintendo; T for Teen, GameCube)

Are you feeling the need for speed? If your learning curve is fast and your patience is long, the latest in Nintendo’s racing franchise may win you over. If not, you’ll get frustrated fast. Building your racing vehicles and racing them can be a blast–literally. But trying to get through all the levels can be a trying experience for the novice player. The controls seem almost too touch sensitive at times and the gears shift almost at whim. FYI: There’s no such thing as friendly fire here, so keep your eyes peeled for enemies. They’re everywhere. –Jae-Ha Kim (reviewed 9/5/03)

FIGHT NIGHT 2004 (EA Sports, Rated T for teen, PlayStation 2)

What would it have been like if Muhammad Ali had fought Sugar Ray Leonard? Yeah, yeah. I know they’re in different weight classes, but wouldn’t it have been cool? Thanks to EA Sports’ awesome new Fight Night 2004, we can find out for ourselves how these two champions would have fared against each other. We also can take on Evander Holyfield and a slew of other fighters, like Roberto Duran. One of my favorite matches was when I pitted Roberto Duran against, well, Roberto Duran. (The darned computer-controlled Duran won, by the way.) Though you don’t have a fight-club option, you can make your guys box in a dingy gym or in the opulence of something like Caesars Palace. With a few exceptions, the players’ depictions are dead-on. Ali is Ali, right down to his graceful foot movements. Leonard looked less like the handsome boxer head on, though his profile is more realistic. And when the players are hit in the head, the blood streams out at just the right moment. Then there are the ring girls, whose bodies look like real-life centerfolds. Unfortunately, their stiff mannequin faces don’t match the realism of their bodies. A nice touch is the ability to overcome a knockout. When you’re KO’d, the screen shows fuzzy multiple images of a referee. If you’re able to use your joysticks to merge those images back into one, you remain in the match. If not, you lose. The one disappointment is that when the players are knocked out, they all tend to wobble to the mat in a similar, wimpy manner. Not that he was KO’d a whole heck of a lot, but that is not how Holyfield hit the mat. –Jae-Ha Kim (reviewed 4/16/04)

FINAL FANTASY : CRYSTAL CHRONICLES (Nintendo, T for fantasy violence, GameCube)

The “Final Fantasy” series finally comes to the GameCube, albeit in a slightly altered, more kid-friendly form. Gone are the sweeping CGI cutscenes, the romance subplots between the androgynous heroes and heroines and the turn-based hitpoint combat that fans have come to expect. As a replacement, you play as a character from one of 32 characters from four different tribes. Each tribe has specialities and traits which prove useful at some point in the game. You live in a world threatened by a lethal smog-like substance called “miasma” that can only be neutralized by drops of myrrh. The graphics are gorgeous, but the single player game isn’t as much fun as multi-player. Trouble is, the multiplayer game requires all players to have a Game Boy Advance and a cable to link it to the GameCube. Still, the gameplay will hold the attention of younger gamers and fans of the series. (Rated ). — Misha Davenport (reviewed 2/6/04)

FINAL FANTASY TACTICS ADVANCE (Konami, E for Everyone, Game Boy Advance)

With its epic storytelling and battles, “Final Fantasy Tactics Advance” can best be described as a cross between Michael Ende’s classic novel “The Neverending Story” and Mel Gibson’s 1995 film, “Braveheart.” Marche is the new kid in a small country town called St. Ivalice. The first mission – a snowball fight in the schoolyard – not only gets you accustomed to the game’s controls, it also immediately reveals who are your friends. They include Ritz, the sassy, strong-willed tomboy, and the often-picked-on Mewt. After finding and reading from a tome named after the gang’s favorite game, “Final Fantasy,” Marche finds himself transported from the normal world of St. Ivalice into the mythical world of Ivalice. As you try to find your way back to the realworld, you must complete missions (sometimes quests, but usually fights) to earn money that you then use to upgrade your skills and those of your fighting clan. “Final Fantasy Tactics Advance” is a turn-based combat game that also happens to be the the best-looking title out for the GBA right now. Since it offers 30-50 hours of game play, you’ll find yourself – like Marche – getting lost in the colorful world of Ivalice. –Misha Davenport (reviewed 9/19/03)

FULL SPECTRUM WARRIOR (THQ, Rated M for blood, gore and violence, Xbox)

“The enemy is anybody who’s going to get you killed, no matter which side he’s on.” – — Joseph Heller, Catch-22

“Full Spectrum Warrior” is not a particularly enjoyable game, but that’s exactly the way it should be. “Warrior” began as computer simulator commissioned by the U.S. Army to ready troops for combat in urban areas, where danger literally lurks behind every building corner. It neither romanticizes nor fictionalizes the combat experience. Everything is deadly serious, because the men and women who initially commanded the pixilated soldiers in the simulation are now responsible for the life and safety of our troops.         The action in this real-time, military-strategy game takes place in the fictional country of Zekistan. The fanatical ruler of that country — Mohammad Jabbour Al Afad — has ticked off both the United Nations and NATO by offering sanctuary for members of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath party and ex-Taliban.

There is an initial training mission that is quite long. Consider it boot camp, soldier. While the game controls are not complicated, it’s the only way to really familiarize yourself with them. You give orders to two four-member teams on missions both day and night, contending not only with the hostile enemy but also the environment with its rain, heat and sandstorms. The eight men you are responsible for are neither nameless nor faceless. They have wives, girlfriends and families. They joke with one another and have hopes, dreams and aspirations for life beyond the combat zone.The game ends when more than one of your men gets injured, you accidentally kill one of your medics, or one of your men dies. Unfortunately, that’s where the game’s realism stops. There would be no need for war memorials if we could only hit reset. — Misha Davenport (6/18/04)

FUTURAMA (Vivendi Universal, T for Teen, Xbox)

Evil businesswoman Mom now owns 51 percent of Earth, making her supreme ruler. It’s up to the gang at Planet Express–Fry, Leela and Bender–to stop her. Based on the underrated (and now canceled) Fox TV show, the game features the writing and voice talent from the series and its 3-D cell shading mimics the show’s look. While the show was innovative, game levels are repetitive. “Futurama” doesn’t bring anything new to the platform genre save for the show’s humor and wit. For die-hard fans only. –Misha Davenport (reviewed 8/22/03)

GAME BOY ADVANCE VIDEO: THE FAIRLY ODDPARENTS! VOLUME (Majesco; GBA)

Somehow, Majesco has managed to cram 45 minutes’ worth of full-color video into the compact GBA cartridge, and we couldn’t be happier. We reviewed “The Fairly OddParents! Volume 2” — one of 10 titles now available. The volume contained four full-length cartoons from the hit Nickelodeon show. Sound quality was decent and though the GBA screen offers a less-than-DVD-quality picture, at $19.99 it’s cheaper than buying a portable DVD player and movie. Unlike a portable DVD player, the GBA video didn’t skip once during all the bumps and shakes of a recent morning L commute. Majesco has hinted that it may soon push the technology to hold 90 minutes of content, which would put full-length features in the palms of gamers’ hands. For now, we’ll settle for 45 minutes of cartoon bliss. — Misha Davenport (reviewed 5/14/04)

GAMEDAY 2004 (989 Sports, E for Everyone, PlayStation 2)

GameDay is kind of the Jan Brady of football games. It’s not bad, but it’s still a few steps behind the Madden franchise. That said, kudos go out to 989 Sports for improving its line. While the gameplay is similar to last year’s version, the graphics and sound are much improved. The players’ faces pop on screen as they grunt through the game. But if you’re not well-versed at the rules of football, you may run into some problems because this game isn’t forgiving to newbies. It won’t assume you meant to intercept a pass unless you actively go for it with the controls. (Rated E for everyone) –Jae-Ha Kim (reviewed 9/19/03)

GRAND THEFT AUTO: SAN ANDREAS (Rockstar Games, M for blood and gore, intense violence, strong language, strong sexual content and drug use, Playstation 2)

While 2004 has been a strong year for video games, it’s one of the latest releases that has truly made an impact on me. Regular readers of this column won’t be surprised to learn that my pick for game of the year is Rockstar’s “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.” I’m a big fan of the series and am happy to report this one is easily the strongest in the franchise. The game feels like an interactive cinematic experience. The game is well thought out and impeccably executed in every way, from the graphics to the story line to the music. The developers of the game have a knack for picking the appropriate music (and talk radio) to set up scenes. it’s obvious they’ve put some thought into the task rather than relying on the cheapest tunes available or, worse yet, Muzak. In the past, the franchise has come under attack for a variety of reasons. Italian-American groups bristled that the games perpetuated negative “Godfather” type stereotypes. Parents worried their young children would become violent after playing the games. Never mind that it’s an M title — appropriate only for ages 17 and up — the equivalent of a R-rated film. Here, the antihero is a young African-American character named CJ. Just when he thought he had escaped the hell he grew up in (i.e. the fictional state of San Andreas, which to me sounds more like a city than a state), he gets sucked back in after attending his mother’s funeral. Thanks to a couple of corrupt cops who frame him for crimes he didn’t commit, CJ is forced to break the law to clear his name. SPOILER ALERT: The crooks actually are the dirty cops who are quite clever and nefarious in the way they lay the blame on CJ. At one point, I had to hijack a police motorcycle in order to escape wrongful arrest. The chase was awesome — more thrilling than anything you’ve seen on “Cops” and, oddly enough, more realistic. Gamers don’t need to be lectured in a video game, and “San Andreas” makes no attempt to guilt us into any sense of morality. But the characters and their motives are so well thought out that we get it. Sometimes crime pays. And other times it ends up being a means to clearing our names.  — Jae-Ha Kim (reviewed 12/24/04)

GRAND THEFT AUTO III (Rockstar, Mature [17+ for blood, strong language, violence], PlayStation 2)

Think of this as the equivalent of a R-rated film in the “GoodFellas” tradition. Don’t let the little ones anywhere near this game. It’s designed for adults and should only be played by those who are at least 17 years old. A crook is set up by his girlfriend in a bleak metropolis called Liberty City. Our antihero is anything but liberated. He has to outwit fellow criminals and the police by performing tasks–stealing cars, beating up people, even murder–that will get him in good graces of the Mafia, possibly the only organization that can protect him. Every detail has been addressed here, from the pumping soundtrack (Gangstarr’s Guru is a standout) to the celebrity voices (Joe Pantoliano, Kyle MacLachlan, Debi Mazar) to the exceptional plot. There are other excellent touches, as well. Pedestrians flip the bird at drivers who clip them on the street. Doors that haven’t been shut flap in the wind. And helicopters circle you when you don’t run away fast enough. –Jae-Ha Kim (reviewed 4/11/02)

GRAND THEFT AUTO: VICE CITY (Rockstar Games, Mature [blood and gore, violence, strong language, strong sexual content], PlayStation 2

You are Tommy Vercetti. Never mind that you look like the love child of Don Johnson and Steven Seagal and sound like Ray Liotta (who voices the character). Life seems like it’s going to improve 10-fold. You’ve just been released from the joint after having served a 15-year stint. And because you kept your mouth shut, the mob is about to reward you with a few choice operations of your own. So begins Grand Theft Auto: Vice City–one of the year’s most anticipated video games. It doesn’t matter if you’re an expert gamer or a novice dude. The latest game in this franchise is a must have. The game is so well-crafted it sucks you in faster than the squealing cars being chased by the cops. Speaking of which, the vehicles here are plentiful. Sure, you can put in a good chase by foot, but why bother when you can steal a motorcycle (which is deceptively difficult to steer) or bully someone into “lending” you their ride. You’ll want to–no, make that need to–devote at least a couple of hours to this choice game. Fast moving, smart and stylized, Vice City is slick and fun. That said, it’s also violent (think “Good-Fellas”) and intended for a 17-and-up age group.         But there’s humor infused into the plot as well. In the pizza delivery vignette, pies are hurled in the same manic way that bullets are shot out of guns. Oddly enough, though, for a game that pays such meticulous attention to detail, the characters’ hands appear deformed. The fingers aren’t mobile, so they all paw at the air as if they’re wearing fingerlike mittens. Set in the 1980s, Grand Theft Auto has a look and feel that are dead-on, including a soundtrack that’ll bring you back to a time when big hair and pastel suits were all the rage. Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” sets the mood during one chase, and the talk radio option is a blast. The game also has some other nice touches. Gary Busey, Dennis Hopper and Deborah Harry all lend their vocal talents. But two of the nicer turns belong to Philip Michael Thomas (of “Miami Vice” fame) and porn star Jenna Jameson, who voices a character named Candy Suxxx. Did I mention there are some bada-bing, bada-boom moments in a strip club? –Jae-Ha Kim (reviewed 11/1/02)

HITMAN: CONTRACTS (Eidos; Rated M for blood, gore, intense violence, strong language, strong sexual content and drug use; Xbox)

As one would imagine, the job of hitman varies substantially than — say, the fry guy at McDonald’s. Sure, there isn’t an equivalent assassin lunch time rush, but the job isn’t without it’s own set of pressures and stressing situations. Agent 47 –the bald-headed, Armani suit-wearing killer-for-hire is back with a host of open-ended missions. And that’s a good thing. Anybody can fire a gun or use dental floss to strangle a target. To get the attention and admiration of your peers –not to mention that coveted Hitman of the Year award at the annual convention– why, that takes finesse! Thankfully, the game is chocked full of some of the most creative ways to do in pesky international terrorists, sleazy politicians and back-stabbing crime bosses (meat hook, pool cuestick or pillow –I just can’t decide). As many paths there are to take in completing your objective, Eidos is determined to make an honest hitman out of you. Unlike the “Grand Theft Auto” series, “Hitman” frowns on killing innocent bystanders and your scores on levels will definitely reflect it if you’ve had a lot of senseless, sloppy kills. Which, if you think about it, is the way it should be. A hitman gets paid for eliminating a specific target. Killing anyone else amounts to a “freebie.” Having said all that, like “GTA” this game is definitely for the 17 and over crowd. It’s plot and action are equal parts “The Godfather” and “Reservoir Dogs.” The graphics are a bit darker this time around. The game makes better use of light and shadow which suits both the stealth aspect of the gameplay itself as well as some of the more seedier scenes in it. While darker in both mood, graphics and tone than the previous games in the series, “Hitman” like Agent 47 himself, hits the mark. –Misha Davenport (reviewed 5/28/04)

HOOLIGANS–STORM OVER EUROPE (Hip, Mature, PC)

Speaking of a riot, the most notorious game of the year in Europe now has invaded U.S. shores, with all of its trademark madness, murder and mayhem intact. This isn’t a game about the sport; it’s about the rabid fans who will do anything (and I mean anything) to make sure their club makes it to the match. This real-time strategy game is divided into 11 missions. On one of the first levels, I had to keep French hooligans from trashing my team’s bus as it made its way to the hotel. Once at the hotel, I had to patrol the grounds to keep rivals from making too much noise and thus disturbing my team’s rest before the big game. Along the way, I fought, looted and recruited (you’d be amazed how many people will join your gang simply because you bought them a round at the pub). Yes, the game is filled with lawless abandon, but I loved every insane minute of it. –Misha Davenport (reviewed 6/27/02)

HOUSE OF THE DEAD III ( Sega, Mature [blood, gore, violence], Xbox

I’m a little confused why this game–the latest in Sega’s franchise–is even called “House of the Dead.” Granted, there are dead people (and lots of them), but the game doesn’t take place in a house; it’s a top-secret research facility. “Covert Science Lab of the Dead” just doesn’t sound as cool, I guess. Despite the title, “Dead” is a gorgeous-looking third-person horror shooter. There aren’t many surprises here, but your trigger finger will certainly be happy. Added bonuses to make it worth the price: A full version of “House of the Dead II” is playable after you finish “Dead III,” and there’s also behind-the-scenes footage from the “House of the Dead” movie that will drag itself into theaters next summer. –Misha Davenport (reviewed 10/28/02)

IN-FISHERMAN FRESHWATER TROPHIES (Take 2 Interactive; E for everyone; PC)

Part of the fun of fishing is the whole experience — figuring out what kind of bait to use, picking the perfect spot to fish and then taking your photo afterward with the big catch of the day. While this video game offers a decent enough simulation of what kinds of freshwater fish are out there, it lacks the spontaneity of a real fishing expedition. And for sports-related video games, that is an integral component for their enjoyment. What would a Madden video game be like if it didn’t simulate pro football? That said, the graphics are crisp and the fish do look realistic. The developers also know how to set the mood of the day, from bright sunny skies to ominous dark clouds. But playing this game left me wanting to go out to fish for real, rather than sitting inside faking it. –Jae-Ha Kim (reviewed 8/20/2004)

INDIANA JONES AND THE EMPEROR’S TOMB (Lucas Arts; T for Teen, Playstation 2)

Indiana Jones never fought this well, or dirty, in his feature films. Yes, there’s a threadbare storyline involving our good doctor, an ancient Chinese secret (in this case, a priceless artifact that has the ability to control people – kind of like the precious ring in “the Lord of the Rings”) and Nazis who want to thwart his quest. But this game is all about the action. Kick! Punch! Attack! Down goes a Nazi. Oops, same for the Chinese gang thugs. You’ll travel to exotic locales like Prague and open up a can of whup-ass there, too. –Jae-Ha Kim (reviewed 9/19/03)

INSIDE PITCH 2003 (Microsoft, E for Everyone, Xbox)

The only good thing I can say about “Inside Pitch 2003” is the ballparks are detailed. No franchise mode, poor player animation and the pitcher’s stamina bar that doesn’t work–I depleted the meter and the guy was still throwing 100 percent of his pitches. “IP” is definitely minor league. –Misha Davenport (reviewed 7/14/03)

JAK II  (Sony. T for Teen, PlayStation 2)

One of the most anticipated games for the PlayStation 2 this holiday, “Jak II” doesn’t disappoint. After being sucked into the wormhole, Jak and Daxter find themselves in a strange city ruled with an iron fist by the evil Baron Praxis. Jak gets captured and subjected to experimental injections of a substance called “Dark Echo.” The substance has given him new powers, but at a terrible price — if left unchecked, his new abilities will lead to madness. But Jak has other things on his mind — like revenge. After Dax helps him escape, the pair set out on a mission of extracting retribution from the tyrannical Baron. “Jak II” is a mission-based platform game that offers something for everyone. In addition to standard platform fare of jumping and running, there’s shooting, racing and even a bit of “Crazy Taxi” shuttling of passengers. The graphics are outstanding. The colorful cheeriness of the first game are replaced by a more gritty post-apocalyptic world that suit the plot of this game well. “Jak II” is a definite must-have. –Misha Davenport (reviewed 10/17/03)

JAK 3 (Sony; T for comic mischief, language, mild violence and suggestive themes, PlayStation 2)

The “Jak and Daxter” trilogy took a decidedly darker turn with last year’s “Jak II,” the follow-up to 2001’s successful game that introduced the duo to gamers. Gone were the cartoonish colors and settings of the initial game, replaced with a brooding hero liberating a “Road Warrior” type town called Haven City from the totalitarian rule of Barron Praxis. Had it not been for Jak’s wisecracking sidekick, the half-weasel and half-otter Daxter — who remains one of my favorite video game sidekicks of all time — “Jak II” might have been a bit too dark for most gamers. Things don’t lighten up in the final entry, either. Thankfully, Daxter’s one-liners once again manage to keep the plot from delving into darker (and decidedly un-fun) territory. The game begins with the pair wearing out the heroes’ welcome they received upon returning to Haven City at the end of “Jak II.” Three groups are now vying to control the city. They include Errol and the Metal Heads from the second game and Count Veger, a kind of uber-corrupt city alderman-type guy. After the palace is attacked and destroyed, faster than you can say Patriot Act, Veger blames Jak for the deed and succeeds in banishing our pair, along with the half-monkey, half-macaw Pecker, to the outlands where they are left for dead. They are rescued from the desert by a group of nomadic warriors, who take the trio in. The major theme of the first game was redemption. The second had revenge as the overall arch. The third (and reported final) entry focuses on rebirth. Jak — who had been subjected to dark eco experiments in the second game that altered both mood and ability — picks up light eco abilities that balance things out. Game play remains unchanged from the second game, with the exception of the addition of dune buggy driving and Jak’s light eco abilities. Graphics are also on par with the second entry, though Jak’s light eco abilities do provide for some stunning new visuals that I won’t spoil here. The game’s biggest strength remains its storyline and abundant cut-scenes (there’s still about 90 minutes of cinematics in between the 12-15 hours of game play). You can even unlock DVD-type animator commentary to play over the scenes. Of course, some hard-core gamers will argue this is more of a movie than it is a game. The final entry does very little to attract a new audience. (Let’s face it, very few people come into a trilogy at the tail end, anyway.) For fans, “Jak 3” brings the series to a satisfying conclusion, though. –Misha Davenport (reviewed 12/3/04)

JAMES BOND 007 IN AGENT UNDER FIRE (Electronic Arts, T for Teens [for suggestive themes and violence], PlayStation 2

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 (reviewed 12/20/01)

JET LI: RISE TO HONOR (Sony Computer Entertainment, T for violence, PlayStation 2)

The graphics are great and the fighting can be thrilling. But overall, this game doesn’t realize its potential and is too repetitive to be a truly fun game. There are times when you would just like to fight the dude who’s attacking, but you really can’t effectively battle until you do what you’re supposed to do first. For instance, I had no idea I was supposed to throw the guy over the wall, rather than into it. Also, you know how films are full of fight scenes where a gang surrounds the hero, but only fights him one at a time, which gives him plenty of time to whoop all their butts? It’d be nice to get the opportunity to fight them together and see who the real master is. (Rated T for violence) — Jae-Ha Kim (3/5/04)

JET SET RADIO FUTURE(Sega, T for Teens [explicit lyrics and violence], Xbox)

Can I highly recommend a game in which the sole purpose of the characters is to spray graffiti all over Neo-Tokyo? Granted, the characters are doing it in order to bring down a corrupt government (though I’m not sure just how threatening graffiti is to a party’s political longevity). Still, I can just see the flood of letters about how I’m encouraging this behavior. Relax, people. It’s just a game. And a darn good one, too. There is almost no learning curve. Within minutes, your character is roller-blading on rails and spray-painting with ease. Bonus points to the cel-shaded graphics that make the game feel like one long anime and the Dolby soundtrack of mixes by the Latch Brothers that you actually don’t mind hearing. I was instantly addicted. Sega’s Dreamcast video game system may have failed, but with titles like “JSRF,” the company’s future remains bright. —Misha Davenport (reviewed 4/11/02)

KARAOKE REVOLUTION VOLUME 2 (Konami; Rated E; PlayStation 2)

I’m no pop music critic, but me thinks Konami has hit a sour note with Volume 2 of “Karaoke Revolution.” Though revolution is in the title, there isn’t anything revolutionary about it. It feels more like an expansion pack than a new game. Despite the addition of quick play, which enables you to select and sing along with a single song like a real karaoke machine, the core game play remains unchanged. The ability to purchase and download additional content is suspiciously missing. What’s left is a hodgepodge of 35 new songs to select from with an emphasis on current hits like Britney Spears’ “Toxic” and ’70s tunes like the Steve Miller Band’s “The Joker.” It’s a good thing they added quick play. If your musical tastes run like mine, you might only find one song worth crooning.— Misha Davenport (reviewed 7/23/04)

KIM POSSIBLE 2: DRAKKEN’S DEMISE (Disney Interactive; E for everyone; Game Boy Advance)

Kim Possible is kind of a mix between Sabrina the teenage witch and Buffy the vampire slayer. Cute, perky and very athletic, this cartoon character is a popular high school cheerleader by day and a crime fighter at night. Instead of just knocking out the bad guys, she cartwheels and does back handsprings to set up her neat little jabs. Implausible? Perhaps, but not impossible for our little Kim. Fans of the animated Disney show will be familiar with our heroine, as well as the spunky music in the background. The designers of the video game are the same ones who created “Ice Age,” so it looks fabulous. The one problem with this game is that while its cartoon look obviously is aimed at the young audience the TV show caters to, the gameplay may be a little too difficult for the little ones to maneuver their way through. –Jae-Ha Kim (reviewed 8/20/2004)

KINGDOM HEARTS (Squaresoft, E for Everyone, PS2)

Squaresoft, the company behind the hit “Final Fantasy” series, teamed up with Disney for “Kingdom Hearts.” Just about every Disney animated character turns up, and that’s only half the fun. The end result is over 40 hours of pure gaming bliss. —Misha Davenport (reviewed 12/22/02)

KIRBY & THE AMAZING MIRROR (Nintendo; E for mild cartoon violence; Game Boy Advance)

A creature called Dark Mind has invaded Mirror World and now mirrors reflect only a person’s inner darkness. First to fall victim is Meta Knight, who isn’t transformed into Dark Meta Knight He sets the game off by slicing our pink, bloblike hero Kirby into four different Kirbys. The quartet must investigate Mirror World and reverse the curse before it spreads home to Dream Land. The latest Kirby adventure features immense worlds to explore and new copy abilities, including arrow shooting. (Kirby has the ability to copy foe’s moves). Mini-games like “Speed Eaters” offer a respite from regular gameplay. The only thing keeping this from being a really great game is the amount of backtracking you’ll need to do in some levels. (Rated ) –Misha Davenport (reviewed 11/12/04)

LAW & ORDER: JUSTICE IS SERVED (Legacy Interactive; T for Teen; PC)

Doing Dong! Unless you haven’t watched TV in the last few years, you’re probably familiar with the foreboding two-note intro that starts every episode of “Law & Order” and its spin-offs. The latest in the “Law & Order” PC game franchise takes you into the world of an Anna Kournikova-ish tennis star who is found dead the day before she’s supposed to play at a big tournament. Was she killed by an ex-lover? An angry coach? One of her fans? Just as on the TV show, you’ll be thrown a few curves. The game features the voices of the actors who portray the characters on the TV series. Some of them are even better in the game than on TV. While Elisabeth Rohm comes across as one-dimensional on the show as attorney Serena Southerlyn, her stiffness works surprisingly well in a video game. –Jae-Ha Kim (reviewed 10/15/04)

LEGEND OF ZELDA (Nintendo; E for mild fantasy violence; GBA)

It’s hard to believe I got as lost in this game as I did when it was first released in 1987. Yet, the world of “Zelda” — though crude by today’s graphics — is still immense, with seemingly endless patches of forest and mazes of rooms in several dungeons. Very little of the plot is revealed in game — it’s in the game manual. But fans won’t need to read it. It’s the plot of just about every Zelda game: some evil punk has kidnapped/imprisoned Princess Zelda, a hero must rise to combat the evil, etc. In 1987, it was original. Pity Nintendo recycled it so much that it now seems cliched. Still, “Zelda” is an essential old-school game that’s to be admired for once being innovative. Now if Nintendo would only give us something new to enjoy… — Misha Davenport (6/18/04)

LEGEND OF ZELDA: FOUR SWORDS ADVENTURE (Nintendo; E for mild fantasy violence; GameCube)

Just when you thought Nintendo had sucked all the marrow out of the bone that is “The Legend of Zelda” franchise, here comes a heaping help of game goodness. Despite an over-reliance on the gimmick of GameCube/Game Boy Advance connectivity, “Four Swords” shows our hero’s blade remains sharp. Link is called back into to once again save boy Princess Zelda and her kingdom of Hyrule. The evil wind demon Vaati has escaped from his prison and kidnapped Zelda and six of her Shrine Maidens. To even up the fight, Link takes hold of the Four Sword, splitting himself into four colored copies of himself. In single-player mode, you control all four Links. Multiplayer has each player controlling his or her own Link. Before you call three friends over for a Zelda fest, you’ll need to make sure everyone owns a GBA and a cable to hook the GBA into the GameCube. One cable comes included with the game, but your friends will need to bring their own, Still, there’s really no other way the multiplayer game could have been done and still allow the freedom of individual movement. As a result, you can enter a cave while the rest of your party is still in the woods. You just shift your eyes from the TV to the GBA screen for your personalized adventure and rejoin the group (and return to watching the TV) when you’re ready. The game shifts seemlessly from TV to GBA screen without any lag. Of course, this was achieved at the expense of the graphics. Those expecting the lush richness seen in “Zelda: Wind Waker” are in for a bit of a disappointment. Graphics have been dumbed down to the level of the GBA. Despite these limitations, the game does serve up “Zelda’s” trademark blend of hack and slash adventure and puzzle-solving gameplay in eight immense worlds — each containing three stages that amount to over 20 hours of gameplay.  –Misha Davenport (6/11/04)

LETHAL SKIES (ELITE PILOT: TEAM SW) (Sammy, E for Everyone [mild language, violence], PlayStation 2)

Visually, “Lethal Skies” could not look any better. Never mind that I went off the radar more than a few times. This combat game offers a realistic view that will make nervous flyers jittery. Set in the bleak future, the game has a “Top Gun” feel to it that capitalizes on technology. The replay capability offers multiple angles depicting how you flew and where you went off course. But where it’s lacking is in the small details. While the plane is strikingly real, the pilot has to land it on the aircraft carrier minus a catch wire, because there is no catch wire. And, as anyone who has watched “JAG” knows, no catch wire-no plane landing (at least on a carrier). By the time you figure out how to actually land the thing, you’ve already crashed. –Jae-Ha Kim (reviewed 4/11/02)

LIFELINE (Konami, Rated M for blood and violence, PS2)

Set 25 years from now, “Lifeline” begins with the opening reception for the first space station hotel. Before dignitaries and the press can raise a glass in toast, the Christmas Eve celebration quickly turns into a bloodbath as alien creatures forego the buffet line and cash bar to make dinner of the invited guests. Separated from your girlfriend Naomi, you wake up to find yourself locked in a control room and the monitors are focused on a locked holding cell where Rio — a blonde cocktail waitress from the party calls out on her headset to you — her lifeline. In addition to your controller, “Lifeline” utilizes the USB microphone headset (I played the game with both the “SOCOM” headset and the “Karaoke Revolution” one — either works). Incorporating the headset into the game could have easily come off as a mere gimmick, but thanks to the superb plot, it’s intricate to the storyline and makes sense. Voiced by Kristin MIller ( D.D Cummings on the syndicated show “She Spies”), Rio is clearly more than just a cocktail waitress and her true identity is revealed throughout the game. For reasons that are explained later, Rio needs your help to find a reporter and you need Rio to find Naomi and spring you from the locked control room. On your part, you’ll utilize the headset to feed Rio commands. She recognizes over 5,000 words and 100,000 phrases, but you’ll probably find yourself using “run,” “shoot” and dodge” the most as you guide her through this science fiction/horror survival game. Of course, your success is tied heavily into your ability to enunciate clearly at all times. Not exactly easy when four or five creatures have cornered poor Rio and you get caught up in the moment and shout unintelligible commands. It’s also a bit frustrating getting her to investigate something when you can’t tell what the object is (“Thing? What thing? What are you talking about?”). Still, it’s a particularly satisfying experience overall. You actually do start caring about Rio as a character and oddly enough, though it’s a one player game, by the game’s end, it feels like you’ve played as part of a team. — Misha Davenport (reviewed 3/5/04)

THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE THIRD AGE (Electronic Arts, PlayStation 2, Rated T for violence)

“Lord of the Rings” junkies undoubtedly picked up copies of the extended version DVD of “Return of the King” on Tuesday. As if 50 extra minutes of movie wasn’t enough, now’s their chance to play the latest LOTR video game. Ian McKellan (a k a Gandalf) is on hand to narrate the game, which embellishes on the Tolkien trilogy with an entertaining twist on what may have happened after the ring was destroyed. But here, the plot doesn’t revolve around Aragorn, Legolas and the hobbits, but rather a Gondorian warrior named Berethor who forms his own fellowship. The “Queer Eye” guys will be pleased to find that the fierce warrior’s “look” can change, depending on the weapons he acquires.  –Jae-Ha Kim (reviewed 12/17/04)

LORD OF THE RINGS: TWO TOWERS (Electronic Arts, T for Teen, PS2)

Electronic Arts plunges you into the battles that make the current film in the franchise so compelling, with clips from the film. The game also includes interviews with the film’s cast and crew, production designs and more–all unlockable as you play through the game. One game is truly lord above all. —Misha Davenport (reviewed 12/22/02)

LUPIN THE THIRD: TREASURE OF THE SORCERER KING (Bandai, Rated T for mild language and violence, PlayStation 2)

Created in 1967 for a manga (Japanese comic book), Lupin draws inspiration from Maurice Leblanc’s books about the gentleman thief Arsene Lupin as well as Ian Fleming’s James Bond. While popular in Japan, Lupin is more of a cult hit in the U.S., where an anime series is featured on Cartoon Network’s “Adult Swim” line-up of mature cartoons. Your mission in the game is to steal the treasure of a mystical king, relying on stealth movement and disguises to avoid detection by guards and chief nemesis Inspector Zenigata. The game does a great job of capturing both the anime style and humor of the television series, but those unfamiliar with the cartoon will find the core gameplay — solving puzzles in one room with clues you find in another — to be a bit of a bore. –Misha Davenport (reviewed 2/27/04)

MADDEN NFL 2002 (EA Sports, E for Everyone, Xbox)

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 (reviewed 12/20/01)

MADDEN NFL 2003 (EA Sports, E for Everyone, PlayStation 2)

This may be the 13th Madden title, but there’s nothing unlucky about it. Madden continues to lead the video gridiron league with graphics and sound that sometimes make you forget you’re playing a game and not watching “Monday Night Football.” Like any good football franchise, EA Sports continues to build on the strengths of the previous versions with new features and enhancements. This year, there’s Football 101, where John Madden walks you through specific plays, advises when and how to throw a pass and–in my case–offers post-play analysis to tell me what I did wrong. For those who plunked down the cash for the PS2’s online adapter and a broadband subscription, there’s also the option of playing people from across the country. Madden proves yet again it’s the Super Bowl champ of football titles. –Misha Davenport (reviewed 12/10/02)

MADDEN NFL 2004 (EA Sports, E for Everyone, Playstation 2)

Cool graphics, easy-to-follow directions and John Madden’s colorful commentary all make this franchise the best football game on the market. The attention to detail–from the players to the stadiums–is amazing. Speaking of which, Soldier Field has never looked so good. If the actual seating proves to be anything like that in the game, fans will have a better view all around. The rosters are as current as possible, making it a fun challenge to see whether you’re a better Brian Urlacher than, say, the linebacker in a real football game. The playmaker option–which allows you to use one control stick to change the offense’s direction–is a nice addition, and the instant replays are an awesome touch. Also nice is the “Ask Madden” button, which offers helpful advice that’ll ensure that every player has game.  –Jae-Ha Kim (reviewed 8/15/03)

MARIO GOLF: TOADSTOOL TOUR (Nintendo, E for Everyone, GameCube)

Nintendo’s mascot Mario has a little Tiger Woods in him. He’s joined on the tour with several of Nintendo’s other popular characters in this colorful golf game. Up to four players can tee off in head-to-head competitions, or you can play solo and compete for trophies. Golfers will find some of the game’s automatic club selections interesting, but trust the game. Use that 5-iron even if you’re certain you’d use a sand wedge. (Rated: ) –Misha Davenport (reviewed 8/15/03)

MARIO PINBALL LAND (Nintendo; E for comic mischief; Game Boy Advance)

Mario the plumber has been everything from kart racer to champion golfer. As a pinball, I wouldn’t recommend he quit his day job. The plot is standard Mario fare. The princess is kidnapped. Mario has to collect coins, stars and keys to free her –only this time as a pinball. Would it kill Nintendo to add just a hint of authentic pinball action in their pinball games? “Mario Pinball Land” not only suffers from the inability to tilt, as seen in last year’s “Pokemon Pinball Ruby & Sapphire,” it’s missing the ability to bump the table entirely. Don’t even get me started on the absence of ramps or rails. Without these pinball standards, the game falls flat. –Misha Davenport (reviewed 10/15/04)

MARIO VS. DONKEY KONG (Nintendo, Rated E for mild cartoon violence, Nintendo Advance)

First it was all about love. This time it’s about the benjamins. In 1981, “Donkey Kong” invaded arcades, became an instant classic and changed Nintendo — the company that made the game– from a playing card company to a video game giant. The plot featured a tiny guy in overalls and a cap (he was unnamed at first, the name “Mario” would come later) facing off against a giant ape Both man and ape are enamored with the little guy’s girlfriend Pauline — the ape going so far as to kidnap her. My, how times have changed. Pauline hasn’t been seen since. Mario and Donkey Kong finally face off again, but this time the motivation is money. The Kongster has figured out the perfect way to fill his cupboard with bananas –steal the hot-selling wind-up Mini-Marios from the toy shop and sell them on the black market. Of course, Mario is determined to keep the ape from monkeying in on his business. There are ladders to climb, springs to jump on, and conveyor belts to run across like in the original “Donkey Kong. There’s also a bit of “Donkey Kong Jr.” in here with Mario climbing ropes and dropping hanging fruit onto enemies below. What’s new is the introduction of strategy. There are six worlds, each with six levels. Most are made up of two boards. The first features a key and a locked door that the key opens. Fetching the key and getting it to the door usually require the manipulation of switches that turn on and off certain barriers. On the second board, you need to retrieve the Mini-Mario to move onto the next level. The final two levels on each world consist of returning the Mini-Marios to a toy chest and a boss battle with your old nemesis. The game features bright colors with both title characters nicely rendered in 3D. Each of the levels are unique, so you won’t tire of the game. This platform/puzzle game doesn’t disappoint –Misha Davenport (reviewed 5/21/04)

MECHASSAULT (Microsoft, T for Teen, XBox)

Published by Microsoft, this game is actually the product of the Chicago-based, independent game developer Day 1 Studios. Don’t think we’ve included it simply because of hometown pride. “MechAssault” left us dizzy, tired and with blistered thumbs and we don’t regret a single destructive moment. There’s more to this game than just the usual third-person action shooter. Much more. The campaign mode has 20 single player missions that put you in command of a dozen “Mechwarriors,” or Mechs for short. The Mechs are robotic tank-like vehicles and each has varying capabilities and weapons, but all were built for destruction. You’re free to roam the heavily-detailed landscapes, destroying everything from bridges to buildings. Heck, you can even squash the puny street lamps if you want. Just when you think the mindless destruction couldn’t get any better, you realize the campaign mode is also perfect for training you for the real reason to buy this game: online mayhem. When played through Xbox Live, the game offers you head-to-head combat with players from around the U.S. Expect to have your butt kicked the first few rounds of online play. Before you know it, you’ll be blasting your way to victory in this highly addictive game. –Misha Davenport (reviewed 12/22/02)

MEGA MAN ZERO 2  (Capcom, E for Everyone, Game Boy Advance)

This game is hard. That said, it shouldn’t deter you from picking up the game, regardless of whether you’ve played its predecessor. Set in the future, where innocent robots are attacked by a government faction intent on getting rid of them, the game centers on its hero, Zero. With the aid of CyberElves, Zero has to outsmart (and fight) the enemy. Unfortunately, not all Elves are created equal. Pick the wrong one and you may as well be alone. But the right critter may have the power you need to win a battle. Regardless, beware of the pits. There are many and can end your game quicker than you can load in your game cartridge. — Jae-Ha Kim (reviewed 10/31/03)

METAL GEAR SOLID 2: SONS OF LIBERTY (Konami, M for Mature [for animated violence and blood], PlayStation 2)

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 (reviewed 12/20/01)

METAL GEAR SOLID 3: SNAKE EATER (Konami; M for mature; PlayStation 2)

This game definitely lives up to its name. Dropped into the jungle of Cold War-era Soviet Union, you must complete your mission of recapturing a top Soviet scientist with minimal weapons, stealth and cunning. As for food, well, that’s what the snakes are for. The keys to completing this game are camouflage and patience. You can infiltrate with blazing guns, but that’ll only make it harder on you. This is a game of belly crawling through the brush and sneaking up on the enemy. When you do fight, it’s going to be close quarter combat, which is very impressive. There are many fairly easy-to-master commands to make sure you take out the bad guys with more than the standard kicks and punches. Some of the controls are awkward (using the START button to change camouflage and accessories is a tedious interruption to the game play). Like most games of this genre, you really don’t have too many options about the paths you take. It would be nice if there was an option to sneak up on the enemy across terrain rather than traveling down a fixed path.  —Jae-Ha Kim (reviewed 12/3/04)

METAL GEAR SOLID: THE TWIN SNAKES (Konami, M for blood, gore, suggestive themes and violence, GameCube)

“Hideo Kojima’s “Metal Gear Solid” was hailed an instant classic when it debuted on the PlayStation in 1998. Looking back, it’s easy to see why. In that game, Solid Snake — a one-man army — single-handedly infiltrated a South African fortress and destroyed “Project Metal Gear,” a souped up battle tank with a nuclear arsenal. Kojima resisted the urge to merely make the game a first-person shooter and instead made stealth –Snake’s ability to hide, crouch or hug walls to go undetected as he made his way through the levels — the cornerstone of the game. It’s hard to imagine how different a game Ubisoft’s “Splinter Cell” would be had Kojima not first paved the way with “MGS.” Yet, credit for the game’s success does fall squarely on merely what was at the time innovative gameplay. “MGS” told an engaging story line that remains unparalleled in its depth and complexity. The bad news is, “Twin Snakes” features a script that is an almost word-for-word remake — not exactly a GameCube port of the old PlayStation game, but a “reimagining” of “MGS” with re-recorded dialogue. In the near future, Solid Snake is called back into action to infiltrate an Alaskan nuclear base, rescue hostages and stop genetically-altered terrorists from setting off a nuclear bomb. Leading the terrorists is Solid Snake’s old boss, Liquid Snake (hence the “Twin Snakes” title). If you’ve played the original, “Twin Snakes” — with its complex plot that twists and turns like a well, a snake — this will hold no surprises. If you haven’t played “MGS,” however, you owe it to yourself to pick this game up. Even those gamers who have played through the original should take “Twin Snakes” for a spin. It’s still a great game. The difference between the original and this game is akin to watching an old videotape of a classic film like “The Godfather” followed by the special edition DVD. Sure, it’s the same story, but the image and sound is better and the experience is much richer for it. (Rated )  –Misha Davenport (reviewed 3/19/04)

METROID FUSION (Nintendo, E for Everyone, Gameboy Advance)

It’s been eight years since we last saw Samus Aran, the plucky, power-suit clad heroine of Metroid. Fans will no doubt say Metroid Fusion — the fourth entry in the franchise — is long overdue. Unlike the GameCube’s “Metroid Prime” and its teen rating, this one is rated E and finds Samus searching for the X parasite, a creature able to mimic any creature, including Samus. It’s a surprisingly well-detailed game in graphics, gameplay and story-telling. —Misha Davenport (reviewed 12/22/02)

METROID PRIME (Nintendo, T for Teen, GameCube)

A GameCube must. You play as bounty hunter Samus Aran, and you hunt for prey on planet Tallon IV. Besides getting to wear a spunky red and gold uniform, you get to color coordinate your visors. OK, technically the visors aren’t so much for fashion as for offering different views, and her default view is good enough for the game. She’s not the most graceful of creatures and at times has a few awkward “Robocop” moments. Because there really aren’t any levels to work your way through, you get optimal playing time with minimal hand-eye coordination frustration. –Jae-Ha Kim (reviewed 12/22/02)

MLB 2004 (989 Sports, E for Everyone, PlayStation 2)

Perfect for the casual player, this game is extremely easy to learn. Though the loading time is longer than on some other platforms, “MLB 2004” has an old-school feel that adds to the fun. The Spring Training mode is a hoot, but if you’re a stickler for the rules, the officiating will drive you nuts. Foul balls often aren’t called and the umpires sometimes let the players get away with murder. –Jae-Ha Kim (reviewed 7/14/03)

MLB 2005 (Sony Computer Entertainment; PlayStation 2; $39.99) ***         Finally, Sony Computer Entertainment’s 989 Sports division scores big with this baseball title. Sony touts this as the only baseball game to offer strike zones proportional to individual hitters. Novice players can make good use of the variable batting features, which allow players the opportunity to study pitches before taking swings at them. Veteran gamers should opt for the all-star batting controls, which lends the game a fast, realistic feeling. Play well enough and you’ll be able to utilize some of baseball’s biggest stars. A nice addition to this year’s model is the EyeToy, which enables gamers the opportunity to scan their own faces and actually play as themselves in the game. Given that they’ll enter the ranks as rookies, be prepared to get sent back to the minors. (E for everyone) — Jae-Ha Kim (reviewed 3/26/04)

MLB SLUGFEST 2003 (Midway, Teen, PlayStation 2)

This game is worth it just to hit the players. I know–beaning a player in real life is cruel and unsportsmanlike. But in gamerland, it’s a hoot. Hit the batter in the leg, and he’ll lose his speed. Hit the belly, and he’ll lose some power. Get him in the noggin and he won’t be able to hit as well. But hit him one time too many and the batter not only will stomp to the mound and kick you, er, the pitcher’s butt, but he’ll also turn into an uberplayer who’s just about unstoppable. –Jae-Ha Kim (reviewed 8/26/02)

MLB SLUGFEST 2004 (Midway, E for Everyone, PlayStation 2)

“Slugfest” is for every couch potato who likes to play dirty . . . in a videogame, that is. As its name suggests, little is out of bounds. Knock the ball out of a player’s hands? Good for you. You might want to whack him in the chest real hard while you’re at it. But be prepared, ’cause the other guy might give you a right hook to the nose. It’s not fair play, but it sure is fun. –Jae-Ha Kim (reviewed 7/14/03)

MONSTERS, INC. (SCEA, Rated E for Everyone, PlayStation 2)

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 (reviewed 12/20/01)

MORTAL KOMBAT: DEADLY ALLIANCE (Midway, M for Mature, XBox)

When the first “Mortal Kombat” showed up in arcades in 1992, it redefined the genre of fighting games. It was both good-looking and gory. In the days before game ratings, anyone willing to pop in the required quarters could play it. Its ultra-violent content evoked the wrath of concerned parental groups and Congress. A lot has happened since 1992 and “Mortal Kombat”–once a leader in the genre–seems content with following. The good news is, “Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance” has closed the gap a bit. One improvement to the franchise includes three fighting moves unique to each of the 21 characters. Now, all the players don’t fight the same. Another plus are the “koins” you receive after winning matches. You use them in the “krypt” to purchase “koffins.” The “koffins” are like Christmas presents–you can’t tell what’s in them. Some feature new characters or mini-games that are pretty cool. Others koffin prizes are downright dumb–one awarded me (and I wish I was making this up) a 32-pack of adult diapers. Worse still, some are empty (robbed, I tell ya, robbed I was). All and all, it’s just enough to keep you planning the game until you unlock all of the goodies –which should take you well into the New Year. –Misha Davenport (reviewed 12/22/02)

MORTAL KOMBAT DECEPTION (Midway; T for teen; Reviewed for PlayStation 2)

Since 1992, Mortal Kombat has been a mainstay in the arcade/videogame genre. It was the game for a generation of players. And tennis player Pete Sampras even picked his wife out from the film version of Kombat. Which begs the question — is there still any life left in the venerable genre? The fighting can be frustrating for diehards who want to kick some mortal booty. But its inclusion of Kombat Chess — in which characters compete as chess board pieces — is a clever addition to the franchise. Back in the day, Kombat was vilified for its overt use of violence. But in an era of Grand Theft Autos and Virtua Fighters, Mortal Kombat seems almost quaint by comparison. Also available on Xbox. –Jae-Ha Kim (reviewed 10/29/04)

MVP BASEBALL 2003 (EA Sports, E for Everyone, PlayStation 2)

Two words set this above the pack: base cam. The picture-in-picture device helps you keep tabs on who may or may not be trying to steal each base. Players and ballparks are rendered nicely too, but where’s the online play? –Misha Davenport (reviewed 7/14/03)

MVP BASEBALL 2004 (EA Sports, E for everyone, GameCube)

EA Sports’ baseball franchise scores another winner with this latest version of MVP. The playing is intuitive and surprisingly realistic. When the runner on third is sliding toward home plate, the gamer almost instinctively curls his or her legs into a defensive position. The checked-swing capability is a nice touch that lends realism to the games. There also are plays that lend a sense of anticipation. For instance, a foul ball doesn’t necessarily end with an automatic out (or an unintentional Bartman), as I learned the hard way. The game’s not perfect. Sometimes the players’ reactions within the game are so slow you wonder how they made it into the major leagues. But overall, this latest incarnation of MVP is a good reproduction of America’s favorite pastime. — Jae-Ha Kim (reviewed 3/19/04)

NAMCO II: MS. PAC-MAN (Jakks Pacific; E for everyone)

Ms. Pac-Man’s back and still not getting the props she deserves. The latest battery-powered, plug-and-play TV Games product (no video-game console required) features the familiar lipstick and bow-wearing dot chomper as well as arcade classics like “Pole-Position” and “Galaga” — all contained in a retro-looking joystick. Lesser-known games like “Xevious” and “Mappy” are also thrown in, so it’s five games for the price of one. The only problem is the joystick. It’s a lot stiffer than your average arcade stick — Ms. Pac-Man doesn’t always go the way you want. “Galaga” fares a little better because you’re only moving side to side, of course. Still, even with the sticky joystick, it’s a healthy dose of nostalgic bliss for fans of old-school arcade classics.  –Misha Davenport (reviewed 8/13/2004)

NBA BALLERS (Midway; Rated E for everyone; PlayStation 2)

It’s all about the benjamins, here baby. If you don’t have a phat wallet stuffed with a wad of cash, it doesn’t matter how much game you got. Combining America’s love of basketball with its seemingly endless need to see how the rich and famous live, NBA Ballers gives you the ball with plenty of doses of bling bling. First, let me say that the players’ likenesses are freakishly lifelike. This makes the game a load of fun to play, but it also makes you feel a tiny bit guilty taking over their lives by just showing up at their decked out homes. Does Jason Kidd really want us checking out his crib in between matches? The games here are one-on-one street style, with plenty of room to run, dribble, shoot and score. You can play by the rules or you can play dirty. And as we all know, dirty is so wrong but so much more fun. I enjoyed performing a few “Matrix” like slo-mo aerial moves, but I had particularly good luck using my opponent’s face as the backboard. And I more than held my own when he gave as good as he got. The beauty of NBA Ballers is it’s a basketball game that’ll hold the interest of people who don’t even like basketball. And if you like your basketball with a little Harlem Globetrotters thrown in, you’ll love the showy moves (throwing the ball behind your back to score etc.) you can master fairly quickly.  Note: If your opponent is worthy, he or she will most likely figure out fairly quickly that it just takes the push of one button to stop the action. –Jae-Ha Kim (reviewed 5/7/04)

NBA COURTSIDE 2002 (Nintendo, E for Everyone, GameCube)

You will be blown away by the visuals. At one point, the players’ real-life team photos are shown alongside their virtual doppelgangers. The likenesses are so striking you’ll do a double take. The same goes for the arenas, which are faithfully depicted here. “Courtside” takes a little more leeway with the action. The players are bionic in their skills, taking everything to the Nth degree. The dunks are executed with superhuman strength, and the dribbling is so intricate at times you’d think it was being judged for style. Diehard basketball fans won’t like it. But for the rest of us, it’s a fun kick in the pants. The audio does little to enhance gameplay. The players don’t talk, and the running commentary grows redundant after a few games. It would’ve been nice to hear a more amped-up crowd to go along with those soaring plays. —Jae-Ha Kim (reviewed 3/28/02)

NBA INSIDE DRIVE 2002 (Microsoft, E for Everyone, XBox)

Graphically, this was the most advanced game I played. My first matchup was a Los Angeles Lakers home game against the Minnesota Timberwolves. It felt like I was actually on the Staples Center court. The only thing that would have made the game feel more real would be Jack Nicholson sitting courtside. Game play was quick and enjoyable. Offensively, I had difficulty passing the ball to the intended player, and I found it a bit too easy to travel or go out of bounds. On the defensive side, it was extremely easy to toggle between players to keep a ballhandler well covered. I also managed to rack up a number of personal fouls, though I’m not sure just what I did. —Misha Davenport (reviewed 3/28/02)

NBA INSIDE DRIVE 2003 (Microsoft, XBox, E for Everyone)

In the crowded field of basketball video games, something has to set a title apart from the crowd. For Microsoft, it’s all about getting you in the game. What sets “NBA Inside Drive 2003” apart from all the other titles is the RPG element of the “Create a Player” mode. You control appearance, background and skills. I was able to create a player who closely resembled me–of course he had a better jump shot, though. As you play through several games, you pick up additional skills that take you from bench-warmer to superstar in no time. It makes for a highly addictive game.  The game’s one drawback is the absence of online play. For all the resources Microsoft has put into its XBox Live, it’s odd that its own basketball title wouldn’t support it. Oh, well, there’s always next year. –Misha Davenport (reviewed 4/7/03)

NBA LIVE 2002 (EA Sports, E for Everyone, PlayStation 2)

Visually impressive, this basketball game isn’t quite a slam dunk. Easy to play and fun to maneuver, “NBA Live” offers players access to warmups, arguments with referees and partying after a big win. They can make like Kobe Bryant, Vince Carter or Shaquille O’Neal. Unfortunately, the athletes’ likenesses aren’t translated into their playing style. All the stars move the same, from passes to dunks to rebounds. I could have done without the running play-by-play commentary, which is the most annoying thing this side of Regis Philbin’s nonstop yammering on PlayStation’s “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.” Humorous at first, it grows old fast. Still, the precise presentation and realistic animation make this a must-have for any video hoops fan. All that’s missing is the spilled beer. —Jae-Ha Kim (reviewed 3/28/02)

NBA LIVE 2003 (EA Sports, E for Everyone, GameCube)

After Sega’s superb basketball titles, EA’s “NBA Live 2003” comes off as a runner-up. Think of it as an attractive bridesmaid, rather than the bride. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this game. The action is surprisingly seamless and moves at a brisk pace. But there’s also nothing new that will excite fans who own the predecessors to this game. As before, the computer will beat you down if your guys aren’t up to speed with its players. The crowd noise is enthusiastic throughout the game and makes up for the cloying commentary. And there are some good rap songs on the soundtrack by the likes of Snoop Dogg. The players have a realistic look to them, but their features are off a tad. A little graphical tweaking would’ve perfected their characteristics and given their arms and legs a less sluggish, cartoonish feel. As for the stadiums, the United Center looks pretty much the same as any other, and you never know where you are. –Jae-Ha Kim (reviewed 4/7/03)

NBA SHOOTOUT 2003 (989 Sports, E for Everyone, PS2)

Much has been made of the graphical limitations of PlayStation. However, games such as the “Grand Theft Auto” series show that, done right, the visuals can be just as vivid as the gameplay. Unfortunately, that doesn’t translate to “NBA Shootout 2003,” where the players are mostly unrecognizable and almost blocklike. In real life, basketball is a deceptively fluid and graceful game. But here, the moves are choppy. The player is given the option of playing in exhibition, regular season and playoff modes. Go for the exhibition setting, which is the most fun for players who want to have a little more control of their b-ball. Creating a player to challenge the foe of your choice is a kick. I particularly enjoyed pitting my 5-foot-7, 100-pound scrapper against the likes of Shaq and watching him outdunk the pros. The commentary flows at a nice pace and is helpful in ID’ing the players. Trust me, you need this function, because unless you recognize their numbers, you won’t be able to tell apart their pixilated faces. –Jae-Ha Kim (reviewed 4/7/03)

NBA STARTING FIVE (Konami, E for Everyone, PS2)

I’ve always been able to excel in sports–via a video game, I mean. I can’t skateboard for the life of me, but give me a Tony Hawk game and I can execute tricks worthy of a gold medal. Skiing in real life? I don’t think so. But I’m a virtual whiz if you give me a couple hours to “work out.” So it was with some concern that I discovered I am a better basketball player on a real court than I am when playing “NBA Starting Five.” I realized this was one of those rare cases where it really isn’t me–it’s them. The rebound function is so screwed up on this game, it defies logic. A ball goes up and lands a couple of feet away from the player. What does he do? He walks at almost a turtle’s pace to get it. Instead of getting cut from the team, this same player then goes on inexplicably to miss shots that a kid would be able to make during a game of H.O.R.S.E. These kinks are easy to overlook during the first half hour or so of gameplay. But after that, why bother? None of the other features is compelling enough to make you want to deal with the mess. –Jae-Ha Kim (reviewed 4/7/03)

NBA STREET (EA Sports, E for Everyone, PlayStation 2)

First things first: This game gives you the option of playing a host of streetside courts, including one in Chicago. As rendered by the game, Buckingham Fountain looks like it’s across the street from the Hancock. And last I checked, there wasn’t a basketball court near either. With its hip-hop soundtrack, players in street attire, lightning-fast play, attitude and a host of detailed courts, this is one groovy game. You gotta love a title that has Stretch, a 46-year-old schoolteacher, as one of your toughest opponents. His “Black Panther” afro, calf-length white socks and Converse shoes will make you laugh until he slam-dunks, shoving a piece of humble pie in your face. In addition to the streetball opponents, you have the option of playing the court with a roster of NBA players–including Michael Jordan. Either way, a simple game of 21 was never more fun. —Misha Davenport (reviewed 3/28/02)

NBA 2K3 (Sega, E for Everyone, Xbox)

If I was an executive at EA Sports, I’d be nervous. EA Sports’ basketball titles used to be the definitive champions. Like the Bulls, they were unstoppable in their time. But I found EA’s titles this year to be lackluster. Sega, meanwhile, seems to be taking its cues from the Detroit Pistons. Much like the team from the Motor City, Sega’s game has improved leaps and bounds over last year. The ESPN branding lends an authenticity to game play. Players are incredibly detailed, right down to the tattoos on their forearms, and the arenas are more or less faithfully rendered as well. If there is anything to criticize, it’s the game’s artificial intelligence. CPU-controlled players have a tendency to push you out of bounds. They also have a tendency to take half-court “Hail Mary” shots and actually make them more often than not. Despite this, the game is nothing but net. –Misha Davenport (reviewed 4/7/03)

NCAA COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2K3 (Sega Sports, E for Everyone, GameCube)

Every armchair quarterback dreams of handpicking his own squad. The premise for this game is awesome, and gameplay is relatively quick, but the end result isn’t as exciting. You may play through an entire season, where you may get to ham it up at the Rose Bowl. Or if a trophy isn’t your raison d’etre, you may opt to play random teams on whims. As in real-life college football, a good chunk of time may be spent wooing high school stars to attend your college. Unfortunately, you’re not allowed to use money, fast cars or hookers to lure them. Sure, it’s fun pitting a Pac 10 team against one of the stalwarts from the Big 10. But what I want to know is: Where are the University of Chicago Maroons? Now that’s a football team. –Jae-Ha Kim (reviewed 12/10/02)

NCAA FINAL FOUR 2003 (989 Sports, E for Everyone, PS2)

I’ve generally found that playing college sports games is more fun than selecting pro teams with known players. Because colleges don’t license game publishers to use their players’ likenesses, there is no Chris Thomas playing for Notre Dame. You’re more in control when you play as your favorite team. This game’s strength is in the variety of modes. Besides basic season and tournament, there are two different dynasty modes that allow you to have more control of your team in terms of coaching and even practice. Unfortunately, actual play is hindered by clumsy functions, such as not allowing enough time to hit the pass button. Honestly, I doubt even Thomas could pass the ball in less time than this game allows you to hit certain buttons. One thing that might pep up this franchise is the inclusion of cheerleaders during the game. I’m not talking about dancers prancing around at halftime, but rather acrobatic young women (and men) who make up the squads for elite cheerleading squads like Notre Dame and UCLA. –Jae-Ha Kim (reviewed 4/7/03)

NCAA FOOTBALL 2004 (EA Sports, E for Everyone, PlayStation 2)

Between Madden and EA Sports’ football game franchises, is there really a need for competitors to even bother? This game rocks. The game controls are the same as before, but the game play is stronger, faster and better. Before, you could bump a player and that counted as a tackle. Now you have to legitimately tackle your opponent for it to count. The pass defense is much better as well and even the fumbles are more realistic. There’s some added fluff that’s not crucial to the game but is nonetheless fun. As players run out of Notre Dame’s locker room, you see a poster that says, “Play like a champion today.” Now maybe they will. –Jae-Ha Kim (reviewed 9/5/03)

NCAA MARCH MADNESS 2002 (EA Sports, E for Everyone,  PlayStation 2)

If you are the type of person who can’t be bothered with reading a whole mystery and instead flips to the last chapter to find out whodunit, this is the game for you. Most sports titles (including several released by EA Sports) give you the option of playing an entire season before reaching the championship. March Madness gets right down to the “Sweet 16” bracket of college teams. Graphics aren’t what you’ve come to expect from an EA Sports title, either. One can only assume this product was rushed to market. How else to explain players’ facial expressions and body movements during play? Zombies in any given “Resident Evil” title move with more fluidity. It’s as if Percodan was freely distributed on the road trip to the arena. Another beef: In my game between Michigan State and Michigan, I was expecting digital versions of Spartans coach Tom Izzo and the Wolverines’ Tommy Amaker. Apparently, EA’s license agreement doesn’t include coaches’ likenesses. However, they did see to programming every school’s fight song. Pity that isn’t what you play sports games for.  –Misha Davenport (reviewed 3/28/02)

NCAA MARCH MADNESS 2005 (Electronic Arts, E for everyone, PlayStation 2)

There comes a point when you’ve played so many similar video games you begin to wonder, do I really need this game? Such is the case with “NCAA March Madness 2005.” It’s certainly not a bad game. But it’s not particularly distinguishable from other college hoops games you’ve already played and possibly even own. That said, there are some sweet touches here that add an authentic flair to the tournaments. The one-on-one feature offers the chance to test your coordination skills. And when a home crowd roots for its team, you can literally feel the shaking stadium and thunderous ovations.  –Jae-Ha Kim (reviewed 12/3/04)

NCAA 2K3 COLLEGE BASKETBALL (Sega, E for Everyone, Xbox)

If you’re wondering what Sega has done with the ESPN license since it wrestled it away from Konami last year, look no further than “NCAA 2K3.” I played this game in between watching the Big Ten playoffs on ESPN, and it was sometimes hard to tell where the live coverage ended and the game began. Granted, the rather blandly rendered players could be more realistic. NCAA rules prohibit players’ names and likenesses from being used in a licensed game, though. Sega makes up for it through detailed arenas, crowds and the lifelike movements of the players. –Misha Davenport (reviewed 4/7/03)

NFL FEVER 2003 (Microsoft, E for Everyone, XBox)

I didn’t think it was possible for a football franchise to get worse. Microsoft has proved me wrong. There isn’t much to distinguish NFL Fever 2003 from NFL Fever 2002. Graphics and sound pretty much remain the same. One big difference is the downloadable online content, but even that has a negative side. Compare the Bears’ performance on the field before and after you update the game to reflect the current roster of players thanks to players sidelined by injuries, and you might think real-time updates aren’t such a great idea. I know I did. The game’s biggest fault doesn’t lie in content, per se, but in the artificial intelligence programmed into it. The computer knows your playbook and can counter anything you throw at it. It’s enough to leave you virtually scoreless and totally frustrated. –Misha Davenport (reviewed 12/10/02)

NFL GAMEDAY 2003 (989 Sports, E for Everyone, PlayStation 2)

This game looks great but plays slow. If you’re not a huge football fan to begin with, the stall time will grow tedious. One of its most interesting elements, though, is the ability to create your own player of freakishly odd proportions. Will he play as well as a pro? Depends. But it’s sure fun watching him waddle down the 50-yard line.         Sportscaster Dick Enberg’s familiar voice does a fine job on the commentary. –Jae-Ha Kim (reviewed 12/10/02)

NHL HITZ 2002 (Midway; E for Everyone, Xbox)

The player control is fluid and the game gives you the options of exhibition, championship or franchise game player, but the player animation while playing the game isn’t as great as EA’s “NHL 2002.” However, Midway scores a silver medal for incorporating the one aspect of the sport we truly love: senseless, underhanded violence. Whether it’s introducing a fellow player’s teeth to your hockey stick or their entire body to the boards, we couldn’t get enough. Now that’s hockey! –Misha Davenport (reviewed 2/21/02)

NHL 2002 (EA Sports, Rated E for Everyone, PS2)

Don’t like hockey? Doesn’t matter. You’ll still enjoy this exciting game. Start off by peeking at the roster and checking out your players. Then get ready to play. The Breakaway Cam is there to show awesome close-ups of one-on-one challenges and puck maneuvers. Execute enough spectacular body checks and other stunts and you earn in-game NHL cards. The more cards you collect, the faster your players go. The sound quality is simply awesome and includes music by the Barenaked Ladies (whose Ed Robertson last was seen sporting a speedskating uniform while the band entertained the crowd at the Olympics). But it’s even more impressive to hear how the sound accentuates the game at crucial moments. When the player skates to make a goal, the fans cheer. The closer he gets to the opponent’s goal, the cheering fades and the beating of his heart crescendos into a nice Edgar Allan Poe moment. –Jae-Ha Kim (reviewed 2/21/02)

NINJA GAIDEN (Tecmo, M for blood, gore and violence, Xbox)

Forget coming in like a lion, March has instead taken a more stealth approach and come in with samurai and ninjas. There are no less than four titles out this month, and while the marketplace might be crowded, make no mistake, “Ninja Gaiden” is the best of the lot. The game has come a long way from when I first encountered it in the arcades in 1988. Though “Gaiden” (pronounced guy-den) loosely translated means “side story,” the original arcade hit — a side-scrolling two player — didn’t have a plot. Characters and story arcs weren’t fleshed out until the franchise made its debut on the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1989 and two sequels in 1990 and 1991. Unfortunately for fans of the popular NES games, the latest “Gaiden” forgoes the previous story altogether. You play as Ryu, a ninja in control of the Dragon Sword. Your village has been attacked and the evil Dark Dragon Blade — the antithesis of the blade you wield — has been stolen. You set off on a journey to retrieve it. The plot is weak and lacks the epic sweep of the original NES stories. Thankfully, everything else about the game is awesome. The graphics are detailed and Ryu moves with the kind of grace you would expect from a stealth ninja. The controls were easy to pick up. You’ll also come across a diverse number of enemies — each with their own weapons and abilities. The enemy AI is challenging, but not impossible. That’s not to say that this is just a hack-and-slash game. It isn’t. There are elements of an action adventure sprinkled in the 15 levels of the game. Ryu has the ability to run up, over and alongside walls much like Ubisoft’s “Prince of Persia.” You’ll need to search for hidden items and purchase weapons and skills upgrades at the occasional shop you find in the many villages you come across. While its story line lacks the depth of previous games, “Gaiden” doesn’t disappoint. —Misha Davenport (reviewed 3/26/04)

ONIMUSHA 3: DEMON SIEGE  (Capcom,  Rated M for blood, gore, intense violence, strong language, strong sexual content and drug use, PS2)

The “Onimusha” series has consistently offered everything you look for in an action/adventure involving a 16th-century warrior and his never-ending battle against an army of the dead. “Demon Siege” — the third and allegedly final installment of the series — offers a nice resolution to the story lines and conflicts that began with the original and manages a few surprises along the way. Samanosuke Akechi, the hero introduced in the first game, returns. When we last saw Samanosuke, he had defeated Nobunaga Oda — the king of the demons. It’s hard to keep a bad demon down, though, and Nobunaga is back. Before the pair can face off again, Nobunaga’s henchman, an evil inventor called Guildenstern, develops a method of time travel. Before you can say, “Sacre bleu!” Guildenstern and an army of zombies have invaded modern-day Paris. Samanosuke is thrust into the future while 21st century Parisian cop Jacques Blanc (French action star Jean Reno) is sent back in time. Both are united in their quest to defeat evil and find their way back through time to their respective homes. Admittedly, it sounds a bit trippy, but the sci-fi element works brilliantly, with the strange plot working in concert with hack-and-slash gameplay. The game’s graphics are another strong point. Ancient Japan and modern Paris are beautifully rendered and the CGI cut scenes are breathtaking and cinematic in scope. The game’s biggest puzzle is one only Capcom can solve: How can such a great game feature some of the worst voice acting you’ll hear this year. Reno voices his character in French, but someone else dubs his English and the two sound nothing alike. The English dubbing of Japanese characters is equally bad. Fortunately, the story, gameplay and graphics compensate for this shortcoming. — Misha Davenport (reviewed 5/14/04)

PAPER MARIO: THE THOUSAND-YEAR DOOR (Nintendo; E for mild cartoon violence; Gamecube)

It’s hard not to think history is repeating itself. The original “Paper Mario” game was released in 2001 on the Nintendo 64 (N64). It came at the tail end of the N64’s life cycle and it turned out to be the role-playing game N64 owners had been waiting for since the system debuted in 1996. The race to see which next-generation console will be first to market is well under way. Nintendo execs continue to insist Mario and crew will be first to cross the finish line. If 2005 proves to be the last year in the GameCube’s life, the latest “Paper Mario” game sends the system out with an appropriate bang. As anyone who has ever played a game featuring Mario can attest, the princesses forever are giving their royal secret service the slip so they can go off on their own adventures. They inevitably get kidnapped, resulting in yet another rescue by Nintendo’s fearless plumber. It happens so often, you have to wonder when Mario finds time to fix toilets and sinks. “The Thousand-Year Door” doesn’t stray too far from those plot confines. The game succeeds in exactly the same areas as its namesake predecessor. All characters are presented in 2-D against colorful 3-D backgrounds. When characters turn, they are indeed paper-thin. You’re even able to put the gimmick to use. In the course of the game, Mario will need to fold himself into a paper airplane, turn sidewise and walk through narrow spaces or roll up into a tube to roll under objects or into small spaces. Unique level designs also manage to keep things fresh. Nintendo even finally gets around to responding to the runaway success of the “Grand Theft Auto” series (er, sort of) with open-ended gameplay and the addition of the “trouble room,” where you can go to pick up non-storyline missions that earn you coins and other items that will prove useful in regular gameplay. With more than 30 hours of gameplay, “The Thousand-Year Door” is one portal worth going through. –Misha Davenport (reviewed 10/22/04)

PETER PAN: THE MOTION PICTURE EVENT (Atari; E for Everyone, Game Boy Advance)

How do you successfully take a motion picture event and encapsulate it into a game for a GBA? Well, you really don’t. “Peter Pan” works on some levels; the storytelling is adorable — from Peter’s first meeting with Wendy through his final battle with Captain Hook. The gameplaying is pretty good — you can make Peter Pan dive, fight and fly his way through the various scenarios. Unfortunately, solving puzzles to get to the next level can grow old fast. And the visuals are stunted on the tiny screen. Youngsters will however enjoy this. –Jae-Ha Kim (reviewed 2/6/04)

PIKMIN (Nintendo, E for Everyone, GameCube)

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 (reviewed 12/20/01)

PITFALL: THE LOST EXPEDITION (Activision; E for mild suggestive themes and violence, PlayStation 2; $39.99) The original “Pitfall” for the Atari 2600 was a classic game. In terms of the bastardization of fond childhood memories goes, Activision’s attempt to bring its Pitfall Harry character into the 21st Century falls somewhere between “The Grinch” and “Scooby Doo.” It’s a decent platform game with solid controls and kid-friendly graphics, but like “Grinch” and “Scooby,” the heart and look of the original source material seems garishly blown-up. — Misha Davenport (3/5/04)

P.N.03 (Capcom, T for Teen, GameCube)

Imagine Lara Croft in outer space. Our equally fashion-forward heroine is saddled with a much less cool name Vanessa Z. Schneider. A lethal mercenary who hate robots, Vanessa’s plan is to wipe out the Computer Arms Management System. We quickly learn they wiped out her entire family. This is where you come in. Make multiple kills and score mondo combo points utilizing Vanessa’s smooth fight moves. Like the headstrong woman she is, Vanessa doesn’t always do what you say. But you wouldn’t want her any other way. As for the throbbing techno music pulsating in the background, it’s not something you’d want to listen to for hours at a time, but it does help give the game a sense of urgency. –Jae-Ha Kim  (reviewed 10/17/03)

POKEMON COLOSSEUM (Nintendo, Rated E for mild fantasy violence, GameCube)

A group of thieves called Team Snagem has developed a way to steal pokemon from their trainers and turn them into shadow pokemon capable of attacking both other pokemon and trainers. Playing as “Hero” — a reformed former member of Snagem — you have to recapture the shadow pokemon and purify them. I breezed through story mode in this game in a few hours without much of a poke-strategy. The graphics — while rendered in 3-D — aren’t really anything special, either. Of course, the big attraction for fans is the ability to download the pokemon you’ve collected in “Colosseum” to your “Pokedex” in your GBA Pokemon games. While that’s probably enough incentive for fans, it probably won’t win over any new gamers. –Misha Davenport (reviewed 4/16/04)

POKEMON PINBALL: RUBY & SAPPHIRE (Nintendo, E for Everyone, Game Boy Advance)

Just how easy is Nintendo’s latest pinball game? Apologies to The Who, but a deaf, dumb and blind kid could still play a mean Pokemon. The pinball is the familiar red and white “monster ball” used to catch Pokemon. Hit targets or run certain ramps and you unleash one of 200 Pokemon that you then need to hit three times with your ball before the timer runs out. Pinball enthusiasts will miss such game standards as multi-ball and the ability to tilt if you nudge the board too much. Worst of all, the popular, yellow character Pikachu is completely wasted as a left and right alley ball saver. –Misha Davenport (9/12/03)

PSI-OPS: THE MIND GATE CONSPIRACY (Midway; Rated M for blood, gore, intense violence and strong language; XboX)

What do you get when you cross the stealth action of “Splinter Cell” with the Psychic Friends Network? Why, “Psi-Ops,” of course. And the game experience is much better as a result. At first glance, the game is just your average stealth shooter. You play as Nick Scryer. In the lengthy prologue, your character has his mind wiped clean, then he’s dropped into combat, where he’s immediately captured by a military terrorist organization and taken to their top-secret hideout. Before the rogue group can brainwash him into fighting for them, a double agent helps him break out of solitary confinement. The plan all along was for you to infiltrate the group and thwart their plans. A few stealth levels later, you meet up again with the mole and she injects you with a serum that slowly revives your memory. Your psychic abilities also return, and that’s where the game becomes innovative. The first power to return is telekinesis. It’s rather handy for flinging enemies up against walls and moving objects, but you also can climb atop a crate or use it to levitate yourself high above your enemy. Other powers include pyrokinesis (the power to start fires), mind control, astral projection (the ability to project your mind outside your body) and mind drain (in which you suck the psychic energy from your enemies). There are a few collision problems with your character disappearing into walls as well as the usual awkward camera issues. Enemies also seem to show up out of nowhere — especially when your back is turned. Finally, some of the dialogue is B-movie quality. It’s a given, though, thanks to the game’s plot. Despite those faults, I enjoyed “Psi-Ops.” The star of the show is its great physics engine. Objects and enemies look as realistic as possible, given you’re moving them across the room with the powers of your mind. You’ll never tire of raising a guard above Nick’s head and shaking him like a rag doll. I know I didn’t. Also available for the PlayStation 2. — Misha Davenport (reviewed 6/25/04)

RATCHET & CLANK: UP YOUR ARSENAL (Sony; T for crude humor and fantasy violence; PlayStation 2)

There’s never been a year quite like this. So many great games have been released for all three consoles. That’s great for gamers but bad news for game publishers. A quality title that would have been celebrated in an off year has to fight for both gamers’ attention and shelf space alongside “GTA: San Andreas,” “Metroid Prime: Echoes” and “Halo 2.” “Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal” — the third entry in the popular franchise — is one such title. It has the potential to become a vastly underplayed flop like Ubisoft’s great game from last year, “Beyond Good & Evil” (though, “Arsenal” will no doubt benefit from a huge advertising push from Sony).         The plot this time, while still hilarious, is of the standard “evil robot hell-bent on wiping out humanity” ilk. Dr. Nefarious has teamed up with a warrior race called the Tyhrranoids to kill every living thing. The cat-like Ratchet and his ever-faithful sidekick robot Clank are called back into action. Thankfully, the rapport between the two title characters turns the cliched story on its head. There are, of course, tons of new weapons upgrades that help to keep the game fresh. You’ll also come across a slew of unlockable 2-D side-scrolling games that help break up the otherwise predictable storyline and action. Many reviewers have put this game in the platform genre — even going so far as to suggest that the platform king Nintendo has lost ground. It has me scratching my head wondering what game everyone else is playing. The first entry into the series was certainly a platformer. However, “Arsenal” is an action adventure shooter with platform elements. It’s a notable distinction that becomes even more apparent through online play. Sony has touted this as the first online multiplayer platformer. The online play, while enjoyable, is no more a platformer than is “Halo 2” — both offer death match and capture the flag. Gamers will just have to wait for the first online platformer. Fortunately, “Arsenal” will fill the void. –Misha Davenport (reviewed 11/19/04)

RED DEAD REVOLVER (Rockstar; M for blood and violence; PlayStation 2)

The story mode provides a compelling tale: you are a young man whose parents have been killed by bandits. Filled with bitterness, you grow up to be a bounty hunger whose mission in life is bringing these murderers to justice. This means plenty of fun for gamers, who get to use gun fights as means to seeking vengeance on the bandits. The gameplay in the first person player storyline is fast moving and decisive. There’s an adrenaline rush navigating your way through the gun fights, as you peek out to shoot from behind rocks and wagons as the enemy charges at you. But in the arcade gunplay, it’s uncontrolled mayhem with a handful of armed men shooting at everything and everyone for no apparent reason. While fun for about 20 seconds, the chaos gets old fast. The game could use a little more structure to keep things really interesting.  — Jae-Ha Kim (reviewed 5/21/04)

RESIDENT EVIL (Capcom, Mature [blood, gore, violence], GameCube

Good lord, this is frightening. The new version won’t be out until next month, but Halloween’s as good as time as any to revisit a classic gore game. Meticulously animated to depict realistic bloodshed, “Resident Evil” isn’t for the squeamish. It’s “Night of the Living Dead” with nothing left to the imagination. That said, you’ll be tempted to “die” at least once just to see what happens as you’re ripped limb from limb. Of course, it’s difficult to play this game when you’re peering out from half-closed eyes. So open them. Play it. And then hide it away. Fast. –Jae-Ha Kim (reviewed 10/28/02)

RESIDENT EVIL OUTBREAK (Capcom; Rated M for blood, gore and intense violence; content may change during online play; Playstation 2)

Perhaps it’s “Area 51” paranoia, but there has always been something bone-chilling and plausible about the premise of Capcom’s “Resident Evil” series. In trying to make us safe, governments sure do a lot of things that threaten our security.

In the “Resident Evil” series, a corporation — rich with a big, fat, no-bid contract — works in secret on a biological weapon that accidentally or intentionally gets released on an unsuspecting public. Biological weapons like anthrax have found their way into the public, so I suppose it’s only a matter of time before something akin to “Evil’s” T-Virus turns us all into flesh eating zombies, right?

There is a sense of immediacy to “Outbreak” unseen before in the franchise. Previous games have focused on people somehow connected to the events that led to the T-Virus. Games followed a plot that was equal parts detective novel and horror story. This time around, there is no plot. Gamers play as one of eight ordinary citizens in Raccoon City when the virus is unleashed. They are innocents at ground zero and their survival depends on you.

The off-line single player mode puts you with two characters selected and controlled by AI. Online play has you with three other people, and it works the best. Like the characters in the game, you are all strangers, each with differing skills and agendas, hopefully united in your goal to work together to survive the zombie onslaught and escape the city with your lives. And the best part? Lose your life and you join the undead and turn on your former friends.

The game is far from free of errors, though. It would have been nice to have some sort of voice interface to communicate with fellow gamers, and load times really break up the game’s flow. If you’ve recently sprung for the PS2 hard drive, follow Capcom’s advice and download the game to it. –Misha Davenport (reviewed 4/23/04)

SAMURAI JACK: THE SHADOW OF AKU (Sega; Teen for mild violence, PlayStation 2)

Based on former Chicagoan Genndy Tartakovsky’s Emmy-award winning animated show on the Cartoon Network, Samurai Jack is a warrior sent through time by his arch-nemesis Aku. As Jack, you search for a time portal that will return you home, fight Aku’s minions and rescue villagers who sound suspiciously like Warner Bros.’ Marvin the Martian. It gets repetitive fast. Sega scores points for graphics that mirror the distinct look of the cable show, but as a fan of the animated “Jack,” I wish the game had emerged from behind the shadows of the show to offer something that matched the cartoon’s originality. (Rated ) — Misha Davenport (reviewed 3/26/04)

SAMURAI WARRIORS (Electronic Arts; Rated T for suggested themes and violence; PlayStation 2)

After selling more than a million copies in Japan, “Samurai Warriors” makes its way over to the United States this week. Set in 16th-century Japan, this game is a must-have for fans of the warrior mode who enjoy a good, fierce battle that isn’t always fair. Your choice of weapons will depend on how well you do. The blades are impressive, but the guns are way more efficient. There’s no real art to this game, which is a shame because the gorgeous graphics make you long for more. But it does take some skill to navigate your way around feudal Japan. Riding horseback will save you some time, but take care with your steed. Ride him too hard and he can die on you, leaving you pretty much in the middle of nowhere just waiting to be attacked in a way that’s unseemly for any warrior, much less of the samurai kind. –Jae-Ha Kim (reviewed 5/7/04)

SCOOBY-DOO! NIGHT OF 100 FRIGHTS (THQ, E for Everyone, GameCube)

Hijinks ensue when Daphne’s friend asks the Scooby Gang for help. Her house is haunted by something … or someone. When her uncle disappears, Scooby and Co. vow to find him. This game isn’t as easy as you’d think by its goofy graphics and–Zoinks!–sound effects. You’ll find yourself busy jumping and grabbing (Scooby snacks) your way through the levels to try to solve the caper. But just when you think you’re there, you’ll slip, fall and have to start all over again. Not scary enough for you? Try listening to Tim Curry and Don Knotts spar. The game has the same look and feel of a vintage Scooby-Doo cartoon and is everything the recent film starring Sarah Michelle Gellar and Freddie Prinze Jr. aspired to be: fun. –Jae-Ha Kim (reviewed 10/28/02)

SCOOBY DOO 2 MONSTERS UNLEASHED (THQ, Rated E for comic violence, Game Boy Advance)

Poor, poor Velma. Without question, she is the brains of Mystery Inc. — the group of teenage crime solvers that also includes Fred, Daphne, Shaggy and Scooby Doo. Velma’s reduced here to a finger-wagging instruction-giver while gamers take control of the more popular characters. It’s a pity because the game could have benefited from the injection of some much needed brains. Of course, it’s not like “Scooby Doo” is high art. The plot of the game mirrors that of the film — a madman has created a machine that brings to life all of the Scooby gang’s worst monster foes. It would have been nice to offer gamers more of a scooby snack than this ho-hum platformer with repetitive levels that grows old fast. Still, kids will want to pick it up after seeing the movie because Scooby reveals a GBA code at the end of the film that unlocks a new ending. — Misha Davenport (reviewed 3/19/04)

SEGA SOCCER SLAM (Sega, E for Everyone, GameCube)

These players don’t care about any stinking World Cup trophy. The brutes are out to win the Continental Cup–to drink from. Hailing from six continents, these “footballers” play rough three-on-three soccer that’s like a Bugs Bunny cartoon gone wild. Anything goes in these slapstick matches, especially when the goalie is sleeping it off. Practice playing by yourself and then teach your friends. It’s a great buddy game, allowing players to spaz out as they manipulate the competitors into hamming it up for the cheering crowd. –Jae-Ha Kim (reviewed 6/27/02)

SEVEN SAMURAI 20XX (Sammy; PlayStation 2; $39.99)

Dear God, what an unholy mess! This game sets Akira Kurosawa’s classic film about a band of 16th-century Samurai in the distant, high-tech future. Mel Brooks’ “The Producers” kept flashing through my head while playing it. Like the audience in that film, all I could do is stare with my jaw agape at this atrocity. Fortunately, it’s a standard hack-and-slash game that requires frequent mashing of the square button, so you don’t even have to watch the desecration on the screen if you don’t want to. Here’s hoping Sammy has better luck with “Casablanca 20XX.” (Rated T for blood, gore and violence) –Misha Davenport  (reviewed 4/23/04)

SHAUN PALMER’S PRO SNOWBOARDER (Activision, Rated E for Everyone, PS2)

Besides hearing some bitchin’ music by Papa Roach, Alien Ant Farm and Orange 9mm, players get the chance to ride the, uh, snow like X-Games gold medalist Shaun Palmer and his pals Tara Dakides, Leslee Olson and Ingemar Backman, who are all featured in the game. The animation is first-rate and faithful to the slopes on which they’re based and, just as important, to the characters’ actual lines and movements. Players speed down the slopes executing intricate trick combos (ollies, grinds, flips) that defy gravity. Players may venture from eight slope locations such as Squaw Valley and Kirkwood to explore hidden areas and try to stick tricks off anything that can give them momentum. The more complex movements require “Street Fighter”-style combination moves that, for this player, resulted in consistent crashing. But once you master the circular motion to keep these dudes flying, you’re on your way to a medal. –Jae-Ha Kim (reviewed 2/21/02)

SHINOBI (Sega, M for mature, PS2)

Hotsuma, the hero of Sega’s latest 3D action game, doesn’t have an easy mission. He has to battle former clansmen who aren’t particularly friendly and his energy gets sapped from all the slash and thrash fighting. Inspired by Sega’s classic ninja franchise, Shinobi is intended for an audience old enough to legally attend R-rated movies. If you get the chance, try opting for the Japanese voice option when you’re done with the standard English. You may not understand what’s being said, but it fits better with the anime feel of the graphics and the Japanese score accompanying it. –Jae-Ha Kim (reviewed 12/22/02)

SHREK (TDK Mediactive, T for Teens [for comic mischief and mild violence], Xbox)

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 (reviewed 12/20/01) 

SHREK 2 (Activision; Xbox; $49.99)

Perhaps I’m being too kind to “Shrek 2,” but compared to the mess that was TDK’s game based on the first movie, Activision appears to have scored a major hit. Gone are the farts and burps that made up the core of TDK’s gameplay. They have thankfully been replaced by a solid action/adventure platform where you control four characters with different talents and abilities. Best of all, the game preserves the humor of the films. Multiplay spreads the humor to you and up to three friends. Sound-alike voice actors fill in for the likes of Mike Myers and Eddie Murphy. Some levels are a bit repetitive, but overall the game is a joy. (Rated E for comic mischief and cartoon violence) –Misha Davenport (reviewed 5/7/04)

SILENT HILL 2: RESTLESS DREAMS (Konami, Mature [gore, violence], Xbox)

James Sunderland receives a letter from his late wife written three years after her death. She wants to meet him in Silent Hill. Faster than you can say, “Don’t go in the basement,” you–as James–are in a car bound for the sleepy hamlet. Despite the dense fog covering the town and the eerie music in Dolby, you get out of the car and begin to search for residents. The goal of the game is to stay alive and solve the occasional puzzle, and fog isn’t all that’s surrounding you. This game creeps up on you, makes your palms sweat and your eyes peer at the dark corners of your living room. You’ve never seen anything like the disturbing creatures that inhabit “Silent Hill,” and they stay with you long after you’ve put down the controller. Never has a subtitle been more appropriate than “Restless Dreams.” That’s exactly what you’ll have after playing this game. –Misha Davenport (reviewed 10/28/02)

SILENT HILL 3 (Konami, M for Mature, PlayStation 2)

“Silent Hill 3” features many of the elements that have made the survivor horror series so popular: plenty of jump-out-of-your-seat moments and nightmarish creatures that stay with you even after you have turned off the PlayStation 2.  You play as Heather Morris, a normal teenager who wakes up from a nightmare to find herself thrust into a living one. As you search abandoned malls, eerie hospitals and monster-infested amusement parks, you slowly unravel a mystery that has haunted the town for the two previous “Silent Hill” games. Gameplay consists of exploring various blood-soaked environments, solving puzzles, and shooting, stabbing or whacking things that go bump in the night. The plot and dialogue set this game apart from its predecessors. Its conclusion ties up some loose ends from the previous games and the acting is superb. If you have a few hours to kill and don’t mind sleeping with the lights on, pay a visit to Silent Hill. –Misha Davenport (reviewed 8/22/03)

SIMPSONS: HIT AND RUN  (Vivendi Universal; T for Teen, GameCube)

“Hit and Run” is the best video game based on the “Simpsons” franchise. For those of us who have had to suffer through dreck like “Simpsons: Skateboarding” — that isn’t saying much. “Hit and Run” is a mission-based driving game and a decent knockoff of “Grand Theft Auto” –though less violent and much funnier.       Main gameplay puts you literally in the shoes of Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa — and for some strange reason — the Kwik-E-Mart’s Apu. Through the course of the game, you’ll also be able to drive vehicles as supporting characters like Cletus the Slack-jawed Yokel and Comic Book Guy. There are plenty of laugh out loud moments that almost make you forget the many graphic glitches in the game. –Misha Davenport (reviewed 10/3/03)

SIMPSONS ROAD RAGE (Electronic Arts, T for Teens [for mild language, suggestive themes and violence], Xbox)

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 (reviewed 12/20/01)

SLY COOPER AND THE THIEVIUS RACOONUS (Sony, E for Everyone, PS2)

Mario-schmario. “Cooper” is hands-down the best platform game of the year. There’s much that elevates it from the usual plumbers and janitors you find in other games. First, cel-shaded graphics make you feel like you’re playing a Saturday morning cartoon. Second, gameplay is smooth. As Sly, you stealthily search for the Thievius Raccoonus (a sort of Holy Grail for thieves) that has been stolen from his family. Using all the tricks of a cat, er, raccoon burglar, you jump, climb swing and crack safe codes. Finally, much thought has gone into plot and character development. Even level bosses have names, personalities and backstories. “Sly” is –well, how else can we say it–sly. Here’s hoping the game is the start of a new platform franchise for Sony. —Misha Davenport (reviewed 12/22/02)

SMASH COURT TENNIS PRO TOURNAMENT 2 Namco; Rated E for everyone; PlayStation 2)

While it’s fun playing tennis in real life, playing a video-game version is about as compelling as watching a match on television. It just doesn’t grab you. This game moves at a relatively slow pace with the payoff not really worth waiting for. But there is some fun to be had. “Smash Court” allows you to unleash your inner Andy Roddick or Serena Williams. Literally. But while it may be fun playing as an already established superstar, there’s something to be said for creating your own player with a unique style and stance. Of course, this also means it’ll take a while to get to tournament mode, since you have to pass a series of training sessions before you’re allowed to advance. Once you do, you may slowly rise up in tournament ranking. Pride aside, there’s incentive to do well — lots o’ swag. The better you do on the court, the better you look. Winning earns you the right to do a little shopping at the pro shop. — Jae-Ha Kim (reviewed 6/25/04)

SOUL CALIBER II (Namco, T for Teen, Xbox )

If there’s just one 3-D fighting game to own three copies of this summer, it’s “Soul Caliber II.” The game features a playable character unique to each consoles. The GameCube version has Link from the popular “Zelda” video game series, the Xbox has the comic book character Spawn and PlayStation 2 features Heihachi from Namco’s “Tekken” video games. The plot of the game has the various characters duking it out in a host of highly detailed environments for the mythical sword called Soul Edge. Each has 23 playable characters; all boast a handful of special moves, weapons and phrases. There’s also heavy replay value because additional weapons and costumes can be unlocked by earning points in Weapons Master Mode. (Rated: T for teen) –Misha Davenport (reviewed 8/29/03)

SPACE RAIDERS (Mastiff; Rated T for Teen, for blood, gore, brief nudity and violence; GameCube)

Borrowing heavily from “Independence Day” and “Starship Troopers,” “Raiders” updates Taito’s classic “Space Invaders” with decent 3-D graphics and three separate and solid story lines. Teenager Justin is looking for revenge after invaders murder the rest of his street gang. Naji — an African-American policeman — is out to avenge his fallen partner. Ashley is a 23-year-old camerawoman searching for her boyfriend amid the rubble. Amid the fire and smoke from the first wave of alien invaders, aliens rain down on you. The creatures from the original game weren’t all that menacing. Not so here. Swarms hack, slash and spray acid at you as you fire round after round at them. Like the original, it can get old fast, but old-schoolers are sure to appreciate the update. — Misha Davenport (4/30/04)

SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS: REVENGE OF THE FLYING DUTCHMAN (THQ, E for Everyone, Gameboy Advance)

SpongeBob is back –and this time he’s armed. OK, so it’s only a bubble wand, but in the wacky world where a sponge not only talks but wears pants, of course a bubble wand would be a weapon. The plot might as well be from the hit cartoon. While searching for his pet snail Gary, SpongeBob accidentally unleashes the ghost of the Flying Dutchman, who quickly enlists SpongeBob to find his missing treasure. As you search, you run into many of the characters from the show –SpongeBob’s “special friend” Patrick, the aptly named Mr. Krabby and others. All are rendered with great graphics and it feels like you’re actually manipulating an episode of the show. Gamers and fans of the show will soak it up –Misha Davenport (reviewed 12/22/02)

SSX TRICKY (EA Sports, E for Everyone, GameCube)

Even if the idea of eating a doughnut is more appealing to you than executing one, you’ll be stoked with this game. It capitalizes on the daring nature of snowboarding with loud techno music and some familiar-sounding characters. The makers enlisted celebs such as Lucy Liu, Macy Gray and Bif Naked to lend their voices. But it’s rad-sounding David Arquette who is most like an authentic boarder. “Tricky” is the updated, cranked-up follow-up to “SSX,” which was released a year ago on PS2. One of the gripes about “SSX” was that it was too difficult to master. “Tricky” is a little easier to play, but it still is a challenge to successfully perform tricks, which makes your character race faster, which in turn helps you win the gold. The visuals are sharp and clear and have greater depth than any other snowboarding game on a Nintendo system. The characters are well-developed, and a lot of attention has been lavished on the background settings. –Jae-Ha Kim (reviewed 2/21/02)

STAR WARS: KNIGHTS OF THE OLD REPUBLIC (LucasArts; T for Teen, Xbox)

It’s the same galaxy far, far away, but longer ago. Set 4,000 years before the blockbuster films, “Knights” plunges the player into the original conflict that set off the rivalry between the Sith and the Jedi. Create and name your character and then be the Jedi you always wanted to be–literally. The game makes innovative use of the license through the Force Meter–play as an SOB and you’re headed straight to the dark side. It’s better than the prequels. Take that, Jar Jar. –Misha Davenport (reviewed 8/15/03)

STAR WARS KNIGHTS OF THE OLD REPUBLIC II: THE SITH LORDS (Lusa Arts, Rated T for blood and violence, Xbox)

If “Star Wars Knights of the old Republic II: The Sith Lords” (KOTOR II) were actually a “Star Wars flick, I’d be inclined to compare it to “Return of the Jedi.” While not quite as good as the original, it hasn’t sunk to the depths of –say, “The Star Wars Holiday Special.” The 45-hour role-playing game manages to hit most of the marks that fans of either RPGs or the “Star Wars” franchise will be expecting. My chief complaint is it’s just a good game –not a great one.

KOTOR II picks up five years after the events of the first game. You play as a new character of your creation, but characters and happenings from the first game are frequently eluded to, connecting both storylines. Your ship, the Ebon Hawk, is drifting through space; the majority of the crew is dead, though a few (including yourself) are critically wounded. After the ship finally docks at a mining station called Peragus, the game begins in earnest with your character emerging from a healing tank. You’re possibly the last Jedi knight alive –nearly guaranteeing you’ll spend a good portion of the game being hunted down by Sith assassins. The Sith are the Jedis’ advisories and they’re on the verge of eradicating the Jedi once and for all. Unfortunately, this plot device doesn’t really hold any tension. Anyone wondering if the Sith succeed need only be reminded that the events of KOTOR I and II take place before the events of the films.

Of course, there’s even some question at first as to whether or not you are a Jedi. You’ve either lost or forgotten how to use the Force, if you are. To make matters worse, someone has reprogrammed the mining droids with a single mission to destroy all lifeforms and you don’t have your light saber (or any weapon for that matter). Those gamers dying to get their hands on a light saber should be prepared to wade through at least ten hours of gameplay before obtaining the weapon. Heck, you spend the first hour or so of the game in just your skivvies (“Pants,” I say. “My droids for pants!”).

You soon meet up with the remaining survivors on the station. They include the mysterious Kreia –an elderly, cloaked woman who likes to talk in that annoying riddle-speak so that you immediately clue into the fact that a.) she probably knows more than she’s letting on and b.) you’ll have to suck it up and deal with her sometimes-annoying dialogue because she is your guide through the game. Can you really trust anyone who hides behind a cloak, anyway?

Before long, your group is rounded out with a colorful cast of characters human, alien and android. You’re capable of playing through the game with up to 10 party members, who you control in battle. It’s a richer, more real simulation as a result. Each of your party members has their own AI and their own goals and agendas. Like the first game, your actions influence which side of the Force you lean towards –which in turn impacts your abilities and the gameplay. KOTOR II ups the ante even further and your actions now also impact everyone else in your group. If for instance a certain member of the party isn’t fully on your side and you head down the path of the dark side, that member might be more willing to jeopardize your missions or usurp your authority completely.

Though, it is refreshing to again see gamers held responsible for their actions in the game (unlike the ultra-violent “Grand Theft Auto” series). It’s perhaps too easy to approach the mythology of the Star Wars universe solely on Judeo-Christian terms of good versus evil. For me, the light and dark have always had greater Taoist implications. When you get down to it, there isn’t really a heck of a lot of difference between the light and dark sides of the Force. Both Jedi and Sith use their powers to manipulate people or bend their wills. Both kill in the name of their side. No one wears the morality hat in Lucas’ space opera. So, just who would the Sith be without the Jedi (and vice versa)? Nothing, that’s what. They define each other.  Good thing you have a lot of time to ponder philosophical issues like these. The game’s biggest drawback is the incredibly long load times. Several missions will require you to do a hefty amount of backtracking between areas. Still, if you’re looking for an engaging, epic role playing game, you can’t do any better than KOTOR II this holiday season. –Misha Davenport (reviewed 12/17/04)

STAR WARS: ROGUE LEADER (LucasArts, T for Teens 13+ [violence], GameCube)

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 (reviewed 12/20/01)

STARSKY AND HUTCH (Gotham Games; T for Teen, Xbox)

This mission-based racing game faithfully recreates the feel of the ’70s TV show. Game play consists of tooling around the streets of Bay City in your bitchin’ red Ford Torino, firing at perps and performing various death-defying stunts to keep the “ratings up.” If viewership falls to zero, you’re sent to cancellation city, baby. It’s an interesting hook, but not enough to save such a jive game. The graphics are cartoony and portions are unpolished. To top it off, there are long load times. Still, it’s worth a rental. When’s the last time you got behind the wheel of a Torino? –Misha Davenport (reviewed 9/26/03)

SUDEKI (Microsoft; M for blood, gore and violence; Xbox)

With the Xbox’s superior graphics capability, it’s surprising there are so few decent role-playing games for that system. Unfortunately, “Sudeki” isn’t going to change things. The plot is traditional to the genre: a light god banished the dark god centuries ago, the dark god returns. Four heroes are assembled to fight the forces of darkness: a scantly-clad sorceress called Ailish, the female warrior Buki, a gun-slinging intellectual named Elco and a swordsman with machismo to spare called Tal. Many personal conflicts set up in the beginning are never truly resolved. Characters are rendered in 3-D, but are strictly flat and two-dimensional. Also, the game features the worst voice acting this side of a ’60s “Godzilla” flick. The saving grace is the combat system. “Sudeki” departs from turn-based formula and features real-time fighting. The game is like your dream prom date: pretty and OK for a dance, but too shallow to take home to meet your parents. (Rated )   –Misha Davenport (reviewed 8/13/2004)

SUPER MARIO ADVANCE 4: SUPER MARIO BROS. 3  (Nintendo, E for Everyone, Game Boy Advance)

“Super Mario Bros. 3” (“SMB3”) is one of the best platform games ever. After all, 15 million people can’t be wrong. That’s how many copies were sold during the game’s initial release in 1990. It’s a world record — and rightfully so.  And now, Mario fans who’ve enjoyed playing this on the Nintendo Entertainment System can play it on Game Boy Advance.  Bowser Koopa has returned to the Mushroom Kingdom, turned all the monarchs into animals and kidnapped the princess. He plans to marry her and make himself king. You play as Mario or his brother, Luigi, and it’s up to you to stop him. Shigeru Miyamoto’s masterpiece holds up surprisingly well for being a 13-year-old game. While graphics have certainly improved since the game first came out, you’ll find no better example of great game play than here. There are eight worlds to discover — Mario will make his way over land, sea and air, developing new powers and facing new enemies as he makes his way to the final level to rescue the princess and save the day. — Misha Davenport (reviewed 10/31/03)

SUPER MONKEY BALL (Sega, E for Everyone, GameCube)

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 (reviewed 12/20/01)

SUPER MONKEY BALL 2 (Sega, E for Everyone, GameCube)

So you’re thinking this game just looks too darned cute to be any fun? Try playing it with a group of friends and I defy you not to get a kick out of this. The game makes no attempt to mirror reality. When’s the last time you saw a happy little monkey enclosed in a ball dodging dominoes and executing some gymnastics-worthy tricks? Granted, some of the characters do get cloying. Ignore them and hit a round of Monkey Tennis. Better yet, try your aim in the shoot ’em up Monkey Shot. The cartoon feel will delight the little ones, even if the mechanics are a bit difficult for them to navigate. That’s where you come in. –Jae-Ha Kim (reviewed 12/22/02)

TAIKO DRUM MASTER (Namco; E, some songs contains suggestive lyrics; PlayStation 2

I don’t want to work, I just want to bang on the drums all day. Trouble is, this drum — a plastic version of a traditional Japanese taiko drum — makes an awful racket when you beat it with the plastic drumsticks that resemble oversized chopsticks. The sensors in the drum are none too sensitive, which means you really have to pound on it. Doing so naturally causes it to move slowly across the surface of whatever you’ve put it on, so you spend half the time beating the drum and the rest trying to keep the drum from falling onto the floor. Pound. Slip. Pound. Slip. Crash. Curse. Repeat on your choice of 30 songs. The game is a staple of Japanese arcades; perhaps it’s better experienced in that setting. –Misha Davenport (reviewed 11/19/04)

TALES OF SYMPHONIA (Namco; T for teen; GameCube)

Strong storyline, appealing characters and plenty of action — this Japanese role-playing game has it all. Early on, you are introduced to Lloyd, the swordsman who is your character. He has taken it upon himself to travel and protect the Chosen One — who is part angel — as she attempts save the world from a group of slave traders called Desians. Though Lloyd and his buddies are all perfectly anime cute, they are anything but docile. One of the things the developers did with this game that makes it so outstanding is they put as much thought into the vocal talent as they did the animation and gameplay. When Lloyd is talking to the Chosen One, it’s so easy to get swept up in their conversation that you have to remember to have your fingers ready for action. Speaking of which, it can be a little confusing at first figuring out what button controls which action. But this is what we call a good problem, since there are so many choices during the battles. Playing the game by yourself is fun, but get a friend to join in if you can. Predicting what the GameCube is going to automatically generate can be tedious. But reacting to your buddies’ impulses can be a hoot. You’ll see what I mean when your posse encounters some monstrous creatures. Some will attack with a nimble agility that you’ll have a difficult time defeating, while others will move at a snail’s pace that will try your patience. How your team reacts to them can be instrumental to how much further you’ll progress in the game. Here’s a hint: The X button is your friend when it comes to blocking. Use it often. –Jae-Ha Kim (reviewed 8/20/2004)

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES 2: BATTLE NEXUS (Konami; T for mild violence; PlayStation 2)

I didn’t think it was possible, but Konami has gone and done it. They’ve released a sequel that is even worse than the original. Last year’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” (TMNT) featured frustrating camera problems, a lack of enemy AI, tediously repetitive action and a lack of multiplayer capability. Multiplayer has been added to TMNT 2, which is about the only good thing I can say about this game. That, and the vastly superior 1989 arcade classic is an unlockable feature. Trouble is, you have to suffer through this truly flawed game. Things don’t get any better with multiplayer as the puzzles you encounter still require only one person to solve them. That leaves the rest of your party to watch you and perhaps pray for a power failure. Trust me, they’ll have more fun just sitting around in the dark. Gamers should send these turtles back to the sewers where they belong. –Misha Davenport (reviewed 11/12/04)

THIEF: DEADLY SHADOWS (Eidos; Rated M for blood and violence; Xbox)

Meet Garrett. Garrett is a master thief. See Garrett steal. Steal, Garrett, steal. He can’t knock out guards, so see Garrett hide. Hide, Garrett, hide. That’s about it in terms of gameplay. Granted, there’s a hokey plot set in medieval-like times about a struggle for power between some nature-loving Pagans and a more tech-savvy group called the Hammerites. The graphics are decent. While new levels offer different sites to explore (I’m partial to the zombie-infested ship), the strategy on each of the levels remains unchanged. For the most part, you’ll be sneaking around. Once you’ve mastered that, you might as well call it a day. Buy this game and you’ll feel like you were robbed. Also available for the PC. — Misha Davenport (reviewed 6/25/04)

XIII (THIRTEEN) (Xbox, M for Mature, PlayStation 2)

Thirteen is Ubisoft’s lucky number. Based on the story arc of the first five issues of acclaimed Belgian writer Jean Van Hamme and artist William Vance’s comic book of the same name (which, in turn, was inspired by Robert Ludlum’s “Bourne Identity”), “XIII” opens with intentionally blurry graphics and sluggish controls — thanks to the bullet you’ve taken to the head. You have no memory of who you are. Before you can get your bearings, the chase is on. It seems everyone in the first few of the game’s 36 levels has it in for you, and you spend much of the time running as you try to figure out who you are and why so many people want you dead. Along the way, you discover the president of the United States has been assassinated and you were either involved or you know who was. No sooner has one question been answered and you’re plunged deeper still into a government conspiracy. First-person shooters have come and gone. So, too cel-shaded games. No one — and I mean no one — has every married the two with as much success as in this game. Comic panels pop up. Guns not only make a “blam” sound, but the screen even has the written words “Blam! Blam!” much like a comic would, In short, it’s like playing a graphic novel. With an engaging plot line and highly stylized and innovative graphics, “XIII” is a must for any fan of first-person shooters. — Misha Davenport (reviewed 10/24/03)

TIGER WOODS PGA TOUR 2004  (EA Sports; E for Everyone, PlayStation 2)

Let it be said that I hate real golf. The putting, the driving, the ugly polyester clothes — they all seem so pointless. But when it comes to video games, there are few that can beat Tiger’s for sheer playmanship. This version ups last year’s game with a fun feature allowing players to create their own ubergolfer to play with the pros. My guy may have looked like a dork with his buck teeth, squatty legs and glasses, but he kicked Woods’ butt around the course for a good half hour. Playing on the PGA tour is fun, but give some of the other options a shot as well. “Battle Golf” is particularly fun, with the winner snaring the opponent’s prized club. –Jae-Ha Kim (reviewed 10/3/03)

TOM CLANCY’S SPLINTER CELL (Ubi Soft, T for Teen, XBox)

Good heavens, if there was one XBox title you had to own outside of “Halo,” this is it. In fact, we’ll go so far as to say if given the choice between “Halo” and this, we’d be buying “Splinter Cell.” It’s enough to make us want to kiss Tom Clancy. You play as secret agent Sam Fisher and your mission is to infiltrate a terrorist operation before it precipitates World War III. Fisher bears a striking resemblance to George Clooney, but his moves are strictly 007. This is probably the first game where it’s recommended you don’t skip the training missions. Fisher has a host of signature moves including crouching, rolling and sliding down a rope. Besides, unless you have hands-on experience with the night vision headset, chances are you’ll need the training. If the gameplay doesn’t move you to buy it, the graphics will. Walls, objects, people are all rendered with detail and texture. Even Fisher’s 5 o’clock shadow looks rough enough to file your nails on it. Simply, “Splinter Cell” is currently the best looking game out for the holidays on any system. –Misha Davenport (reviewed 12/22/02)

TOM CLANCY’S SPLINTER CELL: PANDORA TOMORROW (Ubisoft; Rated T for blood, drug references and violence; PlayStation 2)

Meet Sam Fisher, stealth spy extraordinaire. Those familiar with Clancy’s novels won’t be surprised by the plot here — a bin Laden-like leader holds the United States hostage with a series of terrorist attacks. Capture or kill him, and his followers will unleash a series of deathly viruses across America. It’s Fisher’s job to make sure the safety of the United States isn’t compromised. The gameplay is fast and fun. The good news is if Fisher gets injured, make a dash for the nearest medical center. There, he has the chance to regain part or all of his strength. But don’t freak out if you accidentally kill him off early in the game. You actually can learn to play better by figuring out where you went wrong. Also available on GameCube, Xbox, PC, Game Boy Advance. –Jae-Ha Kim (reviewed 7/23/04)

TONY HAWK’S PRO SKATER 4 (Activision, T for Teen, PS2)

Three years after the release of his first game, Tony Hawk’s pro skater series has become the action sports franchise to beat. It’s a shame that the two-minute time limit has been taken out of the game, but what may have dissipated in suspense has been replaced with time to cultivate your gaming skills. One of the nicer elements of this game is the option to re-start an aborted trick, rather than having to backtrack to the beginning as you had to in previous incarnations of the game. –Jae-Ha Kim (reviewed 12/22/02)

TONY HAWK’S UNDERGROUND 2 (Activision; Rated T for teen; PlayStation 2)

When it’s all said and done, you’ve got to give your props to Tony Hawk. Though the extreme athlete is getting a little long in the tooth (dude, he’s in his 30s!), he’s got a nice little franchise going with his eponymous skateboarding videogames. Never mind that there’s a repetitive factor. Once you’ve played one — any one — you can’ “Underground,” but there are just enough new elements to induce gamers to plop down another $50 for the new version. Here, your character is less the center of the skateboarding universe than in the last game. It’s assumed you made your mark in “Underground.” Now it’s your turn to cause some chaos and destruction against your opponents, who will pull the same dirty moves to beat you. There’s a reason this game is referred to as “THUG 2.”

Your level of enjoyment will depend on how you feel about all the “creative” options available to this game. As in last year’s version, you can scan your own face into the PS2 format. Unique to this version, you have the ability to tag buildings. It seemed a fitting tribute to tag the old Sun-Times building, since the site is being demolished to make way for Donald Trump’s super tower. It also is inarguable that all these bells and whistles have nothing to do with skateboarding. Hawk purists want more of a focus on the tricks, especially since the boarding aspects of this game aren’t that much of an improvement from say, two years ago. But that said, the additions enhanced game play for me, giving the game a sense of immediacy. I liked that skateboarding is used to enrich the storyline. A nice bonus for any music fan is the eclectic array of songs available in this game. You’ve got your Iggy Pop and the Stooges, the Sugarhill Gang and X. But my favorite is Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire,” which holds up remarkably well even in this era. Also available on Xbox, GameCube, Gameboy Advance and PC. –Jae-Ha Kim (reviewed 11/12/04)

TRANSFORMERS (Atari, T for fantasy violence, PlayStation 2)

The game tells the tale of a plucky group of Transformers who find a sub-group trying to escape enslavement. This third-person action shooter is a welcome walk down memory lane — for a while. But just like culottes and feathered hair, it’s something that doesn’t need to be resurrected for the present. Once you get over the novelty of playing something familiar from your childhood, you quickly find yourself wanting a little more stimulation. Even if you’re young enough that you might not remember, say, the Go Go’s or the Bay City Rollers, you’ll be disappointed by the lack of sophistication compared to today’s games. Basically you forage, shoot and score. And then repeat, repeat, repeat! –Jae-Ha Kim (6/11/04)

TRIPLE PLAY 2002 (EA Sports, E for Everyone, XBox)

From the opening sequence with the music courtesy of bland 1990’s heavy metal hair bands, you know you’re in trouble. EA Sports, normally an innovator in sports titles, has taken a step back. Waaaaaayyyy back. Sure, every major league baseball stadium is featured in startling detail. The only thing missing from Wrigley Field, for instance, is the patch of dead ivy on a portion of the wall. Yes, every player has been scanned in along with any signature batting stances or moves they may have as well. Heck, you can even hear the occasional shouts for red hots from the vendors in the stands. So, what’s not to like? Everything looks good until someone actually moves. This isn’t Hollywood and all the male stars aren’t 5 foot 8 inches, so why does every major league player look stumpy and out of focus? Game play made the kiddie title “Backyard Baseball” look challenging. With the swing targeting system, I hit the ball out of the park more often than not. It’s hard to remember the last time I saw a real game go into double digits. And don’t even get me started on Bob Costas’ dull commentary. –Misha Davenport (reviewed 8/26/02)

TRON 2.0 (Buena Vista Interactive, T for Teen, PC)

“Tron 2.0”–a sequel to the cult 1982 Disney film “Tron”–is simply so gorgeous to look at, you’re afraid to touch the keyboard –less you disturb the art.  Once you get past the jaw-dropping, sumptuous visuals, you’re also treated to great gameplay and a storyline that builds and expands on the mythology created in the film. You play as Jet Bradley –the son of Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner, reprising his role from the film). Dear old dad has disappeared –possibly into the computer– and one of his programs digitizes you to save both the cyber and real worlds. Game play is a mix of first-person shooter, puzzle-solving and –recreating the best part of the original film– light cycle racing. “Tron 2.0” is a textbook case on everything that can be done right with a game based on a movie. –Misha Davenport (reviewed 9/5/03)

2002 FIFA WORLD CUP (EA Sports, E for Everyone, Xbox)

It must have cost EA Sports a pretty penny to secure the only official video-game license of the 2002 FIFA World Cup. But the designers couldn’t have blown all of their budget, because they deliver a solid game, as well. Of all the soccer games I played, this had the most realistic player movement. Graphically, the game mimics the sights and sounds of the World Cup–and you don’t have to get up at 4 a.m. to experience it. If there is anything critical to say about the game, it would be the function of controlling off-screen players.It’s hard to manipulate players when you can’t see them. Otherwise, the game was a riot, especially in the four-person, multiplayer mode. –Misha Davenport (reviewed 6/27/02)

UEFA EURO 2004 (EA Sports; E for mild lyrics; PlayStation 2)

This game, unfortunately, isn’t going to do much to win over Americans when it comes to the awesome game of soccer. There are some good points — the controls are easy to use, the gamer can make players do some neat maneuvers; the flying bicycle kicks and the awesome graphics made the athletes look lifelike. As its title implies, the teams here are some of the best in the European league. I enjoyed pitting top-rated France against the Netherlands, but the game play that followed was lacking. It was so tedious even the most ardent soccer fans will find themselves just waiting to get the match over with. Non soccer fans make jokes that watching real-life soccer is like watching paint dry. But few would argue that soccer players are some of the most agile and quick athletes on any playing field. This sense of urgency ,however, is lacking in this game version. Players move so slowly you have to wonder if they’re on the injured reserve list. –Jae-Ha Kim (reviewed 5/28/04)

UFC SUDDEN IMPACT (Take Two; Rated T for blood and violence; PlayStation 2)

Ultimate fighting isn’t exactly a major genre in video games, so it’s difficult to compare “Sudden Impact” to another title. But playing it reminded me a little bit of EA Sports’ “Fight Night 2004,” which pitted boxer against boxer. Here, you take it to the extreme. Literally. There are no gloves or protective head gear. In your quest to become the ultimate fighting champion, you will have to tackle masters of many disciplines, such as Thai kickboxing, jujitsu and even Greco-Roman wrestling. Because you need to learn so many different styles of fighting, you have to sit through a tedious training session. But once you’ve conquered that, you’re on you way to grappling your opponent into submission. — Jae-Ha Kim (reviewed 5/14/04)

VAN HELSING (Vivendi Universal; Rated T for blood, gore and violence)

Blame it on repeated viewings of “The Exorcist” or the countless hours I’ve spent playing survival horror games like “The Suffering” and “Silent Hill,” but “Van Helsing” suffers from the same malaise as the feature film on which it’s based. Though it contains all the horrific characters from Universal’s cannon of classic monsters, (Wolfman, Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster) it’s missing all of thrills, chills and jump-out-of-your-seat moments. Graphically, it’s a nice looking game, though there are frustrating camera issues. If you’re a fan of Hugh Jackman or the movie, there are worse ways to spend a Saturday afternoon than playing this, I guess. –Misha Davenport (reviewed 5/28/04)

VIRTUA FIGHTER 4 EVOLUTION (GREATEST HITS) (Sega, T for Teen, PlayStation 2)

Fast action, cool animation and plenty of options make this one of the best fighting games, bar none. There may be only 15 characters to select from, but thanks to the 1,500 accessory options (hair, clothes, facial features), there seem to be dozens more. Martial-arts fans will enjoy the matches, which incorporate kickboxing, judo and Muay Thai. The arsenal of fighting moves would make Jet Li envious. –Jae-Ha Kim (reviewed 8/29/03)

VIRTUA STRIKER 2002 (Sega, E for Everyone, GameCube)

“Virtua Striker 2002” is very easy on the eyes. The action is realistic, and the athletes have determined looks on their little animated faces as they scamper about. How well they scamper is up to you, the intrepid player. But the game is relatively straightforward and not too difficult to master, especially if you take advantage of the training option where you practice dribbling and passing. Thankfully, there’s little manipulation needed to pass, shoot and score. Gamers have the option of battling it out among four, eight, 16 or 32 participating countries. You control the team roster, selecting who’s in and which loser gets pulled from the game. Before you know it, it’s all about the “Gooooooooooaaaaaaallllllllll!” –Jae-Ha Kim (reviewed 6/27/02)

VOODOO VINCE  (Microsoft; T for Teen, Xbox)

Xbox has finally found its platform mojo. “Voodoo Vince” is a 3-D platform game featuring a wisecracking voodoo doll with a penchant for abuse. Fortunately, his pain is your gain. When a 2-ton safe falls on him, its the surrounding enemies that are flattened. The plot unravels when Vinces maker, the voodoo high priestess Madam Charmaine, is kidnapped by henchman for the evil Kosmo who is after Charmaines zombie powder. Its up to you as Voodoo Vince to save her. The game also features over 30 different levels that take you everywhere from the bayou to the backalleys of the French Quarter. The characters and highly detailed environments remind one immediately of Tim Burtons masterpiece “A Nightmare Before Christmas.” “Voodoo Vince” is a stitch and the most fun youll have this side of Fat Tuesday. –Misha Davenport (reviewed 10/3/03)

WALLACE & GROMIT IN PROJECT ZOO (BAMEntertainment; E for Everyone, Playstation 2)

Based on Academy Award winner Nick Park’s claymation shorts, this game revolves around the adventures of a cheese-loving man (Wallace) and his dog (Gromit). Their mission? To capture Feathers the penguin. In order for the duo to progress, Wallace has to MacGyver his way around and fix bits and pieces of whatever’s in their way. It’s no wonder a big chunk of their mission is spent collecting tools. Gameplay is relatively easy, albeit frustrating when you’re trying to free some caged beavers and Wallace gets “stuck” no matter how many times you hit the control. (E for everyone).  –Jae-Ha Kim (reviewed 10/24/03)

WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP POKER (Crave Entertainment; E for everyone; Game Boy Advance)

A game once considered dirty and unrefined, poker has hit the mainstream. So it’s not surprising video games have cashed in on the craze. This is a fun way to play Blackjack, 5 Card Draw, Texas Hold-Em, Seven Card Stud, Omaha Hold-Em and even video poker. The game is set in a town that consists of a few casinos and a loan shark. As you play, you earn comps from the casino, which range from T-shirts and drinks to owning the casino and touring with rock stars. It doesn’t take long to learn each character’s playing traits (one lets out an exuberant yell with each card, only to check his bets).  Novices will learn how to play the games and get a feel for the odds of making a hand, but don’t bet on this to help you beat the odds playing against real people in Vegas. The betting strategies are pretty transparent and everyone will follow you “all in” when you have a good hand. It’s like taking candy from a baby — and where’s the challenge in that? –Jae-Ha Kim (reviewed 11/19/04)

WORLD SERIES BASEBALL 2002 (Sega, E for Everyone, Xbox)

The Xbox is better than you and will always be better than you even after hours of gameplay. Accept this and your WSB experience will be less frustrating. Players controlled by the Xbox never make mistakes, regardless of their real league records. Don’t believe me? Just try catching a grounder and tossing it to attempt a double play. The Xbox team makes it look easy. Good luck accomplishing it yourself. Thankfully, there’s a two player mode that evens out the skill levels. There are some nice touches here that keep the game from totally sucking. Graphics are great. Fans actually heckle or encourage a player at bat (“Knock it onto Waveland” and “You suck” can be heard when playing games at Wrigley Field). Die-hard baseball fans will enjoy the incredibly detailed franchise mode that allows you to outfit your team in retro attire (sports uniforms in the ’70s were a bit flashy to say the least) or even play with Hall of Fame legends. Still, the game would be better if Sega had programmed a few errors into the Xbox AI. –Misha Davenport (reviewed 8/26/02)

WORLD SERIES 2K3 BASEBALL (Sega, E for Everyone, PlayStation 2)

The gameplay is fine, but I got a bigger kick watching the players move. The way they play is realistic to their real-life counterparts. If you wear glasses, take them off and you’ll swear you were watching a ballgame on TV rather than playing one on your PS2. To get really creative with the teams, go with the franchise mode, which lets you scout and select your players. You may not end up a season winner, but I promise you’ll have a lot of fun trying. –Jae-Ha Kim (reviewed 7/14/03)

WORLD SOCCER WINNING (Konami, E for Everyone, PlayStation 2)

“Winning Eleven” is to soccer what “Madden NFL” is to football. It’s the type of video game people camp out for at stores. At least everywhere else in the world, that is. While this is the seventh entry in the franchise, it’s only the second to be released stateside. We Yanks don’t seem to care that much about soccer and — judging from sales figures — if we do pick up a soccer game, it’s EA’s “FIFA” series, not Konami’s “Winning Eleven.” Though EA’s “FIFA” has a shorter learning curve, Konami gives sports fans a soccer game without the training wheels — and that’s a good thing. If you don’t know the basics about passing the ball, why should you be able to “bend it like Beckham?” EA’s game looks like kiddie league next to “Winning Eleven.” The artificial intelligence is flawless. International soccer players like David Beckham maintain all of the skills and attributes they’ve displayed on the field in the game. It makes them more than worthy opponents. Your matches often head scoreless into overtime — much like the real game. When you finally manage to move the ball down the field and set up a shot, there’s a sense of accomplishment. Miss the goal and you’ll feel agony’s bitter sting. Make it and you’ll know why Brandi Chastain pulled off her jersey after converting the decisive penalty kick at the 1999 Women’s World Cup. The graphics are nicely detailed, with stadiums and players rendered fairly accurately. There are a few minor complaints, however. Some of the game’s menus are unnecessarily complicated and the game is also missing online play. The biggest snub is an absence of MLS teams. It would have been nice to see the Chicago Fire up against the likes of Manchester United or Real Madrid, for instance. Despite those shortcomings, “Winning Eleven 7” is a winner. It’s no wonder the rest of the world loves this franchise. –Misha Davenport (reviewed 2/27/04)

WORLD TOUR SOCCER 2005 (989 Sports; Rated E for everyone; PlayStation 2) ***1/2

I’m not sure what happened to World Tour Soccer 2004, but this latest entry in 989 Sports’ football (as the rest of the world calls it) franchise kicks major butt over the 2003 installment. One of the complaints of the older version was it was too easy to play. So while novice gamers enjoyed being able to score major shots from just about any angle, veterans were miffed it took such little skill to play such a subtle sport. It’s much more complicated this time around. Players have to earn their chances to score. Just as in real-life soccer, there are times when you will not score even one goal. But that doesn’t detract from the awesome realism and ridiculous fun this game provides. Tip: The right analog stick is your friend here — use it wisely to change formations at whim. –Jae-Ha Kim (reviewed 4/23/04)

WRESTLEMANIA XIX (THQ, T for Teen, GameCube)

Playing wrestler here is about as fun as watching the WWE on TV. Take that as you will. More compelling is the mode where wrestlers are taken out of the ring and given assignments to sabotage Mr. Vince McMahon’s WWE franchise.          You get to beat up everything, from security guards to cars. The violence is about as real as an actual WWE match — bone- crunching but not nail-biting. — Jae-Ha Kim (reviewed 10/10/03)

X-MEN LEGENDS (Activision; T for blood and violence; XBox)

Marvel’s X-Men comic books, from titles like Uncanny X-Men and Ultimate X-Men that chronicle the team of superhero mutants’ adventures, to books like Wolverine and Emma Frost, detailing individual characters’ heroics, are one heck of a popular and profitable publishing franchise. The first two films based on the characters were also box office success stories. Things haven’t been as rosy in the video game world for Team X, however. With a few exceptions, “X-Men” games have been ho-hum (“Wolverine’s Revenge”) or just plain horrible (“Children of Atom”). But this X-Men game is X-traordinary. Activision has crafted a game that fans of both film and comics will love. The game’s biggest asset is its plot, written by a quartet of writers called Man of Action (Joe Kelly, Duncan Rouleau, Joe Casey and Steven T. Seagle), who have all worked on various X-Men comic books over the years. Bad-mutant Magneto and his Brotherhood of Mutants are seeking to either enslave or destroy the non-mutant world, and it’s up to the X-Men to stop them. Man of Action’s familiarity with characters and previous story lines means fans will chuckle as they discover bits of history sprinkled through the game. This role-playing game is also accessible for those unfamiliar with the world of the X-Men, too. Playing alone or with up to three of your friends, you control a team of four superheroes from a roster of fan favorites including Wolverine, Rogue and Storm. Because skills vary, deciding which characters to use requires strategy if you’re going to defeat bad guys like Toad and Mystique. It also helps that your team gains experience points with every foe you defeat.  Of course, one of the most welcome additions to multiplayer is the ability to join or leave a game at any time. Playing with a buddy and have to take a bathroom break? No problem. Just activate the AI to control things while you’re gone. It means that you won’t have to break up the action until everyone’s ready to call it quits. Also available for GameCube and PlayStation 2. –Misha Davenport (reviewed 10/15/04)

YU-GI-OH: THE ETERNAL DUELIST SOUL (Konami, E for Everyone, Gameboy Advance)

“Yu-Gi-Oh.” began as a card game in Japan, was exported to the U.S. and didn’t really take off until a cartoon based on the game debuted. “Yu-Gi-Oh” quickly became one of the top-rated kids shows, creating a market for the card game. The game finally makes its way to the Gameboy Advance. Gameplay is a bit like the old card game “War.” You place a monster card in either a defensive or attack mode, your opponent does the same. You attack, and if your attack points are higher than your opponent’s, your opponent has to discard the card and points are deducted from his pot. Added to the mix are magic cards that power up your monster and charm cards that protect your monster from attack. Adults will find the game a bit confusing (Konami actually sent an animated video on how to play the game with our review copy), but the game isn’t for them, it’s for kids who are fans of the show. –Misha Davenport (reviewed 12/22/02)

Comments (3)

  1. Al says:

    I remember some of these games. I still have some of these games and love my PS2 and GameCube, but my kids are all about the XBox OneS!

  2. Sarah says:

    I love the older games. Remember Pac Man? 🙂

  3. Matt says:

    Animal Crossing! I used to love that game as a kid!

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