Wednesday, October 25, 2006

VG REVIEW: A Halloween round-up

I'm always of two minds about these holiday round-up stories. On the one hand, they invariably end up being really long yet never say anything really insightful. They're more consumer guides than anything else. On the other hand, they enable me to tear through a bunch of titles, thereby lessening my guilt that I never got to review Game X after promising the PR rep I would.

All that being said, here's a Halloween round-up I did for the paper last Sunday:


Atlus, for the PlayStation 2,
rated M for Mature (blood, intense vio­lence, suggestive themes), $49.99.

Atlus, for the PlayStation 2
rated M, $49.99.

Midway, for the PlayStation 2 and GameCube
rated E10+ for ages 10 and up (cartoon vio­lence, crude humor), $29.99. 
Like candy corn and jack-o’-lanterns, the Halloween season usually sees the arrival of a few scary video games.

This year the selection is a bit sparse, perhaps because most developers are focusing on the new consoles to come out in stores soon.

If you’re too old for trick or treating, but are still looking for a good scare, one of these titles might do the trick. 

"Rule of Rose"

First up is “Rule of Rose,” a rather surreal horror game featuring a young girl in peril.

The game garnered a bit of controversy earlier this year when Sony declined to distribute it in the United States, ostensibly because of some vaguely sexual overtones between two female characters.

Now that Atlus has brought the game to our shores, it’s hard to see what all the fuss is about. “Rule of Rose” features some impressive cut scenes and storytelling, but it’s not a terribly thrilling game to play.

The gamer plays Jennifer, a teenage ragamuffin who comes to live at a creepy orphanage. Almost immediately she is whisked up into a dirigible (no joke) controlled by a murderous group of children called the Crayon Aristocracy.

Jennifer must perform tasks and find gifts for the various members of the Aristocracy or face severe beatings and humiliations, like having a dead rat shoved in your face.

The main problem with “Rule of Rose” lies with its controls. I had hoped I was done playing games with fixed camera angles, where the characters moved stiffly and awkwardly through look-alike rooms on endless fetch quests.

You do have a dog to help you sniff out, but he ends up being more of a crutch for the gamer as he keeps you from having to use any actual brainpower to figure out where anything is. And don’t get me started on what passes for combat here (one of your weapons is a rusty fork).

While the story is intriguing and suitably creepy, good cut scenes are not enough to warrant the sort of slog needed to complete this game. Basically “Rose” feels stodgy, awkward and tedious. 

"Devil Summoner"

A much better option, also from Atlus, is the mouthful “Shin Megami Tensi: Devil Summoner — Raidou Kuzunoha vs. The Soulless Army.”

The “Shin” series of games (most of them unrelated in story from one another) are popular in their native Japan, and known for their attempts to bring a more adult sensibility to the role-playing format.

“Devil Summoner” imagines an alternate universe circa the 1920s, where demons live in secret amongst the general populace, seen only by a select few.

As one of those select few, you have the ability to battle and then capture these demons, forcing them to become your allies in battle.

You’ll use these creatures to investigate various odd goings-on in the neighborhood. Along the way you can combine your demons to make interesting new monsters, or heck out the usual list of side-quests.

The actual combat is a tad more basic than some hard-core rpg fans may like, but the game’s look and feel is stylish and collecting monsters is something that never gets old. 

"Grim Adventures"

If you’re looking for a Halloween game that’s a bit more kid-friendly, there’s “The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy,” a spin-off of the popular Cartoon Network show that imagines the Grim Reaper befriending a pair of smart-alec kids (well, one of them’s a smart aleck; the other’s just an aleck).

“Grim” is an unabashed rip-off of Nintendo’s “Smash Brothers” series, with the various characters battling it out on an interactive stage, complete with oddball melee weapons.

Playing a game where kids — even if they are cartoonish kids — whack one another over the head with axes and hammers was more than a bit disconcerting to me. Still, it should be said that most of the violence is of the Saturday morning variety, with no blood or gore.

My biggest problem is the game lacks originality and depth. The levels are inventive and there are a number of mini-games and challenges, but many of these feel like afterthoughts. Plus, it can be difficult to locate your character on the screen during intense battles when the camera pans back.

But if these caveats don’t bother you too much, “Grim Adventures” is a perfectly acceptable, PG-rated way to celebrate your Halloween. Assuming you’ve already egged your neighbor’s house, of course.

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2006


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