Wednesday, January 17, 2007

VG review: "Caslevania" and "Metal Gear Solid"

Konami, for the DS

rated T for Teen (blood and gore, mild lan­guage, suggestive themes, vio­lence), $34.99.

Konami, for the PlayStation Port­able

rated M for Mature (ani­mated blood, suggestive themes, violence), $39.99.

Franchises are the bread and butter of the video game industry, so the arrival of two new handheld titles from Konami, featuring its most popular characters, is no real surprise.

“Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin” is yet another 2-D, side-scrolling adventure title that fans of the series have come to expect, with just enough tweaks to keep redundancy from setting in.

As with past games in the series, there’s a big, spooky vampire castle to roam through, filled with gruesome creatures that you dispatch by swinging your whip or sword or whatever other weapon you come across.

This time, however, you have not one but two characters to control: the whip-wielding Jonathan Morris and the conjurer Charlotte Aulin. You can flip between characters on the fly or have the computer operate one as in unison when the enemies become too much for one avatar to deal with.

The game also is enlivened by the variety of inventive levels. No longer confined to the castle, you can enter some of the paintings that hang on the castle walls. Defeating the monsters in there apparently drains the evil castle owner of his power (yeah, it didn’t make sense to me, either).

“Portrait of Ruin” offers a near-perfect blend of reliable game mechanics and innovative additions, resulting in a fun bout of monster hunting.

The same, unfortunately cannot be said about “Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops” which attempts to bring the traditional “Metal Gear” experience to the PSP but only partially achieves its goal.

The story picks up after the events of “Metal Gear Solid III,” with a now-retired Snake being accused of treason. To clear his name, he must infiltrate and thwart a renegade group of Russian soldiers who could bring about a nuclear war.

To add to the usual sneak-and-shoot fun, “Portable Ops” includes the ability to capture and recruit the soldiers you knock out. You can then add them to your “sneaking” party, or have them perform medical help, technical aid, or spy on various outposts to collect information and ammunition.

Collecting and assigning soldiers to various tasks is fun and adds a new layer of strategy to the game. The problems lie with the controls, which aren’t intuitive (a common problem with “Metal Gear” games) and even sloppy at times. Combat especially feels awkward.

Even worse is the unhelpful camera. Too often my cover would be blown because some soldier I couldn’t see and who didn’t show up on my radar spotted me from afar. Rather than try to deal with the annoying soldier, as I would in past “Metal Gear” games, I would just abandon the mission and start over. Do that enough times and a certain annoyance tends to creep in.

“Portable Ops” offers enough sneaky skill and military-themed puffery to please the devout, but more skeptical gamers should just sit on their hands until the official console sequel comes out later this year.

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2007

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