Monday, October 31, 2005

GAME ON: Hot Coffee fallout

As promised in Friday's post, my gaming column for this Sunday delved into the potential fallout from the "Hot Coffee" scandal. Here's the full article, which ran in yesterday's Arts & Leisure section.

Now that the whole "hot coffee" debacle has spilled onto the floor and subsequently been mopped up, the question remains: Will that mess leave a lasting stain?

For those of you not in the know, a summation is in order. Earlier this summer, hackers discovered a hidden code in their PC copies of "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" that revealed a somewhat explicit sex game, rather coyly dubbed "hot coffee."

It was obvious that publisher Rockstar never intended consumers to see this mini-game — there was no way to access it through normal play; one had to type in reams of code or use a special cheat device like Action Replay to see it.

Still, it was enough to stir up the ire of folks like Sen. Hillary Clinton and anti-video game advocates who had long been critical of the game and called for legislation and a FTC investigation.

When the hidden sex scenes were found in the PlayStation 2 version of the game, the Electronic Software Ratings Board slapped an Adults Only tag on the title (the equivalent of a NC-17), stores like Wal-Mart pulled it from their shelves, and Rockstar was forced to release an altered version of the game with the hidden code removed.

But that was not the end of it. "Hot coffee," it seems, was the foot in the door for those who have long railed about the evils of video games.

Laws have been passed in Illinois, Michigan and California, fining retailers if they sell or rent overly violent or sexual games to minors.

"It’s pretty clear that the ‘hot coffee’ scandal was the tipping point in the passage of video-game legislation, at least in California, where the bill was stuck in committee before ‘hot coffee’ broke," said Dennis McCauley, who reports on games for the Philadelphia Inquirer and runs the Web site "It certainly helped in Michigan and Illinois as well, although those states seemed determined to pass their laws even before ‘hot coffee.’ "

At this point, there is no active anti-video game legislation on the docket in the Pennsylvania legislature, although a bill was introduced in March of this year asking the Children and Youth Committee to investigate the effects of violent video games on kids.

But legislators in other states are gearing up for the 2006 session. McCauley said he expects to see bills introduced in New Jersey, North Carolina and Wisconsin.

Of course, the industry is not taking these laws lying down. The Entertainment Software Association, which represents game publishers, has already filed suit against all three laws, declaring them unconstitutional.

"These laws would limit First Amendment rights," said Daniel Hewitt, manager of media relations for the ESA. "The folks pushing this legislation are taking an unconstitutional tack. A year down the road the courts will rule in our favor, and we will have wasted a year of everyone’s time."

The problems with these laws, said Hewitt, is that they either are far too vague or give the force of law to the ESRB, a private entity.

"These laws are poorly written and poorly worded and restrain the First Amendment rights of developers," he said.

Hewitt cited a recent FTC study claiming that 83 percent of the time parents are involved in the purchase of games, as well as a study by Peter D. Hart Research Associates saying that the majority of parents limit their children’s access to M-rated games.

"Parents want to maintain control and be sole-decision makers of what goes into their homes," he said.

One of the groups that came under fire during the "hot coffee" fiasco was the ESRB. While many praised the group for clamping down on Rockstar, others argued the organization should have done more, or used the debacle to claim that the current rating system is ineffective.

ESRB president Patricia Vance understandably takes issue with those claims.

"[The ‘hot coffee’ scandal] was not about the rating system. If anything, it shows the rating system worked," she said. "We found out, investigated and took corrective action in a short period of time. And we got the product off the market or rerated it."

Vance stresses the ESRB’s rating system is an effective tool for parents looking to make educated purchases.

"The laws being proposed are by those who don’t use the ratings system and who aren’t gamers," she said. "Ask a parent of 3- to 17-year old ‘Are they aware of the system?’ and you’ll find overwhelming majority use the system.

"The decisions being made [by a parent] might not be a decision that the governor of California or the governor of Michigan would make," Vance added. "But parents should be making those decisions. The ratings system was never meant to be a mechanic for regulation."

For those who wonder why such a fuss is being made over a law that merely seeks to protect kids from adult material, consider the chilling effect such enactments could have on publishers.

Let’s say you want to make a game for 18-plus crowd that deals thoughtfully with the consequences of violence or involves a romantic liaison between two consenting adults. Chances are you would be more hesitant about dealing with such topics if you know that retailers might not stock your game for fear of getting in trouble with the law.

It’s not just speculation. "Indigo Prophecy," a smart, stellar murder mystery that features innovative game play had several scenes edited out for the U.S. version.

Also, Rockstar’s "Bully" and Eidos’ "25 to Life," which have already stirred controversy despite not being in stores yet, have been delayed until next year. This has led to speculation that politics could be involved and that potentially offensive content would be toned down.

Whether the laws remain on the books or get struck down, it’s a sure bet that the fallout from the ‘hot coffee’ scandal will be seen for some time to come.

" ‘Hot coffee’ cost the industry a lot of public trust, and they are going to have to work hard to win it back," McCauley said. "Games like Rockstar’s upcoming ‘Bully’ won’t help."

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2005

Friday, October 28, 2005

FROM THE VAULT: Hot Coffee Scandal

For those of you who don't know (that would be most of you) I do a monthly column for The Patriot-News on video games and gaming culture called Game On (yeah, I'm not crazy about the title either). Anyway, this Sunday's column is on the fallout from the recent "hot coffee" scandal, so I thought it might be worthwhile to post the column I originally did when the whole sordid affair broke. This article originally ran on July 31st of this year, for those of you keeping score. Enjoy.

Company scalded by game's 'hot coffee'

Sen. Hillary Clinton does not like hot coffee.

Neither does noted anti-video crusader lawyer Jack Thompson. Or most of the folks in the House of Representatives.

The folks at Entertainment Software Ratings Board have a headache from all the hot coffee. And the game developers at Rockstar, though they made the hot coffee are, by now, no longer enjoying it.

As you've probably figured out, I'm not talking about hotcoffee the delicious beverage, but "hot coffee," the modification or "mod" that revealed a hidden sex game buried in the code of the ever-controversial "Grand Theft Auto : San Andreas." That discovery has led to a storm of calls for federal legislation.

But first, a bit of back story for those of you not following this sorry tale.

A few months ago, a Dutch "modder" -- one who creates patches, codes and other modifications for computer games for fun -- discovered a hidden bit of code in the PC version of "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas."

The code revealed a hidden mini-game where main character C.J. is invited by one of his girlfriends back to her place for some "coffee." From there, the scene quickly shifts to the two having sex. Players could manipulate C.J. in order to fill up the"excitement meter."

Now, it's important to note, this code is locked off. There is no way you could play "San Andreas" and get access to the "hot coffee" game unless you hacked into the system. Which suggests that this was a section of the game Rockstar created and abandoned but was unable to take off the disc, possibly for fear of destroying the code for the entire game.

As news spread across the Internet about the "hot coffee" mod, however, Rockstar and its parent company, Take-Two Interactive, issued carefully worded statements, denying they had anything to do with the sex game and focusing the blame instead on the modding community, saying it had altered the game's coding.

It wasn't until someone uncovered the same code in the PlayStation 2 version of the game that the blame could squarely be placed at Take-Two's doors.

Reaction upon hearing this revelation was swift. Legislators, particularly Clinton, who had been beating the drum against the"GTA" series for some time, called on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate. Then the House of Representatives voted 355-21 to ask the FTC to do the same.

The FTC was apparently listening as Take-Two confirmed this week that they are the target of a federal investigation.

Backed into a corner, the ratings board announced that "San Andreas," which had been rated M for Mature, would be rated AO, forAdults Only. Retail outlets such as Wal-Mart and Target responded by immediately pulling the game off shelves. Take-Two, meanwhile, promised to create a new M-rated version of the game that would befree of the "hot coffee" content.

Having seen the footage, it's difficult to understand what all the fuss is about. Though suggestive and ribald, it's not much more explicit than your average R-rated movie or episode of "Sex and the City." And let's remember, too, that this was already a game that was already rated for ages 17 and over. Plus, recent games like"Playboy: The Mansion" have just as much sexual content, yet are rated M.

What exactly the fallout from this will be is tough to predict. Certainly one loser in the battle is the retailers, who, as the Web site GameSpot recently noted, will lose a good deal of money not being able to sell the game.

And while many have praised the ratings board for taking a stand, others are saying that Take-Two got off too easy, and the ratings board should have gone further and fined the company.

It's an odd claim, considering, again, the code was hidden and not easily accessible. "There is no way the ESRB could have known thiscode could have been there" said John Davidson, editorial director of, Ziff-Davis' gaming Web site.

"Because of the intense political and media scrutiny, the ESRB really had no choice," said Dennis McCauley, who covers video games for the Philadelphia Inquirer and runs the Web site. "They made the right call. This releases some of the pressure, for sure. But expect a congressional hearing in Washington, D.C., and State Assembly hearings in California at a minimum. The ESRB will be doing damage control on this one for a long time."

McCauley also notes that the game mod community and game developers might suffer too. Developers might start looking over their shoulder, toning down their content and making it harder for modders to tinker with their titles. "That would be a shame because modders add a lot of value to games," he said.

If there is a villain in this, it's Take-Two; not so much for putting the content on the disc in the first place, but for trying to weasel out of the issue and blaming the mod community. If it had simply assumed responsibility and issued a sincere mea culpa, this might not have turned into a brouhaha.

Whatever the motives, the fact remains that Rockstar, and videogames in general, will be under a lot more scrutiny than ever. Perhaps we should all switch to iced tea from now on.

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2005

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Graphic Lit -- 10/23 and more

I only had room to run one comic review this past Sunday, so I figured I'd fill out today's post with some reviews from earlier this year.

"Mort Grim"
by Doug Fraser
AdHouse Books, 34 pages, $5.

Truck drivers, a harried farmer, a stern waitress and a grim reaper dressed like a motorcycle cop violently collide in this surreal fever dream of a comic. Fraser uses swaths of golden yellow to give his backgrounds and characters shape while keeping his panels long and thin. The end result gives the book a bronzed otherworldliness that sets up a contrast with the story’s frenzied take on the mythic American highway.

"Grim" doesn’t make much sense plotwise, but for those willing to get caught up in its short but intense wake, it’s one of the nicer surprises of 2005.

"Sleeper: A Crooked Line"
by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips
Wildstorm/DC, $17.99.

Combining superhero trappings with spy thriller aesthetics,"Sleeper" has proven to be one of the smartest, most entertaining mainstream comics in a good long while.

Sadly, that high watermark of quality has not translated into strong sales, and the title is wrapping up, although you can easily enjoy the book in its trade paperback form.

The plot involves Holden Carver, a double agent infiltrating the shadowy Tao organization. Problem is, the only person who knew Carver's true allegiance is currently in a coma, forcing Carver to become the bad guy he was only pretending to be in order to survive.

As if that wasn't bad enough, he was cursed with the inability to feel pain, although he can transfer his would-be suffering to others.

Bearing more resemblance to an HBO show than your run-of-the-mill man in tights comic, "Sleeper" crackles with Brubaker's sharp, incisive dialogue and Phillips' moody noirish art work. Even if you absolutely hate superhero comics, you owe it to yourself to check out "Sleeper."

"Miniature Sulk"
by Jeffrey Brown
Top Shelf, $8.

"Sulk" features more of the what readers have come to expect from aJeffrey Brown comic, but for fans of Brown's work, that's a good thing.

Rather than delve into lengthy autobiography, as he did with"Clumsy" and "Unlikely," "Sulk" is a catch-all mini-compendium of gags, stories and cringe-inducing tales from Brown's personalhistory.

The book highlights Brown's deadpan humor and willingness to poke into memories that others would be more than willing to forget. As these things go, it's a nice introduction to the artist's work and should please his audience, although one would still do better by picking up a copy of "Clumsy."

by Ilya
Active Images, $12.95.

If you lived in Great Britain and were into comics you might have heard of Ilya. But chances are good that you don't and you haven't, which is why this collection is such good news.

Like many of Ilya's stories, "Skidmarks" features a young London gadabout named Bic. Obsessed with biking, Bic, through rather unethical means, purchases a new top-of-the-line cycle. Plagued with guilt, he decides the best way to set things right is by throwing a party, with the proceeds going towards those he inadvertently cheated.

Yes, it's another slice-of-life comic, but Ilya keeps things moving at a brisk and entertaining pace through his kinetic art style and winking dialogue. Ilya's characters always seem like they're going to burst out of the panels. Taking the time to check out this British import will leave you bursting with joy as well.

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2005

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Passive-agressive review of the week

This is not a review of the Quitter. It may look like a review, it may smell like a review, but don't go thinking it's a review 'cause it's not.

It may be a contain consise opinions about the work in question. It may raise interesting points about whether certain comic artists do better with shorter narratives. It may influence the many, many people who read it into not buying the book, but it is not, I repeat, not a review. Why? Because it won't be archived.

Dude, stop calling it a review! It's not OK? Cut it out!


Monday, October 24, 2005

Links in the chain

* Did you know that video game genius Hideo Kojima ("Metal Gear Solid," for those of you not in the know) has his own blog? Well, I didn't. And apparently it's in English now. For those seeking a special comics crossover, he talks in one recent post about meeting Frank Miller, who he clearly admires. (Note to Mr. Kojima: Miller does comics in color too, well worth checking out.)

* The new issue of Entertainment Weekly (the one with Charlize Theron on the cover) has a rather nice feature story on Watchmen. It's one of their first person jobs, where they get people like Gibbons and editor Len Wein to talk about their memories of making the book and their reaction to it success. They even got Alan Moore to talk, which is a damn sight better than DC did for their new "Absolute Watchmen" edition.

I particularily love this exchange:
Moore: When I started writing comics, "comics writer" was the most obscure job in the world! If I wanted to be a celebrity, I would have become a moody English screen actor.
Jude Law (moody English screen actor): I was an am a huge comics fan. Watchmen changed my life. I collected every issue.
Of course, this being Entertainment Weekly, the lay the on the hype with a trowel. The opening paragraphs describe the series as "representing the apex of artistry in its respective medium." You hear that Robert Crumb, Chris Ware and Joe Sacco? You can go home now. "Lost" creator Damon Lindelof calls the book "the greatest piece of popular fiction ever produced." To which I say, oh shut up.

And apparently I'm not the only one. Fantagraphics' Eric Reynolds offers his thoughts on the piece here. And Tom over at the Comics Reporter points to a piece at that questions whether the book might be just a wee bit overhyped and notes the coincidence of a Time Warner magazine doing a big feature story on a Time Warner graphic novel.

EW also does some comics reviews in their Books section in this issue. Infinite Crisis gets an A-, Bone Sharps, Cowboys and Thunder Lizards gets a B, Black Hole gets a B+ and Pyonyang gets an A-. Let me repeat that in case you missed it: The first issue of Infinite Crisis got A HIGHER SCORE than Charles Burns' 10-year masterwork. Now, I admit, I haven't read either book yet (I've only read bits and pieces of Hole so far) but unless Crisis is as good as, say, Watchmen, then I think they folks at EW might just be, well, laying it on a bit thick. But then, that's what EW is all about, isn't it?

VG REVIEW: Indigo Prophecy

Is this the part where I complain about how hard it is to blog on a regular basis? No? My bad. Here's this Sunday's review of the fabulous "Indigo Prophecy:"

Atari, for PlayStation 2, Xbox and PC
rated M for Mature (blood, par­tial nudity, sexual themes, strong language, use of drugs and alcohol, violence)

RATING: Three and a half stars

Armchair pundits frequently like to compare the video game industry with the movie business, although the two forms have little to do with each other aesthetically.

Nevertheless, many game developers have attempted to create "interactive movies" at times in the past, few of which are actually worthy of note.

That all changes with the release of "Indigo Prophecy," an adventure game (remember those?) with a gripping story and some inventive ideas in game design.

In "Indigo," you play Lucas Kane, an average schlub who, to his horror, wakes up in a restaurant bathroom only to discover he has just killed a man, though he can’t remember why. The game follows Lucas as he tries to stay one step ahead of the law and uncover the conspiracy that led him unwittingly to commit murder.

Kane isn’t the only character you take control of, however. You also will be playing as Carla Valenti and Tyler Miles, the two detectives assigned to investigate the case.

This switching back and forth between roles adds a good deal of nuance to the game. Do you help the detectives, drawing the net tighter around Kane, or do you put in false leads, thus giving Kane more time to figure out what happened to him?

There’s more to the game than simply playing as multiple characters though. In past adventure games such as "Myst" or "The Last Express," you’d interact with your environment by walking up to an object and clicking on it or pressing a button. "Indigo’s" developers have attempted to create something more intuitive, however.

By moving the right thumbstick up, down or to the side, you can do anything from open doors, climb over fences or search for clues (the game lets you know what items can be interacted with).

The same rules apply when talking with other characters. When engaged in conversation, a number of dialogue choices appear at the top of the screen. Your answer depends upon which way you flick the thumbstick. You only have a limited amount of time to answer, however, forcing you to make your choices carefully.

In other, more frenetic sequences, you play a version of "Simon says," and have to move both left and right thumbsticks in the same pattern presented on screen. Or you might be rapidly pushing the left and right triggers to keep your balance while walking across a narrow beam.

As you might have guessed by the above description, there are many different paths you can take while playing "Indigo Prime," and several different endings. Many games have offered this sort of branching storyline, but few have been as fluid and effective at it as this game.

There are a few quibbles. The characters, which come off as blocky and stiff, can be tough to maneuver at times. The camera can be problematic as well. And while the game’s basic premise is solid, the dialogue is laughable at times, and the plot takes some rather incredible leaps of logic toward the end.

None of these things ultimately mars the overall experience, however. In an age when most video games are churned out in cookie-cutter fashion, "Indigo Prime" has the courage to offer something that makes you rethink how and why we play video games and how these "interactive movies" should be done. Let’s hope more developers learn from its example.

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2005

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Link me baby

A quick look at some stuff that's been patrolling the net:

* First off, there's been a rather odd brouhaha between the Penny Arcade folks and Jack "video games are pure evil" Thompson that's kicked up so much dust even Tom at the Comics Reporter has noticed. has a very nice sum-up, so I won't go into details here. Just click on the link and be aghast.

* In comics news, Publisher's Weekly has a nice interview with Tokyopop editorial director Jeremy Ross, where he mentions, albeit briefly, the whole recent scandal involving OEL contracts.

* There's also another PW article on Fantagraphics' line-up for next year. Of special note is a Castle Waiting collection, a collection of rock and roll-related strips by Joe Sacco, and a "History of Fantagraphics" written by comics critic extraordinaire (and former TCJ editor) Tom Spurgeon. Huzzah!

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Graphic Lit -- 10/9

Well lookee here. I was actually able to run some comic reviews in the paper this week:

"Modern Arf"
edited by Craig Yoe
Fantagraphics Books, $19.95.

This rather intriguing and smartly designed anthology attempts to examine the relationship between "high" and "low" art. Topics in this first volume include Salvador Dali’s influence on comics, sketchbook work by "Mutts" artist Patrick McDonnell and a doozy of a story by Jack Kirby. There’s also some great work by artists you’re probably not familiar with, like Jimmy Hatlo, Hy Mayer and Antonio Rubino. Let’s hope future volumes prove to be as filled with treasure as this one is.

"Age of Bronze: Sacrifice"
by Eric Shanower
Image Comics, 224 pages, $19.95.

There’s never been a better time to delve into Shanower’s staggeringly ambitious take on the Trojan War than with this paperback release of the second volume. Shanower keeps things squarely aimed at the human participants in the legendary conflict, with the Greek gods staying offstage. That, along with the characters’ subtle psychological underpinnings, plus a wealth of archaeological detail, gives the book a grounded feel that makes the story seem fresh and exciting, no mean feat. Moreover, Shanower’s art is sumptuous and assured, making purchase of this book a no-brainer.

"Scream Queen"
by Ho Che Anderson
Fantagraphics, 56 pages, $12.95.

Anderson, best known for the rather turgid "King," plays to his strengths with this sordid little horror story about an angel of death coming to reclaim a previously ignored victim. The book is almost too slim — there are a number of unanswered questions and loose connections that plague the reader rather than tease. Still, "Queen" proves that Anderson is not an artist to be trifled with, and I look forward to seeing what he does next.

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2005

Monday, October 17, 2005

VG REVIEW: We Love Katamari

First off, let's have a moment of silence as one of the finest comic blogs ever not so slowly fades into the sunset.


Ok, now that that's out of the way, here's this Sunday's review of the new "Katamari Damacy" sequel, "We Love Katamari."

Namco, for PlayStation 2
rated E for Everyone (fantasy violence)

RATING: 3 and a half stars (out of four)
To call last year’s "Katamari Damacy" unique is something of an understatement. How else though do you describe a game that involved rolling up people, animals and various inanimate objects into a big sticky ball that would eventu­ally be turned into a star?

What’s perhaps even more unique is that such an out­ landish, oddball game caught on. Appealing to critics, hard­core gamers and casual fans, the game quickly developed a devoted cult following.

That following is no doubt somewhat leery of the new se­quel, "We Love Katamari." After all, after something as wonderfully as the first "Kata­mari" game, what could you possibly do for an encore?

The answer apparently is "more of the same," but with enough refinements and good humor that the game still feels fresh.

The basic core of the game remains, as before, that you roll around a small sticky ball using the two analog sticks on the PS2 controller. At first you are only able to pick up small items like thumbtacks and bits of candy. As the ball gets bigger, however, your perspective shifts, and you soon are able to roll up ani­mals, trees and, eventually, even buildings with ease.

In what can only be de­scribed as a delightful bit of postmodern self-referentiali­ty, "We Love Katamari" opens with the pint-sized Prince and his dad, the joyfully eccentric King of All Cosmos, awash in success. It seems everyone does love Katamari Damacy. So much so that they’re beg­ging the King for favors. Fa­vors that the King, his ego having been stroked, is only too happy to accept.

As a result, the missions in "We Love Katamari" are a lot more goal-oriented, though no less strange. In one, for exam­ple, you have to roll up a sumo wrestler so he can get fat enough to take on his op­ponent. In another, you must get a flaming katamari, once it’s large enough, up a hill and light a campfire. In another, you take apart a gingerbread house, and on and on.

In between, you are treated to funny cut scenes involving the King’s childhood, who, it appears, had a celestial ver­sion of The Great Santini for a father.

Much has been made over the sequel’s improvements in the multiplayer area, which was one of the few deficien­cies of the first game. Yes, the battle modes have been ex­panded, but more could have easily been done. There’s also a co-cop mode, where two players share the ball, but the fun there is somewhat limited to your abilities to communi­cate directions to the person sitting next to you.

One of the best things about "Katamari Damacy" was the stellar soundtrack. That trend continues here, with some de­lightful remixes of the "Kata­mari" theme, including one featuring a Tom Jones soun­dalike.

Fans of the original game had every reason to fear that this sequel would tarnish their memories of the original. Thankfully, while "We Love Katamari" might not have the same freshness that the first game had, I’m pleased to re­port that rolling up a small town into a giant ball has the same goofy thrill that it did the first time around.

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2005

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Fool that I am

I left my copy of "Wimbledon Green" at work. And I'm far too tired to try to write a review (even a short one) from memory, so it will just have to wait until later this week. If my kids go to bed easy tomorrow then I shall try then.

Friday, October 14, 2005

FROM THE VAULT: Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

I imagine some of you would like to have seen more comics content on the blog this week. However, someone did ask me to post this review of "San Andreas" that ran way back on Nov. 11 of last year. So here it 'tis. I promise to make it up to all those disgruntled comics fans this weekend with a preview of Seth's marvelous new book, "Wimbledon Green."

Rockstar Games, for thePlayStation 2 and Xbox
rated M for Mature (blood and gore, intense violence,

strong language, strong sexual content, drug abuse)

RATING: 4 stars

Critics of the controversial "Grand Theft Auto " games have consistently focused on their violence, ignoring that their success was largely due to open-ended, nonlinear game play and -- believe it or not -- a sharp sense of humor.

While there was certainly the visceral thrill of playing an irredeemably amoral character, 2002's "Vice City" was in many ways a subtle yet savage satire on American pop culture of the 1980s.
Don't believe it? Consider the over-the-top characters, and the constant, sly references to films such as "Scarface" and"Goodfellas."

Anyway, when it was revealed that the new "GTA" sequel would take place in a West Coast ghetto circa the early 1990s, and that the lead character would be African-American, there was cause for concern.

Would the developers at Rockstar Games be able to rein in the cartoonish aspects of past games in order to create a more compelling experience? Would they avoid charges of racism?
Would the game be an original, thoughtful look at life in the 'hood or would it be a pathetic attempt to cash in on white America's love of hip-hop?

I needn't have worried. While "Grand Theft Auto : San Andreas" is not as reflective as "Boyz N the Hood" and "Menace 2 Society"(films that clearly influenced it), the game is nevertheless an immense achievement and easily the best in the series.

In "San Andreas," you take the role of Carl "CJ" Johnson, a former gang banger who moved away from home and went straight after his younger brother died.

Now, he's back in his hometown of Los Santos (i.e., Los Angeles) following the mysterious slaying of his mother. And it isn't long before he returns to his old ways, busting caps into the bodies of drug dealers and rival gang members who have taken over his neighborhood.

This game is huge. HUGE. Besides Los Santos, there are two other cities you eventually get to explore, San Fierro (San Francisco) and Las Venturas (Las Vegas). And that's not counting the missions that take place in the desert or countryside.

Then there are the countless mini-games you can take on if you don't feel like following the main story. Don't want to gun folks down? You can drive a taxi, become a firefighter, race BMX bikes, dance at the club or go out on a date. Ten hours into the game, and you'll barely scratch the surface of what "San Andreas" has to offer.

Some of that has to do with the difficulty of the game. Many of the missions -- which vary from going on drive-bys to stealing arms from the National Guard to raiding a casino -- involve a series of trial and error.

Improvements have been made to the controls, allowing for better aiming and driving, but don't expect an easy time. And if you fail a mission, you have to start all over again.

One of the more interesting updates involves Carl's health and statistics. You'll need to eat at various restaurants in order to keep up your strength, but eat too much food and you'll balloon out and be unable to move quickly. You'll also have to stop by the gym to work out regularly to improve your strength and stamina. As you progress through the game, your skill level at various tasks also will rise.

For the most part, the central storyline in "San Andreas" is played straight. Most of the jokes are saved for the smart aleck comments of passers-by or on the radio.

Rockstar had the good sense to try something with a more serious bent, and the result is a gripping, tightly focused story with characters that show more depth and personality than in any other game I've seen.

The voice work is stellar. James Woods, Samuel L. Jackson, Ice-T and Peter Fonda lend their talents to the supporting characters. Rockstar even managed to get George Clinton and Axl Rose to provide the voices of two of the radio DJs.

Of course, this is still "Grand Theft Auto ." There still are missions that might give pangs to gamers with a code of ethics (one mini-game, for instance, involves pimping girls by driving them to meet their, er, clients).

While CJ is a more sympathetic character compared with past GTA incarnations, he still seems willing to kill at the drop of a hat and never seems perturbed by the body count he racks up.
The villains in the game are often little more than cardboard cutouts that pop up and shoot.

It's not that I'm looking for moralizing from my video games, but a game this epic deserves to have a storyline matching its ambition. As good as it is, the "GTA" series always has been a little overly gleeful in its carnage. It would have been a neat trick if CJ had ultimately been forced to confront his violent nature.

Still, while "San Andreas" falls short of true greatness, there's no question this is a stunning package that raises the bar for games of every genre. Fans will love it, newcomers will be won over, and critics, well, they'll still have plenty to be indignant about in the months to come.

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2005

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Linky linky loo

Here's a quick rundown of some comics-related stuff that's been going on the Internet lately. Most of it has been beated to death already, but I figure it's never too late to jump on the bandwagon.

* First of all, the International Comics Art Festival, or ICAF, started today. Unless, like me, you've got serious family and work commitments, and you live within a few hours drive from Washington DC, there's no real excuse for missing this great conference (stupid family and work commitments). Never mind the great presentations and discussions, where else are you going to hear folks like Ann Telnaes, Tom Toles, Paul Grist and Jerry Robinson talk? Within the space of a weekend I mean. Someone please check this thing out and post online about how it went so I can live vicariously, okay?

* In other news, there's a big brouhaha over Tokyopop's surprisingly draconian contracts with up and coming cartoonists going on over at the Engine. You can get a decent summing up of the situation over at Fanboy Rampage. Various folks have offered their own thoughts as well. I'm not surprised that Tokyopop would offer such harsh contracts to their OEL creators, nor am I surprised that said creators would be willing to sign away their movie rights, ownership, etc. for the chance to get their work published. I am a bit surprised that some folks don't seem to regard this as a big deal, however.

* Have you ever wanted to see the Smurfs get carpet bombed? Well, now you can.

* The latest issue of The New Yorker has an all-over-the-place critical thinkpiece by Peter Schjeldahl on graphic novels. No surprises that he gives high marks to Chris Ware and Marjane Satrapi, two comics artists who've been regularly featured in the magazine in recent years (Ware did last week's cover as a matter of fact).

Schjeldahl highlights such noteworthy books as "Jimmy Corrigan," "Persepolis" and "Safe Area Gorazde" as the high watermarks of the format, suggesting that, though he's got great taste, he's coming to the party a wee bit late. I mean, all three authors have had other, very good books out this year, and some of the other new titles in Pantheon's canon ("Epileptic," "The Rabbi's Cat," the just released "Black Hole") are of equal stature to the books he mentions.

He's rather dismissive of manga, his take on shojo amounting to a churlish "whatever dude." I also disagree with his assessment of "The Quitter." Pekar may be humorless at times, but I would never say that he lacks insight. And he really seems unable to understand the basic underpinnings of comics. Yes, Chris Ware's work is dense and can be hard to read (though rewardingly so). But Garfield isn't. Both are comics. There's nothing intrisic to comics to suggest that it's harder to read than prose.

Overall, the article veers widely from Mad magazine to Krazy Kat to Crumb without making any serious connections between them. His take on Crumb in particular suggests that he hasn't read anything by the artist since 1973. The general air is that of a stuffy uncle, who, hearing that comics are hip, lowers himself to reading a few, and likes the ones that already have a strong pedigree behind them.

The article is mainly worth reading for his final paragraph, in which he suggests that the whole graphic novel phenomenon may have already peaked. That there may be no greater book than "Jimmy Corrigan" and anything done from here on out will be in that book's shadow. It's certainly possible that the best has already passed us by -- there certainly is enough mediocre dross to suggest that -- but I like to be optimistic and hope that more stellar books await. In the meantime I'll just have to content myself with the new collection of "Black Hole." Oh, and "Night Fisher." Hey, and here's the new Jason book. And Kevin H.'s "Or Else." And, oh sweet Lord above, Fantagraphics is going to be publishing Max's "Badin the Superrealist."

You know what Mr. Schjeldahl? Fuck you.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

VG REVIEW: Game Boy Micro

Aaaaand here's the second of this week's reviews:

Nintendo, $99.99
RATING: Two and a half stars

Nintendo’s GameCube console might be in third place against Microsoft and Sony, but the company has dominated the handheld market, both with its established Game Boy Advance and the more recent Nintendo DS.

The company seeks to maintain that strong hold with the recent release of the Game Boy Micro, a much smaller and fashionable version of the current GBA SP. But is smaller necessarily better?

Certainly, at first glance, the package’s sleek and stylish design wins your attention. Weighing only 2.8 ounces, the Micro is 4 inches wide, 2 inches tall and 0.7 inches deep, making it much easier to fit in your pocket than the SP.

It’s Lithium-ion battery is good for about 10 hours or so, and the backlit screen is much brighter and sharper than any Game Boy that has come before. It’s amazing the makers were able to get such crisp detail and bright colors from so small a screen.

The Micro comes in basic black but includes two removable faceplates that can be easily snapped in with the help of a little flat piece of plastic. Also included in the package is an AC adapter and a pouch to carry the Micro in.

The most notable feature, however, apart from the exceptionally bright screen, is the little headphone jack at the bottom. With the current GBA not having any such plug-in device, its inclusion here is quite welcome.

But there is a downside. GBA games might look quite lovely on the Micro, but the screen is very, very small. And as pretty as the new resolution might be, I miss the benefits that a slightly larger screen provides.

I played a number of text-heavy games to test the readability of the screen size ("Book Worm," "Final Fantasy Tactics Advance"), and while I was for the most part able to see the words without any problem, there were times I had to strain my eyes. If you have to squint to read the menu options on your cell phone, this is not the handheld console for you.

With the recent arrival of a backlit GBA SP, which is $20 cheaper, it’s hard to find a compelling reason to purchase the Micro. Even better, for $50 more you could pick up the Nintendo DS, which plays older GBA games as well as more interactive titles such as "Nintendogs."

The Game Boy Micro is great for those who find the current GBA too cumbersome for their pockets or who have avoided Game Boy because it looked too childish. (Conversely, I wouldn’t recommend the Micro for children, as its small size makes it perfect to misplace.)

But for those who already have a GBA, or don’t have perfect eyesight, the Micro doesn’t offer enough to justify an upgrade. Smaller is nice, but it isn’t the final factor as far as gaming is concerned.

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2005

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

VG REVIEW: Burnout Revenge & Burnout Legends

A few items of note. Comment spam was getting pretty bad, so I had to turn on word verification. Sorry if that sort of thing ticks you off. Also, links have been updated somewhat, or at least put in a slightly more pleasing, alphabetical order. I hope to add more this week.

And now on with the show. Here's the first of two reviews that ran this past Sunday. Look for my sparkling opinions on the Game Boy Micro tomorrow.

RATING: 4 stars
Electronic Arts

for PlayStation 2 and Xbox
rated E10+ for Everyone age 10 and older, $49.99.

RATING: 3 and a half stars
Electronic Arts

for the PlayStation Portable
rated E10+, $49.99.

There’s an inherent danger in releasing video game sequels in a "once-every-year" fashion, particularly when you’re dealing with an acclaimed franchise such as the "Burnout" series.

Won’t rushing a new game out the door result in a poorer product? After all, "Burnout 3" made a lot of "best of 2004" lists last year. Wouldn’t Electronic Arts and developer Criterion Studios be smarter not to force a deadline on the game so that the inevitable sequel doesn’t suffer from comparison?

Usually, the answer to this question is a definitive "yes." But in the case of "Burnout Revenge," it’s a decided "no," or, at least, a calm "relax and quit worrying."

Rather than mess with the basic formula, Criterion instead keeps all the elements that have made past games so memorable but tweaks "Revenge" enough to boost it into greatness.

As before, "Revenge" is all about racing fast and dirty. Winning races requires not just speed but also slamming your opponents into the variety of obstacles that line the highways and streets you race along. Smash-ups are rendered in loving detail, and points are awarded for your recklessness.

One of the more surprisingly pleasant additions here is that you can now slam into nonracing traffic so long as they’re going the same way you are. Oncoming traffic and big trucks and buses are still hazards, but anything else is fair game and easy to send spiraling into a wall or (even better) your opponent. The ability to turn other cars into potential weapons adds another layer of strategy to the game and keeps it from feeling like a rehash.

Especially impressive in "Revenge" is the superb design of the game’s tracks. Each route is packed with shortcuts and secret passages, giving you rather intriguing (and occasionally hazardous) ways to jump to first or dive from above on a rival in what is referred to as a "vertical takedown."

Most of the race modes from previous games return here, including the popular "crash event," which is simply about causing as massive and expensive a traffic pile-up as possible. This aspect also has been tweaked, though it’s no longer quite as easy to get a gold medal as before, and figuring out the best place to get a tractor-trailer to explode can be a real, though enjoyable, head-scratcher.

If all that smash and crash isn’t enough for you, let me direct your attention to "Burnout Legends" for the PSP. This compilation could easily be subtitled "Burnout’s Greatest Hits," as it’s merely a repackaging of some of the best tracks and events from the first three "Burnout" games, but, as any "Burnout" fan will tell you, that’s a pretty sweet package.

Anyone who’s played "Burnout 3" will be instantly familiar with "Legends." The game looks lovely on the hand-held and manages to translate the sense of speed rather well.

The only caveats regarding "Legends" are the frequent loading times between races and the fact that the tracks tend to repeat themselves all too frequently once you hit the halfway point.

That being said, there are far too few noteworthy games out right now for the PSP, meaning that owners of Sony’s hand-held console would be wise to snatch up this game.

"Burnout Revenge" and, to a lesser extent, "Burnout Legends" represent gaming at its most visceral and satisfactory.

Some will no doubt tsk tsk the game’s high level of destruction even though there’s not a drop of blood shed. But for anyone who has had to deal with an arrogant driver, these two games offer some sweet, and relatively benign, satisfaction.

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2005

Saturday, October 08, 2005

I am not a dove

Review: "Will You Still Love Me If I Wet the Bed?"
by Liz Prince
Top Shelf, $7

Proving that there is a Peanuts cartoon for just about every emotional response, I finished Liz Prince's new comic, "Will You Still Love Me If I Wet the Bed?" and immediately thought of the perfect Schulz comic to encapsulate my feelings toward the book.

Unfortunately, I can't find the strip in my collection (thought I know it's there somewhere) so I'll just have to try to describe it for you, which will no doubt be a lot less effective.

Anyway, in the strip (done in the early 80s) Snoopy is trying to figure out what sort of bird Woodstock is and he suggests that maybe he's a dove.

"Oh, when you're a dove," he exclaims, "Everything is just so nice. It's all just so wonderful and sweet and ... LOVE."

Upon which Woodstock gives Snoopy a boot in the ass.

"Ok, so maybe you're not a dove," Snoopy thinks.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am not a dove.

Smith's small, $7 volume is cutesy autobiographical comics at their most insufferable. I understand what she's trying to do here. It's an attempt to show all the goofy things young couples do when no one's looking. Heaven knows I've been just as silly with my wife during intimate moments. I never felt the need to put them into a comic before though.

The book is a series of one-page vingetttes, all involving Liz or her boyfriend Kevin doing something absolutely adorable, and usually involving jokes about breasts, erections or going to the bathroom. Prince has a simple, clean style, but she mars it here by not removing her initial pencil lines and roughs. I imagine that was to give the book a rougher, more off-the-cuff feel, but it makes more than a few strips hard to read initially.

The main problem with this book is that there's no bite to it at all. Jeffrey Brown provides the intro, and James Kochalka does a little caricature of Prince in the back, suggesting perhaps, that they're all working in the same vein.

They're not though. Brown's autobiographical comics aren't afraid to show the awkward moments and self-destructive behavior that mar young relationships (though, to be fair, Brown's books are all about failed love affairs). And while Kochalka is by no means afraid of being cute, he also isn't afraid to show himself in a bad light. For every strip in his diary about him being adorable with his wife and kid, there's an equal one of him losing his temper, hurting someone's feelings or just being vain.

And it's exactly that sort of balance that Prince's book needs. There's no scenes in "Bed" of Liz and Kevin fighting or having misunderstandings or just getting mad at each other or any of the other negative stuff that couples do when they're not being cute. Prince may have felt that to portray such aspects of her relationship with Kevin may have been beyond the scope and goals of this meager book, but without it, it's terribly shallow.

"Will You Still Love Me If I Wet the Bed" is an example, perhaps the foremost example right now, of how the "cute aesthetic" has dominated the alt-comix scene lately. Too many up and coming cartoonists seem to feel that a "cute" book is, in and of itself, a noble aspiration. Something worthy of documenting. A valid emotional response that's gotten a bad rep and needs to be celebrated more. It's not. Cute can work very well, when placed within the context of a larger, more thoughtful work. Or perhaps even as a scattershot, get in get out gag. But a book that merely strives to be cute and nothing else exists on one level and one level alone, and it's not a level that sustains reader interest or rewards repeated readings.

For a similar, less caustic take on this book, check out Jog's review here. To read a favorable review, check out Joanna Draper Carlson's review here.

Friday, October 07, 2005


Sorry for the lack of updates. Minor family crises kept me from posting. Hopefully, those problems are over and done for now, and I'll be able to post some brand spanking new comics reviews over the weekend. In the meantime, enjoy this review of the excellent shooter game "Killer 7," which first ran on 8/7/05.

Capcom, for the GameCube and PlayStation 2
rated M forMature (blood and gore, intense violence,

sexual themes, strong language), $49.99.

RATING: 4 stars

Is "Killer 7 " the most bizarre game ever made? Let's do a quick run-through:

  • In the game you play as seven assassins, each of whom is actually one facet of a multiple persona.
  • The character Iwazaru, who gives you vague tips and advice throughout the game, is dressed like the gimp from "Pulp Fiction."
  • There's a disembodied head that keeps turning up in cubby holes and other strange places to give you magic rings.
  • The head also likes to tell you disturbing stories.
  • One of the assassins is a masked wrestler -- who uses grenade launchers.

Convinced yet? I haven't even mentioned the female assassin who slits her wrists to open up hidden passages.

Suffice it to say that "Killer 7 " is one of the most unusual, unsettling games ever made. It's also one of the most original and inventive. In a time when publishers seem happy to recycle familiar genres and story lines, "Killer 7 " is a breath of fresh, if decidedly weird, air.

The story, what there is that makes sense, involves an alternate reality where 9/11 never happened and world peace reigns.

In this era of tranquillity, tensions develop between the United States and Japan, exacerbated by a group of monstrous suicide bombers who call themselves Heaven Smile.

The only ones capable of taking out these otherworldly terrorists are the Killer 7 , who are actually different alter egos of one Harman Smith, a wheelchair-bound elderly man with a big gun who dresses like the guy on the Quaker Oats box.

That really only begins to hint at the twisty, surreal paths that the game's story takes. Don't play "Killer 7 " expecting to understand everything that is going on or to have reached any kind of understandable conclusion at the end. This is a deliberately obtuse game that teases but never spells things out.

"Killer 7 " boasts an unusual, stylish look, using lots of low and high angles, blocky geometric shapes and dark brooding colors. It'ss ort of like a noir cartoon.

The gameplay is just as unique, and it's here that a lot of gamers will find themselves turned off. A cross between "rail" shooters like "House of the Dead" and adventure games such as "Myst," you cannot move your characters freely in "Killer 7 ." Instead you press a button to have one run forward. Another button lets you turn around in case you have to backtrack.

The Heaven Smiles are invisible at first. You'll know you're near one, however, thanks to their utterly unnerving laughter. Upon hearing that, you switch to first person-mode and scan the room, where they'll come into view, slowly slogging toward you. That's when you start to shoot them.

While random shots will take a Smile down, accuracy is everything in "Killer 7 ." Each Smile has a critical hit point that lets you do away with it in one shot. This is important, as you'll need to collect their blood in order to heal yourself, upgrade your characters and use special moves. Fewer shots means more blood, so hone those sharpshooting skills.

It must be noted, though, that while in first-person mode, you won't be able to move around at all, another thing that some hardcore gamers will chafe at, especially those used to having more control over their characters.

I, however, found such limitations to be refreshing. How many times did I wander around in "Resident Evil" or a similar game trying to figure out what objects in the room I was allowed to pick up or where it was exactly I was supposed to go? "Killer 7 " removes a lot of that nonsense in favor of a minimalist approach that works.

Besides all the shooting, there are puzzles that will need to be solved. These vary between the absurdly easy to the intensely confusing. You might want to have a game guide on hand during these moments.

Ultimate success in "Killer 7 " means being able to switch between personalities on the fly. Each assassin has a special ability or two, and you'll need to use all of them at different times. Coyote Smith, for example, can open locked doors, while Mask Smith (the wrestler) can remove large obstacles.

Others can turn invisible, move quickly or, in the case of Garcian Smith, heal your character should he or she fall in battle.

"Killer 7 " is not a game for everybody. Some will appreciate its design and story but despise its limited, repetitive control scheme. Others -- those who believe the words "art" and "videogames" should never be used in the same sentence -- will simply write it off as pretentious drivel.

Those of us tired of traditional fare and willing to take a chance on something innovative, thoughtful and, yes, downright creepy will happily succumb to the game's off-kilter vision, where dead politicians throw their brains at you and anime-styled angels shoot fire out of their fingers.

Did I mention this game was bizarre?

Copyright, The Patriot-News, 2005

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

FROM THE VAULT: Graphic Lit 7/10

I had no room to run any comics reviews in the paper this week, so you'll just have to settle for this lengthy round-up that ran back in July. Enjoy.

"The Plot: The Secret Story of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion"
by Will Eisner
W.W. Norton, 148 pages, 19.95.

Eisner's last book, published a few months after his death at age 87, attempts to strike a blow against anti-Semitism with an ambitious scrutiny of one of the most infamous tracts in history, how it came to be and why it still manages to be believed.

As a point-by-point denunciation of "Zion," "Plot" succeeds admirably. As a work of art, however, the book falls very flat. A large part of the problem is Eisner's decision to have his characters talk in unwieldy swaths of exposition and declarative sentences. His taste for over-the-top melodrama, which served him better with his other works, also trips him up here.

In the end, while the book's ultimate goal is very admirable, the end result is rather disappointing and not the first place one should go when delving into Eisner's work.

by Dan James
Top Shelf Productions, 152 pages, $12.95.

An expert vampire hunter meets his match in this surreal, wordless little book from relative newcomer Dan James. James employs an overly geometric, woodblock style that can make it frequently hard to follow the story. Still, there are few cartoonists today who have such an idiosyncratic style, and, once deciphered, "Mosquito"does manage to evoke some nice moments of dread.

If James can tighten up his cartooning chops a bit more, he could easily become an artist to reckon with.

"Tokyo Mew Mew A La Mode"
by Mia Ikumi
Tokyopop , $9.99.

A group of dewy-eyed, oh-so-cute pubescent girls save humanity yet again in this homage/parody/rip-off (take your pick) of "Sailor Moon."

In the latest volume of this ongoing series, the Mew Mew group gets a new member and leader while a evil, mysterious group of aristocrats plots evil, mysterious things. It's all a bit too cloying for my tastes, but then, I'm not the target audience. If you're a young girl between the ages of 9 and 12, chances are this will hit your sweet tooth perfectly.

by Brandon Graham
Alternative Books, $12.95.

If nothing else, this collection of short stories involving aliens, urban life and curvy young women in skimpy clothing shows that Brandon Graham has been reading a lot of "Heavy Metal" magazine.

Sadly, solid cartooning chops aside, this slim volume reveals little else. Most of the stories are too slight or shallow to last in your memory after you put the book down. Come to think of it, that was always one of my main complaints about "Heavy Metal" too.

adapted by Gary Reed and Frazer Irving
"The Red Badge of Courage,"

adapted by Wayne Vansant
"Black Beauty,"

adapted by June Brigman and Roy Richardson
Puffin Graphics; $9.99 each.

The folks at Penguin have plunged headlong into the graphic novels for kids market with this new series of adaptations of timeless literature. Think of it as "Classics Illustrated," but a higher page count.

Overall, these books do a fine job translating the works of Crane, Shelly and Sewell into the comic format. Each boasts a professional, clean style and the notes in the back of each book provide a nice touch, with sketches showing how the story was broken down into panels.

As well done as these books are, however, they ultimately walk too safe a path and, while they don't harm the original works, they don't add anything either. In other words, there's nothing here that makes you feel like you wouldn't be better off reading the stories in their original prose form.

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2005

Monday, October 03, 2005

VG REVIEW: The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction

A busy weekend kept me from posting, so here's a video game review that's comic book-related to make up for it. This ran in the Patriot-News last Sunday, Oct. 2.

Vivendi Universal
for the PlayStation 2, Xbox and GameCube
rated T for Teen (language, violence), $49.99

RATING: Three stars

Hello, puny newspaper readers. Incredible Hulk here.

Normally, the review of new Hulk game, "Hulk: Ultimate Destruction," would be written by puny video game critic Christopher Mautner. But Hulk threatened to smash Mautner if he not let Hulk write review. Mautner smart man and chose latter option.

So, time for review. "Ultimate Destruction" easily best "Hulk" game ever made, though that not really saying much. Stupid X-Men always get good games while Hulk languish in development hell.

Anyway, in game, you play as Hulk (big surprise), who, at urging of alter ego puny Bruce Banner uncovers some sort of government conspiracy while attempting to find cure for becoming Hulk (Ha! Hulk not think that likely!). Or maybe not. Hulk got a little confused as plot not game’s strong suit.

"Destruction" play a lot like "Spider-Man 2." Like that game, you run around in large city, taking on "missions." Missions range from smashing stuff to fetching stuff to smashing more stuff. In between you can play mini-games, like checkpoint races and jumping contests.

In fact, only difference between "Spider-Man" game and "Hulk" game is instead of saving people, you smash them. And cars. And buildings. And just about anything else you see in game.

The good news is smashing things is lots of fun, thanks to special powers video game Hulk has. For example, Hulk can jump really far, run up buildings and take a car and turn it into steel gloves. Which is pretty neat trick though Hulk doesn’t remember doing that in comic book adventures.

Hulk can also buy moves with special Smash Points that Hulk gets upon completing a mission or mini-game. These moves let Hulk do things like grab missiles, jump onto helicopters or make big booms by hitting the ground. Game isn’t stingy in giving Smash Points, which is nice, and extra powers keep game from getting dull.

There are problems. Game’s camera can often get stuck in corners, making it easy for enemies to sneak up on you. Hulk not like that.

Hulk especially not like way enemies gang up on you all at once, making you die before you have chance to fight back. That cheap shot and make Hulk really angry. Makes Hulk think about smashing game developers.

If, like Hulk, you like games about smashing things, then this game for you. "Ultimate Destruction" fun, but Hulk wishes for game that showed Hulk’s softer, feminine side. Hulk like puppies, Sinatra albums and Anne Geddes posters, too. Bet you not know that about Hulk.

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2005