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Published: Saturday, 12/6/2008

Mutants, Monsters, and Machines: These are a few of kids favorite things

BY TOM FISHER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

There are a lot of mature games with zombies, werewolves or machines of destruction, but getting that action in a title that won t give the little ones nightmares can be difficult. Most of the cool action games generally cater to young adults. Three titles released in the last month, however, combine action and mayhem in a monstrous way.

Let s take a look.

Sonic the Hedgehog makes a huge comeback in Sonic Unleashed. Usually the hedgehog is all about collecting rings at break-neck speed while on his way to battle a level-ending boss, one of Dr. Eggman s robots. The recipe hasn t changed for a while, but in Unleashed, Sega has thrown in some massive battle scenes and a pinch of RPG to spice things up. After each level, Sonic returns to the main area, which is a village, sort of like a rest area where you can explore and find new items or talk to the villagers to gain information. The action starts when you enter the different stages.

The story line and the game play is where the game gets interesting. By day Sonic is his normal self with a pinchant for speed. By night however Sonic changes into the monstrous werehog a werewolf version of himself. He is still on the good side, though, and now he has even more powers to defeat Eggman. In his were state Sonic sacrifices speed for strength and ferocity. He hobbles along ape-like through the levels and smashes things with the greatest of ease.

But that s not all he can do. Sonic is a flexible hedgehog or maybe a better word is elastic. The werehog can stretch out his arms to slap around some bad guys or reach ledges to climb on top of buildings. In his daytime state Sonic wouldn t have much luck with the massive number of enemy combatants, strewn throughout the stages. He needs the darker side to kick some real butt. On the flip side of the coin, the werehog is not the best one to collect rings and other objects. He s simply too slow. Each side is needed to complement the other in order to complete the game. I found both sides rather enjoyable and switching between the two kept the game from becoming stagnant.

Graphically, Unleashed is stunning. Environments were extremely well rendered with few, if any, flaws and the Sonic model was the best of the hedgehog hero I ve ever seen. The cut-scene animations were also visually appealing but a bit lacking in the voiceovers, sounding like a cheap cartoon.

Unleashed will be received by the gaming community with some reservations. Many were disappointed with the last release and some will no doubt find problems with this one. As a big fan of the super hedgehog I found the game to be the best Sonic title to date.

Crash Bandicoot: Mind over Mutant from Activision may be one of the most entertaining games in the genre. The evil Dr. Cortex has created a device that will turn normal characters into mindless mutants bent on doing his bidding. Crash, our favorite bandicoot, turns the table on the evil physician by using these devices to hijack the mutants. Once hijacked, the mutant is under Crash s control and he uses their various powers to complete the levels. One mutant, for example, can freeze water, another can levitate objects or enemies with an electrical charge, and so on.

Many of the levels will require the use of more than one mutant s powers. To this end Activision has given Crash the ability to store these mutants and recall them when he needs their special abilities. Switching between the different mutants is accomplished with a simple button push, allowing you to switch mutants in the midst of a melee.

Crash isn t real fast but he can do some cool stuff with his own abilities. He s no slouch when it comes to kicking tail. Like most heroes, he can wade through crowds of bad guys like water. With a rotation of the left stick he can spin like a tornado of fury, attacking enemies in bunches, burrowing underground for lost treasure or springing skyward to higher altitudes. Of course he can smash objects to find hidden items but sometimes he ll need some mutant assistance to break the bigger boxes.

Visually, Mind Over Mutants was the least appealing of the three. All of the environments weren t necessarily bad, but it just wasn t as impressive as the other two. That s small potatoes, however, when you compare the audio and cut scene animations. Here Crash wins big. The animations are all done in a sort of modern cartoon style that s reminiscent of Ren and Stimpy. The picture is grainy and scratchy to give the illusion of an old film. The storyl ine was fun and the voices used for the characters were simply awesome.

The in-game audio was also far superior. The background music was fun and like the very first Super Mario, I can t seem to get it out of my head. The most fun part is listening to the lowest ranking baddies, which are usually rats. Whenever Crash is around they bravely scream Get the Bandithingy or some other phrase in a sort of wimpy, nasally voice. Once the pummeling starts they do little else than whine and complain about their injuries.

Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts is really a sequel to the first two games in the series. By this time, the evil witch Gruntilda has been reduced to just a head. She acquires the body of a robot in order to continue her harassment of Spiral Mountain. A new character or The Lord of the Games appears, claiming to be the creator of all the games ever made. He sports a head that resembles a TV screen grab of the game Pong so he must be legit. The bickering between Banjo the Bear and Gruntilda has made him weary and so he has created some worlds in which the two will compete for the ownership of Spiral Mountain. It s up to Banjo and his trusty gull Kazooie to save the day.

A reappearing character, Mumbo (who resembles a little witch doctor), now owns a garage and will help Banjo turn his simple trolley cart into a machine of destiny. The coolest thing about the game is building your machine.

Whether it rolls, flies, or floats you can customize your vehicle with all the latest gear such as better engines, wheels, seats, fuel etc. Located all around Showdown Town are crates filled with parts that Mumbo can put together.

While overall it was the most impressive game visually, Nuts & Bolts was horrible when it came to audio. None of the characters spoke anything but gibberish, forcing the player to read captions that are too small and disappear from the screen quickly. Reading everything throughout the whole game including the cut scene animations was extremely boring.

The bore factor went up again with the absence of any background music and very little environmental sounds or effects. This only enhanced the worst feature of the game which was the pathetically dumb noise the bear made every time he jumps on something. To everyone else in the room it sounds like someone repeatedly saying nothing more than Duh uh huh.

Visually, though, the game rocks. The in-game animations were extremely well done. When the characters move it is almost cinematic in quality. When Banjo splashes around in the water, the droplets land on the camera lens for the full effect. Running around in this environment was a host of fun and the action was also impressive. Getting used to the controls of your own vehicle was complicated at times but well worth the time invested.

Contact Tom Fisher at tfisher@theblade.com or 419-724-6523.



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