By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
A zero mission sounds like it should involve picking up a 30-pack of Coors or scrubbing down moms double-wide on threat of being kicked out, but for our lady hero-not-zero Samus Aran, the big 0 simply refers to starting at square one (math was never my strong suit). About 20 years ago, fans of Metroid for NES suited up on Planet Zebes, blasted Skeeters, chipped away at Ridley and Kraid, and finally outsmarted Mother Brain. (Artificial intelligence was less impressive in the eight-bit era.) Today, Americas 20 million GBA owners can suit up on Planet Zebes, blast Skeeters, chip away at Ridley and Kraid, and finally outsmart Mother Brainon the subway! (I once saw a hobo do this without a GameBoy.)
Wait for the G late at night, and the mission might take you one ride: The game lasts for only a few hours. Finishing does unlock the hard setting (plus the original Metroid), and the first couple repeat plays are rewarded with different endings. Its enough to soak in play this fluid. Aran, outfitted in armor that allows her to curl into a morph ball, vaults, rolls, and battles strenuously, mapping elegantly detailed, maze-like levels. Contrary to Internetchatter, the twist that comes after Momma Brains defeat wont quite make you cream your jeans. I wouldnt put it past that hobo, though.
The delicate underage twins who drift through this high-minded survival update imperil themselves all too pornographically but pop flashbulbs instead of the typical FPS plasma phallus. As Mio, you follow Mayu into a post-massacre phantasmagoriaa black, fast-cut creepfest equal to most Hollywood horrorcapturing lost souls on your camera obscura while picking up clues like newspaper clippings. There are no bosses to pelt, and the puzzles and plot kinks keep you looking over your shoulder rather than shooting from the hip.
FINAL FANTASY: CRYSTAL CHRONICLES
This Final Fantasy experiment, dreamed up by market-hungry Nintendo, introduces a multiplayer mode requiring Game Boys. Loyalists will be disappointed if they attempt this threadbare adventure alone. But up to four chums, substituting GBs for controllers, will cooperate and competeand be forced to communicatein a way that redefines the term role-play. Fulfill individual bonus objectives to progress ahead of your partnersthose bastards!
The I Ching: When the way comes to an end, then changehaving changed, you pass through. In this arcade-style shooter, you speed through a downward-scrolling gauntlet of black- or white-bullet-firing enemies and obstacles, either dodging those of the opposite color or reversing your polarity to absorb them. Try it at half-speed. As Confucius said, It does not matter how slow you go, as long as you do not stop. Just dont forget to use the bathroom!
MARIO KART: DOUBLE DASH!!
Speedier, sillier, and even more psychedelic, the first new Mario Kart in five years is reason enough to buy a GameCube. The Technicolor franchises slapstick battle aspect, best summed up by the ability to drop a banana peel on the track, evokes the cartoon violence we all know and love while continually obliterating rankings. Between opponents backseat bombers, traps, and other natural threats (breaking waves, thunderbolts), youll need much more than a good drift technique to finish first. So turn on, tune in, and drop out!
MAXIMO VS ARMY OF ZIN
Really just an improvement on 2002's overly difficult Ghosts to Glory, Army of Zin boasts action as crisp and effervescent as Crystal Pepsi. Only boyish gladiator Maximo, armor-clad and bearing sword, shield, and hammer, can save the kingdom from blade-armed ghosts in machines. For geeks who warp to Middle-earth via IMAX, such retrofuturist technophobia charges fantasys frisson. Its Bronze Age romanticism, reforged in silicon.
The newest Need for Speed introduces the novel ability to exoticize your crappy base-model with conspicuously sporty aftermarket parts, like spoilers. (And I dont mean car-safety guru Ralph Nader.) Engine ups and nitrous tanks unlock automatically, but hustling style-points by drifting around corners and landing jumps opens almost infinite combinations of superficial customizations. No spinners, thoughrace designers have yet to reinvent the wheel.
(EAGameCube, PS2, Xbox) 9
A grimy take on footballs combination of chess, ballet, and gay demolition derby: Each pro you send sprawling over benches and into walls has been beefed to cartoonish proportions, and when youve shown off enough fancy jukes and spins, a gamebreaker juice-up renders your crew virtually invincible. In the surprisingly good single-player NFL Challenge mode, you earn points to build a franchise, choosing everything from the players mutated genes (10 attributes, plus size) to their speed-enhancing sneakers.
OTOGIMYTH OF DEMONS
The Japanese aesthetes behind this quasi-role-playing action title have created a hermetic universe fired by neuroses and governed by the twitchy laws of OCD. A cloaked princess assigns your character, former executioner Raikoh, quests so that he may cleanse his death-doling clan of impurity. Set a millennium ago, during Japans Heian era, the single-player Otogi bombards you with creepy spirits, Rorschach demons, and trickster bosses.