By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Developer Team Ninja
Rating 9 (out of 10)
If Tom Risky Business Cruise can star in The Last Samurai, then closeted Scientologists and your fat little brother should be able to swing swords and fling stars as ninjas. This is Ninja Gaidens inclusive message. If youre all thumbs, let one of the industrys best fighting engines grant you the poise of a top gun. With two left feet, youll stumble through Dance Dance Revolution. Here, basic combos multiply into wall-run back flips and blood-spurt beheadingsthe smoothest acrobatics and most graceful gore this side of the Pacific. Like Prince of Persia, another old-school series thats ocean-deep on new hardware, Ninja Gaiden proves that theres something to game sequels. Imagine accomplishing Mission: Impossible II yourself. (What, youd prefer Rain Man?)
It barely does Team Ninjas Tomonobu Itagaki justice to call him gamings John Woo. This is as good as a hack-and-slash epic gets. There are shades of platform puzzling; youll navigate huge, overlapping maps in each level, backtracking to unlock doors or upgrade your weapons with the blacksmith. But the action never flags. Youll encounter meatier and meatier varieties of enemies (the scaly, rainbow-colored Greater Fiends are a highlight), and bosses with multiple modes of attack. Counter with blades, nunchakus and bow-and-arrow or power up ice, fire, and electricity, all while grabbing technique-teaching scrolls and running across walls andwonders never ceaseon water. You just wont be able to turn it into wine.
007: EVERYTHING OR NOTHING
(EA GamesGameCube, PS2, Xbox) 8
The cinemas about as griping as any recent Bond, which is to say not at all. But the seamless actionnow presented in third personis spit-shined and ever shifting. Youll pass through Egypt, Peru, New Orleans, and Moscow, crouching, sniping, rappelling, remote-controlling cars and bombs, and driving weaponized motorcycles and Porsche SUVs. And you have Bond Sense. And you can become invisible. But thats it.
FATAL FRAME 2: CRIMSON BUTTERFLY
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.
METROID: ZERO MISSION
(NintendoGameBoy Advance) 8
Twenty 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. 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.)
(THQPS2, Xbox) 8
Theres a thousand and one ways to make an ass of yourself in what is the funnest race-trick-crash blowout since last holiday seasons SSX 3. The game thrills like few other white-trash sports titles, mostly because you can launch off jumps into the propellers of passing helicopters. Id like to see Al Qaeda do that with a donkey.
NEED FOR SPEED UNDERGROUND
(Electronic ArtsGameCube, PC, PS2, Xbox) 8
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.