Cool Enough for James Frey and Nan Talese
It's not technologically cool or advanced. Its 2D, side-scrolling graphics are old school. But DRILL DOZER, Nintendo's game for the equally old school Gameboy Advance, is a very fine offering which has so many bells and whistles, it almost feels like a console game.
Like it or not, older games are enjoying a comeback. Turner Broadcasting's GameTap (which I don't think will succeed) allows you to download everything from Mortal Kombat to Asteroids for a flat monthly fee. Midway, Atari, and Capcom often repackage their classic games and sell them cheaply. These were originally created for the old systems but now are jiggered to play on anything from the PSP to the Xbox. Yet these are games you've probably played in the past.
Drill Dozer is kind of like the Transamerica of games. You're young Jill, no transgendered Felicity Huffman as Bree, for sure. But Jill's outfitted with a huge, penis-like drill that, on the game box, is erect and ready for action. It's the kind of sharp object Oprah probably wanted to use on James Frey and Nan Talese on their TV showdown last week.
Jill herself has the gritty, tooth-clenching readiness of a working-class hero. As Jill, you're trying to find the evil Skulkers, a team of baddies who've kidnapped your father along with a rare red diamond. You'll also be drilling through a lot of policemen, at which point the game somehow reminds me of The Village People mugging and singing "YMCA." To save Dad, you'll get behind the wheel of a clunky but powerful drilling machine. The Drill Dozer has a sharp corkscrew device on the front to bore through the baddies, and pretty much anything or anyone who gets in the way.
As you move through the levels in the quest to find Dad and the diamond, you'll discover several items that will pimp up the Drill Dozer. There are gears that make it more powerful and special gizmos to let you fly and swim. You'll have various drill bits and drills, and you'll collect chips along the way to buy upgrades like a megabit, which pretty much drills through the toughest substance you'll encounter. Tip: If you see a cracked wall, go ahead and drill. You'll likely find a treasure inside.
For a handheld game created for a system that isn't considered cool anymore, Drill Dozer is packed with attitude and emotion, and cut scenes that are full of adventure. With Jill's pals Gearmo, your grease monkey, and Grutch, a crusty old geezer with lots of wisdom to offer Jill, you'll have a lot of helpthe tough guy kind à la Monster Garage (Could Jill really be Sandra Bullock, longing for a tough guy like Jesse James-like Gearmo to marry?). No matter how much help you've gotten from the macho men, you'll have a heckuva time beating the mysterious Croog, the unhinged megaboss of the Skulker gang.
The Japanese developer, Game Freak, has had huge success with its Pokemon games. Here, they've taken pride in putting together a package which includes a small comic book and a cartridge that incorporates rumble feature (which even seems to work when you play the game in the DS's Gameboy Advance slot). The only thing I don't like about the game is its incessant, frenetic soundtrack. It's supposed to pump you up with energy to play. But it's so loud and speedy, the music distracts and annoys me to occasional migraine status. That's the price one pays for gaming. Fun + Pain = Rush for Tylenol.
Ape Escape 3
There are a ton of games that are cartoonish, and most of them are too cute and cloying for me to even deal with. But APE ESCAPE 3 makes me feel like I'm inside the cartoon, probably because the foes have more personality that my character does. They all have a kind of Janeane Garofalo, fight-back attitudeeven though they're monkeys.
Ape Escape 3's concept is simple. You capture frantic monkeys with a net. If that sounds simplistic, it's not. It's a concept that's served avid gamers well in the two earlier Ape Escape installments, the first of which goes as far back as the original Playstation.
The fun still tickles after three installments because the concept is so well implemented, sardonically complex and humor-filled. It was also true with the first Ape Escape, which I gave to former Dawson's Creek actor Michelle Williams to review when I was editing an online magazine. She said it made her giggle and put her in the mood, well, for other things.
There's a host of reasons that make Ape Escape 3 a superior game. First, all the monkeys you capture are a little different from each other, but they each have an appealingly frenzied waddle and a fuck you attitude. If you miss them with your net, they just might whack you so hard, you'll fall down. Like the monkey catcher you play, the characters all have the big saucer eyes that are so popular in Japanese anime movies.
You'll also like the humor mixed with touches of mild satire. The object of the game is to stop the evil monkey Specter from dumbing down all the world's TV shows. One character, Natalie, says, "These shows are so stupid that anyone watching becomes a mindless couch potato." OK, TV's already mindless and stupid (with the exception of 24 and Lost), but these shows are even more inane than The Invention Channel. Throughout the game you'll deal with a show that's kind of a reality wedding and even a Titanic-based show.
You'll be armed with a vast array of gadgets to help you capture your prey, everything from propellers to make you fly to a cowboy gizmo that allows you to shoot your net. You'll have to watch out for nasty robotic toys and animals who are out to get you. (I destroyed a sly fox after he stole my net in an early level, but it wasn't easy. I still feel scarred.) Since the monkeys get smarter and more evasive as you progress, you'll need your wits, and a morphing ability that will temporarily increase your strength and powers. One of the powers, which I dubbed the Outkast morph, allows you to turn your foes into crazy, dancing fools.
But, like those TV infomercial hucksters say, there's more. You'll discover a mall which lets you purchase music (some of which is terrific: There's a ditty that includes a lot of yodeling that's hilarious). Heck, at one store, you can even make your own monkey videos. As you move from level to level, you'll unlock various minigames. You'll locate an area that gives you your monkey horoscope and fortune. It's not just fun for the entire family: If we got some of our politicians in Washington to sit down for a game of Ape Escape 3, I bet there would be a lot more camaraderie . . . and fewer Alito-type Supreme Court confirmations.
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