Be the Game


At last week’s Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3, held in L.A., Sony dropped a biggity-bomb: The company said it will introduce a handheld device, called the PSP, to compete with Nintendo’s Game Boy in late 2004. (It was also announced, with considerably less fanfare, that the owner of a white Ford Escort, California license plate GAMR-12, had left his lights on.) Although the Voice thought better of sending me to E3 (they instead suggested a visit to GameStop on Broadway), I found details about the PSP online. It will feature a backlit, 3-D-capable wide screen (16-by-nine aspect ratio); next-gen 90-nanometer chips; USB 2.0 port to connect to other PSPs, PCs, and probably PlayStations; and video MPEG4 technology and stereo sound for playing digital music and movies (to be delivered on a 1.8-gig Universal Media Disc game cartridge). I never understand anything I read on the Internet.


For GameCube

Developer Treasure

Publisher Atari

Rating 8 (out of 10)

“Amid the turmoil and tumult of battle,” reads a quote from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War printed on Ikaruga‘s box, “there may be seeming disorder and yet no real disorder at all.” For real! This arcade-style shooter, in which furious 2-D action is set against a nuanced 3-D background, elegantly demonstrates Sun Tzu’s principle . . . Hey! Wake up! The mind-emptying beauty of Ikaruga is its seamless unity of aesthetics and game-play. Essentially, you maneuver your space fighter within a downward-scrolling gauntlet of black- or white-bullet-firing enemies and obstacles. The yin-yang twist is that you may switch your own polarity. Getting hit with same-colored bullets gives you energy, while the others cause instant destruction—you must either dodge the latter, or reverse your polarity to absorb them. (The I Ching: “When the way comes to an end, then change—having changed, you pass through.”)

You don’t have to be an Eastern philosopher or New Age dimwit to appreciate this neat trick. Although being an experienced gamer might help—Ikaruga is fucking hard. The streams of ammunition—fired from other fighters, gun bays, and unfolding bosses—are woven so tightly and with such variety that without the perfect controls you might give up in favor of doing something simple, like studying fractals. But the seeming disorder is no disorder at all. Surviving the fans, waves, helices, and alternating currents of opposing energies results in an odd tranquility. The only strategy is to take out three opponents of one polarity at a time; this, too, becomes a satisfying reflex. Meanwhile, the only play-altering option, besides the impure two-player mode, is to burnish technique at half-speed. As Confucius said, “It does not matter how slow you go, as long as you do not stop.” Just don’t forget to use the bathroom!


For GameCube, PS2, Xbox (review copy)

Developer GenePool

Publisher Activision

Rating 7

What with its post-terrorist-attack talk of a “Mutant Registration Act,” X2: X-Men United—that’d be the movie, folks—posits its unleashed freaks as vilified outsiders. In X2: Wolverine’s Revenge, the political becomes personal. As hairy Canadian Wolverine, you must assert your humanity—”Not! Animal! Not! Animal!” voice actor Mark Hamill moans in the opening scene, after Wolvie’s been outfitted with an “adamantium” skeleton—and claw your way to the antidote for a virus that’s quickly killing you. Don’t worry about the jumbled story. The evil Canadian government, undoubtedly using funds from their universal health care system, gave Wolverine false “memory implants” along with his new bones. Nothing makes sense to him, either.

Forget about it. Deploying your special powers is motivation enough to move through the game’s booby-trapped military complexes, crash sites, mines, caves, and places that look like mines or caves. Unsheathe your blades and go into a “Feral Rage,” catfighting your way through guards and bosses like Sabretooth and the man-eating Wendigo (indigenous Canadian species, obviously). Or, better yet, sneak around in stealth mode, and use your heightened senses for thermal and X-ray vision, or to track enemies by their scents. Instead of scratch ‘n’ sniff, you sniff, then scratch!

Finally, a game in which you play a dirty-minded senior citizen who never changes out of his pajamas

Playboy plans on launching a Sims-style title modeled after the life of Hugh Hefner, CNN/Money reports.

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