As Sony just firmed up the specs of its handheld PlayStation Portable game system—which is due in fall 2004 and will feature gee-whiz music, video, and wireless-networking capabilities—this week I’m helping industry underdog Nintendo by reviewing only Game Boy Advance titles. (Note to the Nintendo folks: The light added to the GBA SP works great—don’t worry about mean ol’ Sony’s fancy multimedia aspirations!) Speaking of not doing anyone any favors, did you hear about the Paramount Pictures execs who blamed the new Tomb Raider movie’s poor opening weekend on the shittiness of the game’s latest incarnation? Synergy, once held sacred by corporate flunkies, has truly been scandalized.
JET GRIND RADIO
For Game Boy Advance
Developer Vicarious Visions
Rating 8 (out of 10)
What’s funner than a hip-hop skateboarding game? Why, a Japanese hip-hop skateboarding game, of course! Welcome to Tokyo-to, “a city in Asia,” the manual tells us, “similar to Tokyo.” (Japan Inc.’s licensing fees must be outrageous.) As in the original Dreamcast version, rendered here in simpler isometric 3-D, Professor K—known for his “super funky afro dreads”—DJs for the titular pirate radio, spinning the game’s moderately bangin’ soundtrack. His peeps? Four in-line-skating graffiti gangs, 10 members of which are playable: the studiously blasé GG’s, masked kidnappers the Poison Jam, vandal techies the Noise Tanks, and “love-scorned” hater ladies Love Shockkers. Better than Bloods and Crips, no?
Your enemies: the keisatsu (“cops” to you, gringo-to), including the rubber-bullet-spraying Captain Onishima and flunkies of the “evil corporation” Rokkaku, “bent on”—how nefarious!—”cleaning up the city and eliminating the street punks.” I’m all for eliminating the average graf “artist,” never mind in-line “skater,” from any otherwise fair metropolis, but getting up on this game’s grindables and carefully spraying your color-coded load (including tags you design yourself) while avoiding the po-po sustains a frisson that the more advanced but less nutty Tony Hawk series leaves to mere button-mash combos. Plus, you get to play as Cube: “This styling goth girl may look dead, but not only can she skate, Cube can spray with flair!” Were this South Central, she might not just look it.
SPACE CHANNEL 5: ULALA’S COSMIC ATTACK
For Game Boy Advance
Developer 3d6 Games
Of all the things I love that are marketed to eight-year-old girls, Space Channel 5: Ulala’s Cosmic Attack qualifies not so much as guilty pleasure, but as hidden treasure. The part that appeals to 12-year-old boys—namely, tiny dancer Ulala herself, with those knee-high platform boots, purple pigtails, and single, very visible garter, ooh-la-la!—relies on overactive imaginations to transform a couple of minuscule on-screen stilts into smooth, slender, seemingly endless . . . mmm . . . legs. I got over feeling guilty about that sort of thing long ago. But while booty is endless, the thrill of discovering the spot-marking X is gone. Girl power, on the other hand, is off the map. Ulala and her mission have been translated from Dreamcast to GBA, and not without some fuckups: The final level is too hard and the controls not fully reliable, and graphic-wise, size of course matters. But the cutesy, candy-colored “femininity” and gameplay remain. As reporter Ulala, you’ve scooped the story of Teletubby-like extraterrestrials enslaving humans with their “alien rhythms”; to keep ratings up, you must simply copy their ever changing dance and blast your ray gun. It’s like jump-roping without moving—or being seen on the playground.
GBA TITLES IN BRIEF
Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising (Intelligent Systems/Nintendo): happily, no improvement over the original’s deep and difficult strategizing: 8 out of 10; Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Wrath of the Darkhul King (THQ): teenhood merely as drab and awkward survival: 4 out of 10; Drome Racers (Mobius Entertainment/THQ): a distraction for when you’re stuck in traffic: 5 out of 10; Mega Man Battle Network 3: Blue and White (Capcom Entertainment): happily, no improvement over the original’s anime cyberpunk role-playing: 7 out of 10.
Whatever you say is wrong, whatever I say is right
Representatives of Eminem are being sued by a Santa Monica video game company for allegedly reneging on a deal that would have allowed the company to produce a title incorporating the rapper’s videos.