Publisher: Fresh Games/Eidos
Rating: 8 (out of 10)
To the list of hardcore gamers’ disturbing tendencies (virtual violence, male gazing, hardcore gaming), add nostalgia. Obsessing over daring ’70s cinema is one thing. But spend hours scrolling through 1984’s Spy Hunter—one of 20-plus titles included in the recent Midway Arcade Treasures—and you might as well be slathering on black-and-white makeup for a Kiss reunion concert. And yet Gene Simmons still bothers to get head from 40-year-old groupies. Some things never get old, no matter how much has gone down since they were fresh. Boutique developer Irem puts out retro 2D shooters only, relying on insatiable arcade fans wowed by play-qua-play and busy background graphics. R-Type Final may be the ultimate expression of the genre.
The premise, of course, could not be more simple: Your insect-like spaceship floats from left to right, encountering enemies that must be showered with bombs and bullets. Ikaruga elegantly shaded this concept by varying the polarity of opponents’ fire, allowing you to switch and absorb like-colored shots. Here, the 101 customizable crafts eventually at your disposal provide exponentially escalating ways to counter trickster bosses, some of which grow and change organically as you fight them. There are only six levels—some in space, others that involve going underwater—but many difficult-to-find paths through each. Up the difficulty setting and you’ll be glad you don’t have to drop in a quarter for every life. Then again, what’ll that buy you these days?
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 phantasmagoria—a black, fast-cut creepfest equal to most Hollywood horror—capturing 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 compete—and be forced to communicate—in a way that redefines the term role-play. Fulfill individual bonus objectives to progress ahead of your partners—those bastards!
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 fantasy’s frisson. It’s Bronze Age romanticism, reforged in silicon.
NEED FOR SPEED UNDERGROUND
(Electronic Arts—GameCube, 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. 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, though—race designers have yet to reinvent the wheel.
(EA—GameCube, PS2, Xbox) 9
A grimy take on football’s 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 you’ve 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 to their speed-enhancing sneakers.
PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME
(Ubisoft—GameCube, PC, PS2, Xbox) 9
The first Prince of Persia was 2-D; you play The Sands of Time in four dimensions. Plummet into a chasm? Rewind up to 10 seconds and take another leap. This evolution of Enter the Matrix‘s bullet-time gimmick rounds out the game’s spectacularly acrobatic play, which finds you running along walls and climbing, dodging, jumping, flipping, and shimmying around enemies and through obstacles. The impeccably intuitive controls make this feel as magical as it looks. With empires like this, who needs revolutions?
SECRET WEAPONS OVER NORMANDY
(LucasArts—GameCube, PC, PS2, Xbox) 6
One part History Channel, two parts Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe, this flyover necessarily sucks much of the life-and-death from war history’s grand sweep and anonymous tragedy. Whaddya gonna do? It’s the postmortem—pardon me—postmodern condition. Secret Weapons’ assortment of bombing runs, dogfights, and detail missions fly by thanks to an emphasis on arcade-style ease-of-play, but one simply leads into the next. And characters are rendered in black-and-white: Stoic American Chase (heh-heh), forbidding Germans, pussy Englishmen.
THE SIMS: BUSTIN’ OUT
(EA Games—GameCube, PS2, Xbox) 9
While some games inspire religious devotion, only Simspin-offs require it. In this saucy console debut update, you can take a disco nap, shower, shit, scooter to Club Rubb, grab ass, go home—mundane or fun, everything recedes into a heartbeat of flushing, snoring, and Simlish. And whether you join the military or “counterculture,” there’s a path to follow; adherents to the latter need only keep fit and charismatic.
Helmed almost as a hobby by money-makin’ Resident Evil 2 director Hideki Kamiya, this remarkably well-thunk-out 2-D side scroller celebrates purely physical gaming-qua-gaming. Speeding or slowing time, Joe deflects the fists and bullets of comic characters and bosses, scarfs burgers, and completes small but tricky tasks while turning corners and leaping for coins. Smooth, engrossing, tough, and pretty, Viewtiful Joe exceeds every GameCube title except The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker.