‘Playboy’ Goes Naked, But ‘Wario Ware’ Touched Us the Right Way



For: PC, PlayStation 2, Xbox

Publisher: ARUSH

Developer: Cyberlore

You may be disappointed to learn that
the most elating thing about this Hef-meets-The-Sims offering is the fact
that you can create and run the magazine yourself, which is often engaging
for a nerd journalist such as myself. With regard to the sex, well,
it doesn’t go far enough—it’s just topless. (Even Jayne Mansfield took off
her underpants for Playboy and that was the ’50s.) Remember
Virtual Vixens, the X-rated sci-fi PC game of about a decade ago in which you had to try
really hard to make the women have an orgasm before you did? If you didn’t,
you’d get chided. Now, that was Clinton-era cool. Of course, this is Playboy
in the time of Bush, not bush, and there is no such attempt at Vixens‘ orgasmic equality in this game. Almost makes you think that nudity is bad. Don’t believe it.


For: Nintendo DS

Publisher: Nintendo

Developer: Nintendo

Break out the Adderall! There isn’t much
in video game history that’s more fast-paced than Wario for the DS. These
180 five-second games test your reflexes and your
memory with ever-maddening difficulty on the touch screen, which is kinda cruel because
you’re laughing some of the time as you follow the commands of the comic,
mustachioed baddie. You even get to use the DS microphone; just blow into it mic to play ’em. The micro-games and animations are more manically intricate
than the previous Warios, so you won’t feel any sort of ennui.


For: GameBoy Advance

Publisher: Nintendo/Capcom

Developer: Flagship

Even though it’s a
GameBoy Advance release, The Minish Cap offers what all the Zelda games
are best at: a role-playing experience with jubilant optimism and Frank Capra-era
heart. Unabashedly old school, the fight to save the Princess Zelda (who is
turned to stone; no, not by Medusa) is rife with twists and turns in which
Link shrinks down into the miniature world of the Minish and dons a cap that’s
also a cheeky bird who helps you out during the game.
There’s the requisite sword-fighting bravery,
monster-filled adventures, and the ability to save the girl at the end. The
sun sets, and you feel chest-puffingly heroic—at least until you look up
to see what’s real, wishing you could banish it all to one of the game’s
massive dungeons.


For: Xbox

Publisher: Electronic Arts

Developer: Oddword Inhabitants

If you think Patti Smith is utterly pretty
with gray hair and age on her, and that Sphinx cats and naked mole rats are
beautiful, you’ll appreciate Oddworld Stranger’s Wrath. You’re a bounty
hunter in need of an operation (is he really a girl?) and outlaws by the
dozen block your progress. As its Clint Eastwood-inspired Stranger and
spaghetti western locales combine with space cowboy sci-fi suspense, the
game’s silliness catches you off guard. OSW is the most happily offbeat game
of the year thus far. For instance, while PETA wouldn’t appreciate it, you
use sci-fi animals like the wise-ass Chippunks as crossbow ammo. By
the looks on their faces, the animated animals hate it. You’ll love


For: PlayStation 2

Publisher: Sony

Developer: Angel Studios

Black Monday is the British version of the
shooting and driving genre, and while the gritty script to this
sequel is full of “fucks” to make the game feel realistic, it seems like the
developers wanted to “fuck” the eager gamer by putting this onto the market
before it was completely debugged. Aiming to shoot is a pain, and
camera angles induce a kind of David Foster Wallace-feeling of overly
self-aware paranoia because the walls and corners seem to want to defeat you
more than the thugs do. The potential here was great; you really want to
live on the streets of London and feel immersed in its underbelly and the
interesting characters herein. But the game’s flaws are like strong gusts
of wind blowing you off track.


For: PC, PlayStation 2, Xbox

Publisher: THQ

Developer: Volition

The Punisher sure got the brooding, ambivalent, violent
nature of its comic book anti-hero down, right down to the cheerless words
he spews about New York City still being a violent hellhole underneath its
theme park/Times Square
exterior. And the game adds a nice twist or two to
the shooter genre with violent interrogations à la Popeye Doyle. Punch the
cowering weasel just enough and he’ll cough up usuable info. Punch too hard
and he dies at your hands. Threaten him with death by woodchipper if you
like. But the Manhattan environment doesn’t quite feel as gritty as the real
McCoy. Ultimately, the game needs to be more like Night
of the Hunter
—more psychopathic, and more soulful in its violence. The
script’s stirring, but there’s no line like Robert Mitchum’s “Don’t touch my
That makes me mad. Very, very mad.”


For: GameCube

Publisher: Capcom

Developer: Capcom Production Studio 4

Script lovers beware: Resident Evil
‘s dialogue is stilted and not exciting, B-movie bad. Still, after five hours of
continuous play, I found I had to pull myself away physically from this
zombie horror offering about a cult that has captured the president’s
daughter. It’s one of the most graphically complex and utterly beautiful
games ever coded for the GameCube: lush when vivid, chiaroscuro when scary
(which it is often). There’s a Clive Barker-S&M essence to the atmospheric
horror, which is bloody and full of sloppy marrow too. As one of Barker’s
characters uttered in Abarat, “Every dark unthinkable thing that has
happened at the dead of night has happened right here.” Especially when you
meet that thing in the lake. If only the script were better.


For: PlayStation 2, Xbox

Publisher: LucasArts

Developer: Pandemic

Essentially, Mercenaries is
about blowing things up in communist Korea, blowing things up in mammoth
pyrotechnic extravaganzas à la various incandescent Hollywood blockbusters.
This is more compelling than blowing things up in, say, Ratchet and Clank:
Up Your Arsenal
because you’re rewarded for doing well. For the
mercenary character you control, it’s about the money. Really for the average game
player, it’s
about getting a pat on the back from your crew and the
gangsters with whom you deal. In that sense, it’s about community, and it’s
not that different from Jack Bauer in 24, or Charlotte in I Am Charlotte
, for that matter. And that’s what keeps you coming back (to get all
the Koreans in a 52-card, Iraq-like deck): The fires down below, and that
pat on the back, which goes to your head.


For: GameCube, PC, Playstation 2, Xbox

Publisher: Ubisoft

Developer Ubisoft Montreal

POP begins with an excitingly beautiful blur of action—slashing
sword fighting, lunkhead wraiths, the very hot Goth Shahdee fighting you in a
strong bikini (à la Kelly Freas), and it’s almost quicker than Depp in
Pirates of the Caribbean. It slows as you practice running across walls, but
then speeds up in a Back to the Future way. Moving between eras, back and
forth in time, can be damn frustrating, but it just may be worth it since the
game is so spiritually, unremittingly dark and occasionally depressing, more like Errol Flynn’s autobiography My Wicked, Wicked Ways than his
swashbuckling movies.


For: PlayStation 2

Publisher: 0~3

Developer: The Behemoth

If Alien Hominid were an animated movie, it
might be nominated for an Oscar. But this great achievement was ignored in
the crass and seemingly fixed Spike TV game awards a few weeks ago. (How and
why does Brooke Burke win over Judi Densch?) With low tech drawing à la
South Park (and humor that’s Bill Plympton-twisted), this side-scroller
starring a plucky humanesque outsider does something only the roller coaster
at Coney Island has done. It made me laugh at the same time I screamed
bloody murder. While AH is dubbed an indie creation, it’s really made by
veterans of the industry. Still, it’s about as indie as games get, which
alone is a reason to support it.

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