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Headsup: Superheroes and the Return of the Prince of the Universe

After a summer of drought and woe on the gaming release front, leaving everyone ample time to think forward longingly to the next-gen consoles unveiled at this year’s E3, the waiting for some decent current-gen titles is over. There’s enough goodness this week to handily drain away any spare cash you might have had tucked away for the Xbox 360 or, you know, groceries.

Where to start with this embarrassment of riches? How about superheroes, who hit the console scene in a huge way this week with three separate titles out of the House of M. After the recent release of the insanely entertaining Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, you’d think they’d have a hard time following up. Not so. This week we get Ultimate Spider-Man, Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects, and last but not least, X-Men Legends II: The Rise of Apocalypse.

Developers Treyarch nailed the feel you’d want out of a Spidey game with their two movie tie-ins, particularly Spider-Man II, and they look to have improved on the formula in creating a video game based on Marvel’s Ultimate restart. Wide-open environments, an accolade system that rewards you for pushing Spidey’s acrobatic combat capabilities to their fullest variety, and the opportunity to do a little evil in the Venom suit all add up to a game that looks like it’ll be an absolute blast.

EA enters the comic book fray with a fighting game pitting a solid lineup of Marvel characters against…lame B-grade in-house EA inventions. This miscue I cannot understand. If you want to use some different characters, just go mine the Marvel archives and pull out some little-used characters that nobody will miss, and then round out the roster with marquee characters. The final game may prove me wrong, but it’s the least exciting of this week’s comic releases.

Raven Software looks set to repeat the success of last year’s X-Men Legends with a tweaked and refined sequel based on the same core engine. They’ve upped the cool factor by adding more characters (including Magneto’s Brotherhood, who must align with the X-Men to stop Apocalypse), as well as doubling or tripling each character’s total available allotment of powers. Here’s hoping they removed the level cap, too, so that dedicated level-grinding can max some of these folks out on a single play through the game. They’ve also added a wider variety of costumes and equippable items, promising most every costume from Chris Claremont’s late 80s run to present incarnations and more cool gadgets and artifacts of power from the Marvel universe. The original Legends was and is one of my favorite action RPGs, and the sequel looks to deliver on all the coolness. Now if only Marvel will license Raven to do a whole line of these games with other hero teams. I’d buy Avengers Legends in a heartbeat, and you could take a bunch of solo heroes and do Marvel Team-Up Legends. With secret unlockable character Man-Thing. Seriously.


Next, we have the latest franchise installment from EA Sports, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 06. The past couple of years have started to push this sports franchise into a weird sort of golf/RPG hybrid, and the trend appears to continue here. I’d rather see more courses and fewer polo options in the pro shop, but at this point I’m pretty sure the advertisers are footing the entire development bill on this series. For those thinking about getting in on the next-gen Xbox come November 22nd, hold off on this game and pick it up for the new box for improved graphics. The control system has been made more complex by the addition of the second analog stick to aim precise point of impact for the club, but we’ll see if that actually makes the game challenging enough to keep me from shooting in the low 50s within the first two weeks of picking the game up.

The “pushing the boundaries” award this week goes to Indigo Prophecy, a psychological thriller that opens with a ritual murder committed by the game’s protagonist (he’s in a trance of some kind and doesn’t know what he’s doing). The control scheme will take some getting used to, but from the short demo I’ve played, the game really rewards intelligent play. The story is fascinating, with your character trying to figure out what the hell he just got mixed up, in while the cops try to solve the murder you committed. All while the city is gripped in a colossal snowstorm. With multiple possible story outcomes depending on your decisions in-game, it looks basically like a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure on steroids. It’s nice to see someone doing something a little unexpected with a video game-as-narrative-tool, so hopefully the game will be well received and encourage more developers to take some chances.

Runner-up for innovation and weirdness (only because they’d done this once before already) is We Love Katamari, casting the player once again as the teeny-tiny Prince of the Universe, who must roll up big balls of random stuff in order to replace stars that are disappearing from the sky. Katamari Damacy crept in under the radar last year and simply blew everyone away, but the buzz started on this one early. With a $30 price tag, it’s a slightly pricier buy-in this time around, but if you missed what all the ball-rolling fuss was about the first time around, you owe it to yourself and your PS2 to pick this one up pronto.

On the budget front, there’s also the release this week of Ninja Gaiden Black, a sort of “Director’s Cut” of the hugely successful Ninja Gaiden from Team Ninja. Adding both the premium expansions released via Xbox Live, the game also sports a huge number of additional missions, a couple of new difficulty modes (one easier and one so insanely difficult that only methed-up hyperkinetic Japanese preteens will ever have the reflexes to defeat it), new weapons, new costumes, and the like. For $30, it’s a great way to get your hands on a classic game and a ton of new content to boot.

PC gamers rejoice! You are no longer exiled from the Garden of Gaming Eden. A handful of titles drop this week for the mouse-and-keyboard set, including the new licensed RPG/RTS hybrid Dungeons & Dragons: Dragonshard, a new Neverwinter Nights expansion (Kingmaker), PC versions of most of the comics games covered above and Tiger Woods, a new Warhammer 40K strategy game, the expanded director’s cut version of Fable, and Myst V, for those whose lives aren’t already frustrating enough. It’s a veritable cornucopia of gaming goodness for my desktop-bound brethren. Enjoy!

Buy Ultimate Spider-Man from Amazon: (GameBoy Advance, GameCube, Nintendo DS, PC, PS2, Xbox)
Buy Marvel Nemesis from Amazon: (GameCube, Nintendo DS, PS2, PSP, Xbox)
Buy X-Men Legends 2 from Amazon: (GameCube, PC, PS2, PSP, Xbox)

Buy Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2006 from Amazon: (GameCube, PC, PS2, PSP, Xbox, Xbox 360)
Buy Indigo Prophecy from Amazon: (PC, PS2, Xbox)
Buy We Love Katamari from Amazon: (PS2)
Buy Ninja Gaiden Black from Amazon: (Xbox)

Buy Dragonshard from Amazon: (PC)
Buy Kingmaker from Amazon: (PC)
Buy Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War Winter Assault from Amazon: (PC)
Buy Fables: The Lost Chapters from Amazon: (PC)
Buy Myst V from Amazon: (PC)