Gurney's Inn
April 26, 2006

Game Dork



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"Kingdom Hearts 2" (click for larger version)
Kingdom Come

'Oblivion' Royally Conquers 'Kingdom Hearts 2'

We begin in a kingdom, lush and perilous, where the lakes of "Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion" offer a green-blue invitation, and valley flowers sway around a circular fortress of spires and spears. You are on a risky quest to save this place, Tamriel. The king has asked you to "close shut the jaws of Oblivion" and its lurking evil.

It requires diligence to kill Doberman-size rats in sewers under the kingdom, then eat them for stamina; to mix potions and cast magic spells against bats that spit fire at you; and to take on vile villains who wear brutish faces.

Many games wrongly call themselves adventures, but this fantasy truly is that. Grizzled-looking knights and a doomed king speak to you both in cinematic scenes and during gameplay, breathing life into their characters and yours.

"Oblivion" is a living-game; that is, you create your character and take care of him. You eat, sleep, and heal your wounds. You begin by selecting your own image. Would you prefer to play as a man or a woman, a humanoid, an elf or an orc?

And then, you're on your way to swinging long swords and sledges, and firing arrows from bows.

The ornate imagery and wonderment of "Oblivion" is possible now because it was made for the Xbox 360, the newest and most powerful game machine. If you measure "Oblivion" against a very popular game, "Kingdom Hearts 2," on the older PlayStation 2 system, you see how feeble the PS 2 has become by comparison.

"Kingdom Hearts 2" is very ambitious, with parallels to "Oblivion." A "terrible darkness" invades Destiny Islands, we are told. A boy named Sora holds a magical key, which he must use to search distant worlds for his friends.

In the process, he is paired with Donald Duck and Goofy. There is much to like in "Kingdom Hearts 2." Cinematic scenes. An original soundtrack. Disney figures. And it takes as many as 60 hours to complete.

But on the ancient PS 2 — which came out in the 1990s, like many creaky and slow computers did — you must wait for images to load all the time, leaving you looking at a black screen for about seven seconds, every minute or so. And the images look nothing as glorious as almost any game on Xbox 360.

"Kingdom Hearts 2" is mostly fun, otherwise, rummaging through worlds and fighting for justice. It might be particularly appealing for parents who want kids to play as bouncy, bloodless characters in a light adventure.

For this adult, though, "Oblivion" (rated "T" for teens, since it's not especially gruesome) makes "Kingdom Hearts 2" and other PS 2 games seem quaint and underwhelming.

In fact, I took a break from playing "Oblivion" to write this column. Now I will delve back into its vicious righteousness. Something is trying to slay me with a fistful of lightning bolts.

("Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion" for Xbox 360 — Plays fun, though with some slack moments. Looks great. Challenging. Rated "T" for blood, gore, language, sexual themes, use of alcohol, and violence. Three and one-half stars out of four.)

("Kingdom Hearts 2" for PS 2 — Plays fun when it's not bogged down by loading times. Looks good. Challenging. Rated "E 10+" for mild blood, use of alcohol, and violence. Two and one-half stars.)

NEW TO YOU — USED GAME OF THE WEEK

"TimeSplitters: Future Perfect" is a very fun, shooting game with cinematic appeal. You play as a Vin Diesel-looking bald dude, as you travel through time and save the world from bad guys. You sign up partners in each time travel, including a scampy teenage girl, from 1994, who wears a "SLUT" T-shirt.

You should be able to pick up "Future Perfect" for a bargain price of $15 or so at used-game stores. It's available for Xbox, PS 2 and GCube. It's rated "M" for blood, gore, and violence.

(Ratings: "E" for "Everyone;" "T" for "Teen;" "M" for "Mature 17+")

NEW AND COMING SOON

"Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories" first came out for Sony's handheld PSP (it may be the best PSP game on the market), and yesterday the popular title also came out for the PS 2 for $30. It's rated "M" for blood, gore, intense violence, strong language, strong sexual content, and use of drugs.

"2006 FIFA World Cup" is the latest in EA Sports's annually updated, acclaimed soccer series. It retails for $60 for Xbox 360; $30 for Xbox, PS 2, GCube, Nintendo GBA and the Nintendo DS; and $40 for the PSP. It's rated "E."

"Major League Baseball 2K6" came out for the GCube and PSP yesterday for $49. It's rated "E."

"Outrun 2006 Coast 2 Coast" is a racer with Ferraris and other sleek cars, in a game that looks more cartoonish in this age of car-simulation games. It retails for $30 for Xbox and PS 2 and PSP. It's rated "E".

(Ratings: "E" for "Everyone;" "T" for "Teen;" "M" for "Mature 17+")

TOP 10 NEW GAMES

Here are the Top 10 best-selling video games, according to retailer Blockbuster. Games are listed by title, company, gaming system, and rating from the Entertainment Software Rating Board.

1. "Kingdom Hearts 2" (Square Electronics) for PS 2; rated "E 10+" (mild blood, use of alcohol, violence)

2. "Major League Baseball 2K6" (Visual Concepts) for Xbox; also available for Xbox 360, PS 2; rated "E"

3. "Battlefield 2: Modern Combat" (Electronics Arts) for Xbox 360; also available for Xbox, PS 2; rated "T" (language, violence)

4. "Tomb Raider: Legend" (Eidos) for Xbox 360; also available for Xbox, PS 2, GCube and PSP; rated "T" (blood, language, suggestive themes, violence)

5. "Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion" (Bethesda Softworks) for Xbox 360; rated "T" (blood, gore, language, sexual themes, use of alcohol, violence)

6. "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas Special Edition" (Rockstar) for PS 2; also available for Xbox; rated "M" (blood, gore, intense violence, strong language, strong sexual content, use of drugs)

7. "Kingdom Hearts" (Square Electronics) for PS 2; rated "E 6+" (violence)

8. "Tomb Raider: Legend" for PS 2

9. "NBA Ballers Phenom" (Midway) for PS 2; also available for Xbox; rated "E"

10. "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" for Xbox

(Ratings: "E" for "Everyone;" "T" for "Teen;" "M" for "Mature 17+")

TOP 10 RENTAL GAMES

Here are the Top 10 best-renting video games, according to retailer Blockbuster. Games are listed by title, company, the gaming system, and rating from the Entertainment Software Rating Board.

1. "Kingdom Hearts 2" (Square Electronics) for PS 2; rated "E 10+" (mild blood, use of alcohol, violence)

2. "Major League Baseball 2K6" (Visual Concepts) for Xbox; also available for Xbox 360, PS 2, GCube and PSP; rated "E"

3. "The Godfather: The Game" (EA) for PS 2; also available for Xbox; rated "M" (blood, gore, intense violence, strong language, suggestive themes)

4. "Fight Night Round 3" (EA) for PS 2; also available for Xbox 360, Xbox, PSP; rated "T" (blood, mild language, suggestive themes, violence)

5. "Major League Baseball 2K6" for Xbox

6. "Tomb Raider: Legend" (Eidos) for PS 2; also available for Xbox 360, Xbox, GCube and PSP; rated "T" (blood, language, suggestive themes, violence)

7. "Black" (EA) for PS 2; also available for Xbox; rated "M" (strong language, violence)

8. "NBA Ballers Phenom" (Midway) for PS 2; also available for Xbox; rated "E"

9. "Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter" (Ubisoft) for box 360; also available for Xbox, PS 2; rated "T" (blood, language, violence)

10. "The Godfather: The Game" for Xbox

(Ratings: "E" for "Everyone;" "T" for "Teen;" "M" for "Mature 17+")

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