Kemco’s Gun-toting Girlie Hero Misses the Target in Rogue Ops

A busty, blonde Lara Croft look-alike wearing skin-tight spy gear stares up from the video-game store table. Packing a crossbow in her hand and a determined look on her face, you can tell she’s ready for anything. The box also screams disappointing stealth action game that can’t get out from the shadow of Metal Gear Solid.

But that would be wrong. When I open the box, I find that Kemco’s Rogue Ops for the Playstation 2, Xbox and GameCube is a decent game with enough original, clever puzzles to partially overcome some design flaws.

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Nintendo’s Newest Mario Kart: Double Dash Revamps the Old Classic

Nintendo Headquarters, SEATTLE – As I prepared for Nintendo’s first annual College Media Day, I found there was one event I was looking forward to even more than the full tour of Nintendo nostalgia heaven. The event? A few hours of hands-on testing with Nintendo’s Mario Kart: Double Dash (GameCube).

If you’ve played any of the Mario Kart games for Super Nintendo, Nintendo 64 or Game Boy Advance then you’re already familiar with Double Dash’s cartoony, vehicular combat racing style. But Nintendo’s latest update to the series adds much more than the fairly by-the-numbers sequels that came before it.

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Releasing a platforming game at the beginning of the year is a little like releasing an action movie in the early fall. In both cases, fans of the genre have gotten their fill during the boom period of the past few months: the "summer blockbuster" period for movies and the winter selling season for video games. Acclaim’s Vexx for the Playstation 2, X-box, and GameCube does little to distinguish itself from the wave of "winter blockbusters" like Ratchet and Clank, Rygar, and Shinobi that came before it.

The biggest thing that Vexx has going for it is the wide variety of highly imaginative challenges presented to the player. While some of the goals simply require Vexx to climb to the top of a level or collect X number of floating heart pieces, most require him to solve some elaborate puzzles or play an interesting mini-game to reach the prize. Each goal is accompanied by a rhyming couplet that indirectly hints at the goal, but doesn’t spell it out completely. Players have to use their brain to figure out exactly what the game is asking of them, a feature that a few of the more direct platformers could learn a lesson from.

But despite the lofty presentation and design triumphs, Vexx suffers from a number of technical problems that made me feel more frustrated than entranced with the game as a whole.

Another huge technical obstacle is the game’s frequent and overly long load times. Levels can take upwards of 15 to 20 seconds to load, and require an additional 10 to 15 seconds when Vexx enters particular sub-sections and mini-games inside the level. Player’s can look forward to additional loading every time they collect a wraitheart or return to the main menu after losing all their lives. There is no excuse for these interminable load times when games year-old like Jak and Daxter provide beautiful, persistent worlds that are virtually free of any visible loading.

With so many technically superior platforming games already on the market, I find it hard to recommend Vexx. Hardcore platforming fans should give it a rental to see what it does right. Others should stay away for all the things that it does wrong.

Latest Simpsons Video Game, Hit and Run, is an Oodily Doodily Good Time

What do you get when you combine the overdone video game subgenre of Grand Theft Auto with the overdone cartoon series The Simpsons?

Surprisingly, you get a game that is, in some ways, better than both.

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Sega and Nintendo’s F-Zero GX Makes Your Heart Pump and Proves Brutal to Master

Sometimes it seems like video games in general are getting easier and easier. Back in the day, it was normal to replay the first three levels of a game hundreds of times before making it to mythical level four (and then bragging to all your friends about it at school the next day). These days, though, it seems save-anywhere features and a focus on storytelling have forced games to be easy enough for most any button-masher to complete. Where games once had to be hard so they would last longer, now they have to be easy so they don’t just go on forever.

Standing against this trend of easiness is Sega’s F-Zero GX for the GameCube, a game that makes you remember how hard games used to be.

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Located at 7409 Baltimore Avenue, Kings Park Café offers a nice change of pace from the standard college town eatery fare. While the café does serve college staples such as subs, wings and pizza, it’s the Mediterranean offerings that will keep you coming back.

As soon as you walk in, the vaguely Arabic music and wall decorations let you know that you’re in for a different experience, while the neon signs, big screen TV and standard deli atmosphere let you know that it won’t be too different. The clean and well-maintained 40+-seat Café is a vast improvement over the dingy Penguin Bar & Grille that formerly occupied the location.

The service was very nice and fairly quick – it took 5 minutes to get our appetizer and roughly 10 more to get our meal. Everyone in the restaurant had a smile on their face and was quick to make friendly conversation and suggestions as we ordered. The only down side to the atmosphere was the seating: those who would rather not squeeze into the small tables and chairs should probably get take out or delivery.

Appetizers like grape leaves, hommos and baba ghanouj are a far cry from the standard fried fare you get at most College Park restaurants (Don’t worry if the dish names are unfamiliar; a helpful picture menu above the counter will help you choose). I particularly recommend the falafel, which is served hot and crispy with a tangy sauce that doesn’t overpower the vegetable patties. For big groups or parties, the Kings Park Combination is a great deal: $14.99 for five appetizers of your choice.

For a Mediterranean main course, you can choose from a variety of platters, kabobs (beef lamb, chicken or veggie) and pita bread sandwiches such as gyros. The Shawarma in particular features beef, lamb, or chicken served in a soft, warm shell of pocket bread. The meat is tender and spiced, but not too spicy, and the smooth and flavorful sauce adds to the taste. Platters are served with the standard, heavily seasoned fries and a good selection of fresh vegetables. There’s even a pickle spear to complete the dining hall sandwich line feeling.

From the salads, the tabouleh was fresh and juicy, but featured a little too much parsely for my taste. It was definitely different though, and served in a portion big enough to be a meal on its own. For dessert, the baklava is an exceedingly sweet, flaky pastry that was sticky with honey. It was a little tough to cut with the plastic utensils, but so good that you wouldn’t mind eating it with your hands. For the less adventurous, you can choose from chicken/beef salads or cheese cake for dessert.

Exotic pizza toppings such as shwarma meat, feta cheese, and marinated lamb round out the interesting items on the menu. A complete appetizer, entrée, drink and dessert meal will run you about $13, but coupons and combos can reduce that price.

Across the street from the Café, I noticed a neon sign at Ratsie’s noting that they now serve falafel. If the exotic fare at Kings Park Café catches on, you may see a lot of area restaurants scrambling to offer the same well-priced selection of great Mediterranean food.

Fighting gamers usually fall into one of two extreme groups. The first are the button-mashers: the guys who play the game mainly to see what cool moves they can get the characters to do by madly tapping on the controller. Then there are the button-memorizers: the guys who know every special move for their favorite characters and know how to string together insane combinations on their unsuspecting button-masher opponents.

Many fighting games skew gameplay to appeal to only one of these groups, either through a simple fighting system with little depth (Super Smash Bros. Melee) or an overly complicated system, inaccessible to new players (Virtua Fighter 4).

Namco’s Soul Calibur II for Playstation 2, Xbox and GameCube, however, strikes a balance that will likely keep both mashers and memorizers happy.

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Overlooked Video Games of the Recent Past are Still Fresh for Summer

Summer is almost upon us, and for some people that means weeks of relaxing on the beach and working on your tan.

For others, though, it means 40-hour a week internships or endless summer classes. For the latter group, coming home and relaxing with a good video game after a long day of work can make the summer bearable.

Unfortunately, most video game-makers save their biggest releases for the months when gamers are snowed in, leaving few new games on the horizon for the hungry summer gamer. Luckily, there are plenty older games to fill in the summer gap. Here are my personal recommendations for some games worth checking out if you missed them the first time.

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Throwback Space Shooter Ikaruga Makes Old Concept New

You won’t see any prime-time TV ads for Ikaruga. You won’t see demos of the game at your local Best Buy and the clerk at the store probably hasn’t even heard of it. There will be few, if any, point of purchase displays or celebrity endorsements for a game with an unassuming box and a weird Japanese name.

But trust me, Ikaruga is without a doubt one of the best games you’ve never heard of.

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X2: Wolverine’s Revenge is Filled With Inconsistency and Excessive Button-mashing

Flashback to 1993: I was a 9-year-old boy who had just received a brand new Super Nintendo for my birthday. One of the first games I got for the system was Final Fight, a game requiring lots of button-mashing and little strategy. Basically, you walk in one direction and punch anything that moves. Initially, I was captivated by the random violence and pretty graphics, but even as a 9-year-old, I quickly tired of hitting the attack button over and over again to dispatch enemies who all looked the same.

If a time machine could send that little boy 11 years into the future to play Activision’s X2: Wolverine’s Revenge for the Xbox, Playstation 2 and GameCube, he would still be bored.

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