'Ghost of Sparta' a visual feast, needs jolt

Companies are in a frenzy right now, releasing as many video games as possible in the lead-up to holiday shopping for the Xbox 360, PS 3 and Wii.

But two significant hand-held games shouldn't get lost in the shuffle.

First, the sadly forgotten Sony PSP has one of its best games ever on the market in "God of War: Ghost of Sparta."

The "God of War III" finale came earlier in 2010. In this prequel, you once again portray Kratos, the angriest, least sympathetic warrior in history.

In this adventure, you control Kratos during the olden time when he was the "God of War," as an active member of the Zeus club of deities.

If you've ever played a "God of War" title, this one will seem familiar from top to bottom. That's mostly good.

"Ghost of Sparta" is a third-person adventure, where you swing your knives of fire and summon magical forces that kill evil skeletons, evil soldiers, evil monsters and several big bosses, such as King Midas.

This is an origins-story game, where you get to see more of Kratos' tragic life, particularly dealing with his mother and brother, Deimos.

"Ghost of Sparta" already has won "Best Hand-held" and "Best PSP" awards from several entities during the annual E3 video game convention.

It is stellar -- an amazing visual feast of volcanoes and castles of grandeur; cinematic dialogue scenes; and nearly perfect actions.

But I hate to say this. The "God of War" series, maybe my favorite series of all time, is in need of a jolt of newness. Everything is the same as before essentially -- the same fighting movements, the same kinds of puzzles, even similar settings (fiery volcano interiors instead of fiery gates-of-hell interiors).

Before my complaint gets out of hand, let me declare this is still one of the best games of the year. The "God of War" people just need to brainstorm new ideas for future prequels or sequels, that's all.

The other important new hand-held game is "Super Scribblenauts" for the Nintendo DS. This sequel to the groundbreaking "Scribblenauts" is fascinating.

You type nouns and adjectives to form creatures (striped gods, sad cats) and items (houses, anvils) appear on the screen. There are 10,000 adjectives to draw from, for 120 levels.

In one level, the game tells you to think up adjectives in order to turn ordinary objects into horror movie props. Keep typing "bloodsucking vampire," "haunted car" and "happy zombie" all you want. Those aren't the answers.

IGN.com reports the game even has the word (and thus the item) "cassowary" in it. That's a New Guinea bird that can't fly.

This is an incredible endeavor, although it still seems suited primarily to fans of the written word. And there are limitations. I don't understand why "Super" can't create "four-headed" beasts and many other hyphenations of words, especially since the game lets you use hyphens.

But you get used to boundaries, which do test your brain power. And "Super" is a must-have game for people who love tinkering with "big," "stupid," "amiable," "terrifying," "polka dotted" words.

("God of War: Ghost of Sparta" by Sony retails for $40 for PSP -- Plays very entertaining. Looks great. Rated "M" for blood, gore, intense violence, nudity, sexual content. Challenging. Four stars out of four.)

("Super Scribblenauts" by Warner Bros. retails for $30 for DS -- Plays intriguing as a word game. Looks cute. Moderately easy. Rated "E 10+" for cartoon violence, comic mischief. Three and one-half stars.)

Contact Doug Elfman at delfman@reviewjournal.com. He blogs at reviewjournal.com/elfman.


"Call of Duty: Black Ops" (Activision) is the last humongous release of 2010, the game that war-game fans have been waiting for, for several seasons now. If you've played "Call of Duty" before, this one shouldn't feel radically different in its playing style -- run, shoot, kill -- although the setting has moved to the Cold War.

It's a first-person shooter with movie-like images and missions where you run across snowy mountains, and through jungle villages and office buildings, killing Communist forces like crazy with machine guns, flamethrowers, missile launchers and all the rest of the "Call of Duty" weapons, plus those little remote control cars that you guide to enemy soldiers' feet, for blowing them up.

You perform covert, even deeper stealth and combat missions based on real-life moments from history, in the Soviet Union, Southeast Asia and elsewhere.

You run. You rappel. You shoot at shacks-on-rivers and guard towers from a 1968, "Apocalypse Now"-type boat while you hear the Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil."

The online multiplayer looks like it could be another great "Call of Duty" multiplayer, which means it will keep many unemployed adults busy through the holidays and beyond.

The game retails for $60 for Xbox 360, PS 3 and PC; $50 for Wii; $30 for DS. It's rated "M" for blood, gore, intense violence, strong language.

"The Sly Collection" (Sony) combines three old "Sly Cooper" games in one package, but upgrades them to high definition for the PS 3, and adds some 3D.

So you get "Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus," "Sly 2: Band of Thieves" and "Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves."

In each, you play the usual Sly way, wending your way through a very colorful, cartoon world, destroying many crazy little cartoon villains, while solving puzzles and traveling a sci-fi universe.

The game retails for $40 for PS 3. It's rated "E 10+" for cartoon violence and comic mischief.