Games 3/17/09: Resident Evil 5, Pikmin: New Play Control, Mario Power Tennis: New Play Control, Peggle Deluxe

Resident Evil 5
For: Playstation 3 and Xbox 360
From: Capcom
ESRB Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, strong language)

In what amounts to the ultimate testament to gaming’s breakneck evolutionary pace, the things that made “Resident Evil 4” such a revolutionary shooter are the same things that threaten to haunt the sequel not even five years later.

Somewhat distressingly, these snags — most notably, an inability to move while shooting or take cover at will — are most problematic during an insane ambush in “Resident Evil 5’s” very first level. If you’re playing alone, your partner’s artificial intelligence also appears addled as she steps on your feet and carelessly unloads precious handgun ammo like it’s canned air.

Once past this point, though, “RE5’s” purported shortcomings aren’t disadvantageous so much as just different from the new norm. Given time and adjustment, they even work to the game’s advantage. With respect to “Gears of War” and “Uncharted,” Capcom is treading through entirely different waters here. That means environments, weapons, tactics and enemies that complement a gameplay approach that proves, once all is said and done, to work even better now than it did in “RE4.” The transformation that began in that game feels complete with this one.

The upshot? While “RE5’s” story marks a fantastic return (and, most likely, conclusion) to the Umbrella Corp. storyline, it marks a complete end to the scares that once defined the series. Some fierce enemies lie in wait, but the game’s cut-scenes and music telegraph the arrival of every last one of them. The fact that the game takes place in well-lit environments, to say nothing of the partner who almost always stands at your side, only exacerbates the shift from horror to action.

Overall, though, the addition of a partner proves more welcome than not. If you play alone, Sheva’s A.I. proves surprisingly sharp beyond her growing pains in the first level. She’s so sharp, in fact, that if you allow a friend to assume her role — “RE5” supports drop-in co-op either online of via splitscreen — the tension ratchets up considerably. Your friend has free will to branch off from you, and you’ll have to communicate copiously to watch each other’s backs the way Sheva constantly watches yours under the game’s control.

Like its predecessor, “RE5” encourages you to experience both scenarios by making itself so much more replayable than your typical single-player-centric game. Obsessive types have a treasure trove of everything from weapons to capsule toys to unlock, and the unlockable jewel from “RE4” — a scored, timed survival mini-game called Mercenaries mode — returns with online co-op support added. Weapons and items from one campaign carry over, upgrades and all, into a new game, which allows brave players of all abilities to build up an arsenal and take the game on at its hardest settings.

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Pikmin: New Play Control
For: Nintendo Wii
From: Nintendo
ESRB Rating: Everyone (mild violence)

Mario Power Tennis: New Play Control
For: Nintendo Wii
From: Camelot/Nintendo
ESRB Rating: Everyone (mild cartoon violence)

Some of Nintendo’s most ardent supporters from the pre-Wii days would have you know that the company has been rehashing the same traditional games for far too long while only creating new franchises for the casual end of the spectrum.

The arrival of the New Play Control lineup — which literally repackages Gamecube games with widescreen support and a new control scheme designed around the Wii’s controllers — isn’t exactly likely to alter that perception.

Taken at face value, though, the idea makes all kinds of sense. A lot of people who have Wiis never owned a Gamecube, and outfitting some of the better games from that library with a control scheme that makes them feel native to the Wii is a good way to give the system some new content that also has been partially tested by time. A $20 price tag would have sealed the deal, but pricing them at $30 still seems fair given the target audience.

That said, the initial selections in the library don’t arrive free of caveats. Far from it, sadly.

“Mario Power Tennis,” in particular, has been severely hampered by the control switcheroo. The Gamecube controls allowed for precise shot selection and control, and the same can’t be said with the move to “Wii Sports”-style controls. That makes this a fun multiplayer lark when you’re just goofing off with friends, but a complete letdown for ambitious players who want to master (or re-master) the game’s maze of tournaments and bonus challenges.

It’s a shame, and an inexplicable one, that Nintendo didn’t just leave the original control scheme in as an option for those with a Gamecube controller lying around. It’ll be an even bigger shame if a “Mario Tennis” game built from the ground up for the Wii doesn’t happen because Nintendo deems this as sufficient for that endeavor. Casual players may lap it up, but those who already loved the franchise almost certainly will feel differently.

Unsurprisingly, “Pikmin” fares considerably better: It’s an extremely accessible take on the real-time strategy genre, and while the Gamecube controller made nice work of it seven years ago, the Wii setup is tailor-made for it.

But while “Pikmin” was great seven years ago, “Pikmin 2” was leagues better three years later, and Nintendo already has announced the inclusion of that game in the New Play Control lineup. With the wait likely to span a few months instead of a few years, it’s hard to recommend this $30 game when a better one waits right around the corner.

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Peggle Deluxe
For: Xbox 360 via Xbox Live Arcade (coming soon to Playstation 3 via Playstation Network)
From: PopCap
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Price: $10

The unlikely magic of PopCap’s ingeniously simple puzzle addiction is the way it swallows every degree of player — from diminutively casual to helplessly compulsive — using the same simple trick. “Peggle Deluxe’s” objective — aim and fire a ball, Pachinko-style, and try to clear all the orange pegs from the screen before running out of balls — is simple enough for even complete technophobes to understand. It’s also strangely liberating: Once you’ve taken a shot, the game wrestles control from you, using physics and a little luck to decide where the ball lands. That doesn’t mean, of course, that obsessive gamers won’t sink hours into completing every last level. “Peggle’s” adventure and challenge modes present a mountain of levels to complete, and you’ll need to master the intricacies of the physics and special power-ups to truly master the game. “Peggle Deluxe” mostly is the same title PC gamers have enjoyed for a couple years, and the translation is pixel perfect. The only major difference — an online four-player mode called Peggle Party — is an entirely welcome one. With three friends in tow, the experience is jovial on the same level of “Uno” and other casual Xbox Live hits.