Games 6/14/11: Duke Nukem Forever, Green Lantern: Rise of the Manhunters, kijjaa!

Duke Nukem Forever
Reviewed for: Playstation 3 and Xbox 360
Also available for: Windows PC
From: Gearbox Software/3D Realms/2K Games
ESRB Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, mature humor, nudity, strong language, strong sexual content, use of drugs and alcohol)
Price: $60

As perhaps you feared, the real-life saga of “Duke Nukem Forever’s” development — 14 years, numerous reboots, a developer’s demise and a 13th-hour rescue after the project had seemingly been buried for the final time — is more engrossing than the game itself. When the public finally gets its hands on “Forever” this week, more players than not will wonder what, exactly, took so long.

At the same time, “Forever” is more good than bad and more fun than not. Its spottiness is doubtlessly the fault of taking an eighth grader’s lifetime to complete development, but it’s also borne out of a willingness to try (and sometimes succeed at) things most contemporary first-person shooters would never attempt.

Because “Forever’s” titular character has a sense of humor more reflective of gaming’s juvenilia than its present condition, “Forever” finds itself wildly at odds with the same audience that was raring to play it in 1997. Time hasn’t been kind to Duke, and while some of “Forever’s” self-referential humor is pretty funny — Duke is now a celebrity with more endorsements than Krusty the Clown — most of it falls flat (often embarrassingly so).

Age spots pop up elsewhere — most painfully in the long loading times, but most noticeably in the graphics, which feature objects and textures that range from decent by today’s standards to awful even for an early Playstation 2 (that’s 2, not 3) game. Were the game’s development not so famously documented, you might wonder if the disparity was some kind of in-joke you’re not getting.

So how does it play? As a shooter, pretty well — and, beyond the ability to sprint, look down sights and regenerate health, remarkably similar to 1996’s “Duke Nukem 3D.” That game’s enemies return with a few new friends here, and while their intelligence is dead simple and there’s little in the way of attack strategy, they’re relentless enough to continually put up a fast, intense fight.

In some ways, “Forever’s” age is even a benefit. Because where most modern shooters add “variety” via cinematic but unimaginative sequences on vehicles or rails, this one makes like its forebears and throws out whatever weird idea it can dream up.

Sometimes, it falls flat. A few sequences that leave Duke as a sitting duck feel slightly cheap. Underwater levels, though short, are as unfun as ever. A mid-game boss fight takes too long despite hinging on a clever combat trick, and there’s a weird moment with an elevator lever that doesn’t immediately make sense.

But a challenge involving an RC car you must control with a virtual remote is brilliant, and driving that car later as shrunken Duke is a blast. (Driving Duke’s monster truck at full size is even better.) A platforming run through a kitchen as shrunken Duke is, while a bit long, really clever in its level design, and “Forever” even manages to make a valve-turning puzzle fun — even if Duke himself voices his disapproval.

Even when “Forever’s” willingness to try anything backfires, it provides an element of surprise that makes the oddities and shortcomings considerably easier to forgive than they otherwise might be.

“Forever’s” multiplayer, meanwhile, is completely trapped in time, with the modes (deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture the flag, king of the hill) you expect and the same run-and-gun sensibility that powered “Duke 3D.” It works well enough, so this isn’t necessarily a bad thing if you miss that approach. For collectors who enjoy rewards, an experience points system lets you unlock merchandise for Duke’s virtual mansion, which is good for some light amusement but little else.

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Green Lantern: Rise of the Manhunters
Reviewed for: Playstation 3 and Xbox 360
Also available for: Wii and Nintendo DS
From: Double Helix/WB Games
ESRB Rating: Teen (mild language, mild suggestive themes, violence)

Numerous games have, let’s say, paid homage to the “God of War” series since its 2005 debut.

Some of them do it subtly. Others, like “Green Lantern: Rise of the Manhunters,” don’t conceal it at all.

But if “Lantern” has to pilfer shamelessly, at least it does so competently. And for all the imagination it lacks with its fundamentals, the game redeems itself by using its license in enough clever ways to (slightly) carve its own path.

Initially, it’s in earnest, thanks to the abilities made possible by Hal Jordan’s (the Green Lantern, for those unfamiliar) amazing Green Power Ring. The ring allows Hal to project solid-light constructs that assume the abilities of whatever object they’re mimicking. So instead of slamming two blades to the ground with extreme force the way Kratos does in “God of War,” for instance, Hal whips out a giant glowing hammer and unleashes damage that way.

The amount of fun “Lantern” becomes is directly proportional to the rate at which you unlock new constructs for Hal’s ring. Early on, it works as a makeshift blaster, allowing Hal to attack from long distances. A terrific grappling leash — which, at its tip, resembles a giant cartoon hand — lets him pick up enemies or objects, draw them in close, and throw them at other targets or clear off a ledge for an easy kill.

But wait, there’s more! A baseball bat lets Hal channel his inner Albert Pujols and whack projectile attacks back at the source of the attack, while a gatling gun lets him go Scarface on whomever is nearby. Other powers include droppable (and throwable) mines, a fast-punch attack that mimics a piston engine, and even the ability to briefly transform into a mech and (albeit slowly) unleash ridiculous damage on any nearby enemies.

The wealth of clever constructs easily provides “Lantern” with its best feature, and some thoughtful controller mapping means you can assign up to eight at a time to button shortcuts that are easy to call up even when things get hairy.

Beyond that, though, there’s little here you haven’t seen elsewhere. “Lantern” competently mimics “God of War,” but it borrows the bad as well as the good. That game’s lacking enemy variety is this game’s lacking enemy variety, and if you don’t like the quick-time events that cap off battles against that game’s stronger enemies, you’ll be sorry to see them here as well.

Though it provides occasion to take good advantage of Hal’s constructs, “Lantern’s” general level design isn’t terribly exciting, either. Beyond the occasional clever puzzle, expect to see the same patterns of enemies pop up in places that often look similar and present simple objectives — switches, powering up dead battery ports — you’ve seen before. Even some of the bigger boss fights feel a little too familiar. Remember that enemy you’ve seen in other games who is 100 times your size and tries to kill you by sweeping his hand across the entire level? He’s still getting work.

Fortunately, in spite of these issues, “Lantern” is fast and technically refined enough to remain fun throughout its campaign. What it lacks in terms of presenting diverse problems, it somewhat redeems in terms of diverse solutions. Mix up your constructs cleverly, and “Lantern” will feel significantly less repetitive than it probably should.

Unfortunately, once the campaign wra
ps, there’s little else to do. “Lantern” supports two-player co-op, but only offline. And while “God of War” pads its value with challenge rooms and reasons to replay the main quest, “Lantern” opted not to copy that step.

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kijjaa!
For: iPhone/iPod Touch
From: Kijjaa Ltd
iTunes Store Rating: 9+ (frequent/intense cartoon or fantasy violence)
Price: $1

Nintendo made a big splash last week with the public unveiling of the Wii U, but it’s far from the only company experimenting with gameplay that has one device’s screen controlling another. Take, for instance, “kijjaa!,” which uses the iPhone and iPod Touch to control a game that takes place on any screen you own that can display a Web browser with Flash. Visit the website (kijjaa.com/air), enter the code it displays into the game’s screen on your iPhone or iPod Touch, and a moment later, you’re using that device (tilt to steer, onscreen buttons to fire) to control a faux-3D space shooter in the Web browser. “kijjaa!” isn’t terribly elaborate as shooters go: You shoot approaching ships, projectiles and boss enemies and try to stay alive while racking up a high score. But as a proof of concept, it’s pretty awesome. Provided you have a decent Internet connection, it also just works, interpreting your tilting and shooting with enough responsiveness that your device might as well be plugged into the computer. (If you have an iPhone, the device even vibrates when an enemy hits your ship.) Nintendo’s offerings will doubtlessly be more ambitious and jaw-dropping than this, but with that console likely more than a year away from being on sale, “kijjaa!” does a nice job of going hands-on right now with a sliver of these possibilities. For score hunters, it also supports Game Center leaderboards (though no achievements as of version 1.1).