Games 5/4/10: Dead to Rights: Retribution, Monster Hunter Tri, Blokzilla

Dead to Rights: Retribution
For: Playstation 3 and Xbox 360
From: Volatile Games/Namco Bandai
ESRB Rating: Mature (blood, intense violence, strong language, suggestive themes, use of drugs)

Six years ago, games like “Dead to Rights: Retribution” — third-person action games determined to do everything under the action game sun — were everywhere. Since then, most developers learned to specialize and substitute polish for versatility.

Volatile Games didn’t get that memo, and “Retribution” mostly carries on as if time never passed, competently doing a number of things (third-person brawling, shooting and stealth action) without knocking any one of them out of the park the way games today typically attempt to do. And here’s the funny thing: Because games like this don’t come along very often anymore, and because “Retribution” is nowhere near as bad as the few games that do typically are, it emerges as a much more enjoyable experience now than it might have been when this style was still in vogue.

Part of that is due to “Retribution” not completely ignoring the present. The shooter component, for instance, incorporates the over-the-shoulder perspective and environmental cover as well as the old-fashioned ability to run around and fire from the hip. The system isn’t perfect — certain objects that should provide cover simply don’t, and the welcome ability to freely switch between brawling and weapons combat also gives way to some awkward controller gymnastics and occasional camera disorientation — but it does work.

That goes as well for the brawling itself, which isn’t always pretty but is pretty enough. “Retribution” doesn’t pull any fancy tricks to make this anything but an old-school 2D brawler in three dimensions, but the control scheme is perfectly responsive and the block/counter/grapple system gives it the extra ounce of depth it needs to avoid being a completely mindless button masher.

Namco has positioned “Retribution” as a narrative reboot for embattled supercop Jack Slate, but regardless of whether such a thing was necessary — the story is fun in a dumb way but hardly special — the important point is that Jack’s canine sidekick remains at his side.

Shadow the attack dog, in fact, provides “Retribution” with its shining moments during some ridiculously improbable but wholly enjoyable stealth challenges in which Shadow must pick apart a room and clear a way for Jack.

A suspension of disbelief clearly is in order for a game that presents a dog with the intelligence and skillset of a special forces soldier, and “Retribution” flashes some additional technological obsolesce with regard to enemy awareness and overall artificial intelligence. But just as the cracks in the brawling and shooting segments’ polish aren’t deep enough to ruin a good time, the stealth segments are versatile enough to shake off their issues and stake a claim as the arguable highlight. Hunting thugs in the dark as a sweet-faced dog is great fun, and “Retribution’s” level designs, though never extraordinary, set the table nicely for some terrific stealth takedowns.

At the very least, when the camera and control schemes fail and Jack’s best-laid plans go to waste, “Retribution” displays a contemporary understanding of how never to let frustration linger for long. It’s forgiving in the field without being a cakewalk — when all else fails, dashing for cover and hiding out should heal wounds quickly — and the generous checkpoint allotment means that even when things go completely south, players don’t have to travel far to recover any lost ground.

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Monster Hunter Tri
For: Wii
From: Capcom
ESRB Rating: Teen (Blood, Use of Alcohol, Violence)

Capcom has tried and failed to persuade America to love “Monster Hunter” the way Japan does, but “Monster Hunter Tri” — imperfect and saturated with old trappings though it still is — might be where that persistence finally pays off.

Should “Tri’s” breakthrough happen, credit likely will go to the surprising support for four-player online co-op and downright shocking support for voice chat via Nintendo’s neglected Wii Speak peripheral.

Glorious absence of friend codes aside, rounding up a party still isn’t as elegant on the Wii as it likely would be on the other consoles. Additionally, the Wii Speak integration — assuming everyone even has the device — doesn’t always produce clear communication. If it’s logistically possible, a nearby PC and Skype account will better suffice.

Beyond these antiquities, though, the actual act of playing “Tri” online is very rewarding — due as much to the kind of game “Tri” is as its capacity for sharing the experience.

Though framed within a storyline, “Tri” structures itself like an MMO more than an adventure game. Players (solo or otherwise) accept quests centered around hunting different monsters for food and sport, and the overwhelming focus of the game centers around the act of conquering different monsters different ways than whatever rewards the story has in store for successfully doing so.

“Tri’s” environments give life to an impressive array of land and sea creatures whose mannerisms and capacities to fight back vary considerably, and after some early handholding, the game provides numerous weapons, items and tactics toward dispatching monsters any number of ways. The gist doesn’t deviate much from beginning to end, but it doesn’t need to: “Tri” zeroes in on the art of the hunt to a degree no other game does, and taming the game’s most impressive beasts is a rewarding endeavor alone and exponentially so when a plan of attack among friends succeeds.

If the concept sounds appealing, “Tri’s” unique bent should overcome some unwelcome callbacks (can’t save anywhere, overlong attack animations, large areas regularly interrupted by load screens) to outdated design. The camera controls are awkward, even when using the dual-sticked Classic Controller or Classic Controller Pro, and the control scheme takes additional adjustment when using the button-deficient Wii Remote and Nunchuck. The storyline also comes almost entirely free of voice acting, but that’s less of an issue when it becomes apparent how little a role the narration plays in the game’s enjoyment.

The good news is that all these issues are annoying more than damaging, and most of them are likely to cease mattering long before those who get into “Tri” are done picking it clean. More than 100 hours of gameplay is an easy feasibility for those who embrace all that lies within and challenge themselves to conquer every last creature, and the ability to lose oneself in a world this enormous more than makes up for the shortcomings with which it coexists.

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Blokzilla
For: iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad (universal app)
From: Tomato Interactive
iTunes Store Rating: 4+
Price: $1 (introductory price)

The concept of a Memory tribute providing thrilling, frantic action might sound ridiculous, but “Blokzilla” makes it happen by infusing the timeless card game with a bunch of timeless arcade game tricks. The concept is no more complex than matching two identical squares and clearing them from the screen, and “Blokzilla” would presume to be a cakewalk by leaving each square face up instead of face down. But rather than fight the failings of one’s own memory to succeed, players must sort through some deviously slight differences between squares that at first glance appear identical. Pick a bad pair, and the score multipl
ier resets. But carefully poring over each shape’s intricacies is equally damaging: “Blokzilla’s” score attack modes give players one, two or five minutes to clear as many squares and score as many points as they can, and the score multiplier melts away through inactivity as well as bad activity. The ticking clock, impatient multiplier and a delightfully loud visual and aural presentation combine to make the whole experience a startlingly intense good time. The only bad news about “Blokzilla” is the lack of online leaderboards, which are essential in a game so classically driven by high scores. But Tomato Interactive has indicated a willingness to add the feature in short order to a future update, so that may not be bad news for long.