Games 7/9/08: Hail to the Chimp, Hellboy: The Science of Evil, Wolf of the Battlefield: Commando 3

Hail to the Chimp
For: Xbox 360 and Playstation 3
From: Wideload Games/Gamecock
ESRB Rating: Teen (alcohol and tobacco reference, crude humor, mild cartoon violence)

Like the politicians of whom it makes so much fun, “Hail to the Chimp” promises something — in this case, a video game that’s both genuinely funny and genuinely fun to play — that many before it have teased but rarely delivered.

On the comedy front, “Chimp” — which documents the free-for-all electoral process that ensues in the animal kingdom after the lion is forced to resign in light of scandal — makes good on its promise. The various characters vying for your vote represent a terrific skewering of modern-day political chest-huffing, and everything from the game’s main menu (which mocks the 24-hour cable news cycle) to the various random cut-scenes (which hilariously spoof the negative campaign commercial phenomenon) is dense with wit.

But “Chimp” is a video game first and a piece of satire second, and this is where the game runs into some trouble.

Though gifted with a storyline that’s capable of powering far more interesting genres, “Chimp” is a party game in the vein of “Mario Party” and “Fuzion Frenzy.” Like those games, “Chimp” designs its mini-games for any combination of four computer- and/or human-controlled contestants, who all clamor to complete the same objective while simultaneously sabotaging one another’s progress. (In a brilliant twist, any two players can briefly form an alliance and perform special techniques that leave the other two players temporarily reeling.)

Problem is, while the backstory behind the mini-games often cleverly ties into the game’s high concept, the actual challenge almost always involves some variation of brawling and collecting clams (the vote currency in the animal kingdom). Variations abound and a few challenges involving buttons and campaign signs break up the monotony, but there’s an unmistakable current of sameness that runs through all of “Chimp’s” mini-games.

Compounding the problem is “Chimp’s” sometimes-unrefined gameplay, which occasionally results in everything from characters getting stuck in certain parts of certain levels to the generally uninspired intelligence of computer-controlled players. That latter point alone makes “Chimp” a tough sell to anyone with no desire to explore the game’s multiplayer component.

Fortunately, “Chimp’s” glitches are sporadic, and they don’t severely impede play if you’re taking on friends. (Four-player support is available online and locally.) Moreover, the absolutely frantic nature of the mini-games lives up to “Chimp’s” billing as a party game. Given the inviting price ($40) and the fact that traditional party games on the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 have ranged from terrible to non-existent, “Chimp’s” positive fun-to-flaw differential makes it easy to recommend to anyone hungry for a game of its distinction.

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Hellboy: The Science of Evil
Reviewed for: Xbox 360 and Playstation 3
Also available for: PSP
From: Krome Studios/Konami
ESRB Rating: Teen (blood and gore, mild language, violence)

Sometimes, even games not licensed after a movie can suffer from the dreaded summertime bug known as movie tie-in disease.

Witness, for instance, “Hellboy: The Science of Evil.” Though not based on the forthcoming “Hellboy” movie and buoyed by a storyline written expressly for the game, “Evil” bears all the scars and warts of a game that was rushed to market for reasons other than because it was polished and ready.

At its core, “Evil” plays like a “God of War” knockoff, mixing in third-person hand-to-hand combat with the rare environmental puzzle and boss fight. Everything from the semi-fixed-camera perspective to the button-masher-friendly controls should look immediately familiar to any fans of “War.” Given the physical similarities between Hellboy and Kratos, it’s hard to fault Krome Studios for aping the formula as much as it does.

It’s just a shame Krome isn’t as adept as Sony at making it work. As mentioned already, “Evil” is rife with signs of rushed development, including sloppy combat and hit detection, unimaginative boss battles and a lack of variety when it comes to both Hellboy’s arsenal and the enemies on which he unleashes it. Though the various levels look different from one another, the objective — mindlessly kill wave after wave of enemies using the same technique on almost every one — remains almost mind-numbingly consistent throughout.

Such one-track gameplay would be fine were it not for “Evil’s” most glaring flaw: pokiness. Hellboy is awfully slow on his feet, and his attacks fare no faster. The similar lack of urgency on his enemies’ part makes for a fair fight, but all this slowness denies “Evil” of the fluidity and intensity that makes the “War” formula so much fun. Without the speed needed to keep players on their toes, the limitations of the genre become distressingly apparent, and all that repetition becomes impossible to ignore.

It’s a shame, too, because “Evil” does have its strong points. The story is pretty entertaining, and while there isn’t as much of it as one might hope, the voice acting does come courtesy of the same people who embody the characters on film. “Evil” supports both offline and online two-player co-op, and “Hellboy” fanatics should elect to play this way if they absolutely must play the game at all. Just be sure to select Hellboy before your friend does: Pokey though he may be, he’s still considerably more fun to play as than either Liz or Abe.

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Wolf of the Battlefield: Commando 3
For: Xbox Live Arcade and Playstation Network
From: Backbone Entertainment/Capcom
Cost: $10

Capcom’s inspired reinvention of its classic franchises as downloadable games continues with “Wolf of the Battlefield: Commando 3,” which resurrects the classic “Commando” gameplay while fitting it with a control scheme — the twin-stick shooting style made popular by “Robotron” and “Geometry Wars” — that wasn’t possible during the series’ heyday on the original Nintendo Entertainment System. Other modern touches include an bold, semi-cartoony graphical overhaul and the ability to play with up to two friends either locally or online. Elsewhere, though, little has changed. The objective — move forward, shoot this, grenade that — remains the same, and seasoned gamers will probably love the game’s difficulty level and complete omission of any kind of save or continue system. If that last part bothers you, take heed: “Battlefield,” like its predecessors, is by no means an easy game even on the easy setting, nor is it supposed to be. Fortunately, the aforementioned co-op play, in addition to being the most fun way to experience the game, also takes the edge off for less-skilled players. As a bonus for Xbox 360 owners, “Battlefield” includes a ticket to download the “Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix” multiplayer beta, which expires Aug. 20.