CrunchArcade: Franchise Favorites

It’s easy with games to complain that there are few original ideas; everything just seems to be a rehash of the same old titles we’ve been playing for years. But then sometimes an old game re-envisioned for a new platform is more original than anything else out there. And sometimes a retelling of an old classic seems more innovative than everything else we’re seeing. While we can’t explain why, we can say that we’re thrilled to see a few old friends again.

This spring has seen the release of a few long time favorites, including our beloved treasure hunter Lara Croft, plus the premier fighting franchise has made the jump to the Wii. Say what you want about old school games, but these are like old friends finally coming home. Of course not lived up to our fond memories. But isn’t that what reunions are always like?

Tomb Raider Anniversary Edition
ESRB: Teen
Platforms: PS2/PC/PSP
Poor Lara Croft hasn’t had it easy, and we’re not talking about what the upper class Brit had to endure in the game, but rather a few of those lackluster games themselves! However, we can focus on the original outing that essentially redefined action games — and made watching a character run and jump so much fun.

tombraidercover.jpgActually, it’s hard to believe it has been a full decade since Ms. Croft first ran, jumped, climbed and tomb raided her way to pop icon status. There have been numerous sequels, movie adaptations and about a half a dozen models who have donned the famous Tomb Raider shorts and t-shirt. But despite it all, the original remains the best. Now for the 11th anniversary (we can only guess they needed extra time, especially considering Tomb Raider games never seem to arrive on time) Lara Croft is back in a retelling of her first adventure.

More than a remake, the Anniversary Edition offers new gameplay based on the original game, letting you guide Lara from the snow covered peaks of Peru to the temples of Greece and to the lost valley of Egypt, where you’ll head into mysterious crypts and race through jungles battling a variety of animal and supernatural enemies. This revision of the classic features a new 3D game design, along with improved controls and interface, making it easy to pull off Lara’s signature moves. Over the past decade Lara Croft has had her shares of ups and downs, so its nice to head back to one of her finest outings and have it look better than ever.

Sim City DS
Electronic Arts
ESRB: Everyone
Platform: Nintendo DS
The Sim City franchise never had any colorful characters, nor did you ever really “win.” But despite both facts it was one of those games that was nearly impossible to stop playing. With the new handheld version, which features graphics that even surpass the original, you might have trouble wanting to put it down as well.

simcityds.jpgWhile a real city planner’s job probably requires endless meetings, countless proposals and a lengthy process to determine zoning issues, you need not worry about any of it in Sim City DS. This handheld version of the classic city building game lets you cut through the red tape so you can get down to building the city of your dreams. Of course there is still more than just laying roads and hoping that people will come. You’ll need to supply water and electricity, provide city services such as police and fire protection, provide schools and build up the basic infrastructure. Plus you’ll have to raise the money to pay for all this, and that likely means taxes. In other words it still isn’t easy, but as a game it is addictive fun, and in this new version you have all the power in the palm of your hands.

Mortal Kombat Armageddon
ESRB: Mature (Blood and Gore, Intense Violence)
Platform: Nintendo Wii
Fighting games have evolved since the early 1990s, but little has changed with the gameplay that essentially remains a contest of button mashing. But despite this fact, some of the best fighting games have actually been the most innovative. The Wii edition of Mortal Kombat Armageddon is just such a game, and it might just have you forgetting any other version.

mortalcombat.jpgThis latest title in the popular fighting franchise features more than 50 fighters from the entire MK universe (past, present and somehow the future), plus it adds kick-ass Kreate-A-Fighter and Kreate-A-Fatality modes, along with a new Konquest mode. The fatality system lets gamers further lets gamers get way into the game, using the Nintendo Wii’s unique control to customize their attacks.

The control scheme is easy enough, and is a far cry from simple button mashing. In fact this is one of those games that parents should want their cubby couch potatoes to play. OK, it is a mature-rated title with violence, blood and gore. But it is also a game that requires you actually getting a small workout to deliver the pain to your rivals. If that doesn’t do it for you and you’d rather slowly turn into Jabba the Hutt, there is an option for classic controller support as well.

The game lacks online multiplayer, but don’t blame Midway for the fact that Nintendo still can get its act together. But on the plus side to compliment the ass-kicking gameplay, the developers still found time to include a cart-racing mode that is exclusive to the Wii version of Armageddon. And if there wasn’t already a lame series with the name, we’d almost expect this to be the makings of Mortal Kombat Carmageddon!

Mario Party 8
ESRB: Everyone
Platforms: Nintendo Wii
Somewhere in a bank is Tokyo is a vault filled with all the money that Mario has racked in for Nintendo over the years. So much money must be there that Bono of U2 should go and try to get some of it to pay off Africa’s debts, and something tells me there’d still be plenty of cash left over! This isn’t a dig at Nintendo, but Mario Party 8 has arrived!

marioparty8.jpgSome third world countries probably wish they had a gross domestic product equal to what this little virtual plumber brings in. Between the straight adventures, cart racing games, Paper Mario, Wario, and stuff like this Mario and his Italian family have made more money than Tony Soprano! But despite this, since the Wii was released last fall Mario hasn’t really done much to help the system. So the plumber decided to phone in this party game.

This isn’t to say that Mario Party 8 is bad, but to keep up with the pop culture references anytime stuff reaches into this many sequels it starts to look desperate. Do we seriously think Die Hard 8 or Rocky 8 would be good? Mario Party 8 is an OK game, but it lacks the originality of previous titles. A compilation of past games for the Wii would have been more welcome. Likewise, the mini-games in this one are good for parties but that’s about it. They’re also too focused on making sure everyone has a chance and can win, thus lady luck outweighs skill. This isn’t bad if you have friends who would otherwise dominate at video games, but skill should still count for a bit more.

Finally, if you have to pull out games like Mario Party 8 when you’re entertaining, you might need a new class of friends!