When a franchise as good as the Soulcalibur weapon-based fighting series adds uber-familiar characters such as Yoda and Darth Vader to the lineup, visions of Oliver joining the Brady clan come to mind. (For those younger than 30, the popular TV show from the late '70s, "The Brady Bunch," added a new character near the end of its run in an unsuccessful effort to spice things up.)
While it is fun to swing a light saber in the intense sword battles of Soulcalibur IV, having the little green guy from "Star Wars" thrust into this already confusing world feels more like he was stapled on, rather than integrated within.
With spectacular graphics (which get the full next-gen polish this time around), amazing action (the controls are simple, button-mashing fun) and a top-shelf character creator (with all kinds of different options), the series was already one of the best of its kind.
But adding the Jedi (including Darth Vader's secret apprentice from the upcoming game Star Wars: The Force Unleashed) feels almost gimmicky and will frustrate fans who don't own both systems. (Yoda is an Xbox 360 exclusive and Darth Vader is only available on the PlayStation 3 version, while the apprentice is unlockable in both versions.)
Still, the great action and relatively minor amount of violence in SC4 keep the franchise a winner for fans of most ages.
Grade: B+ (As Yoda might say, "Better sword fighters, there are none").
Details: Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 platforms; $59.99; rated Teen (mild language, partial nudity, sexual themes, violence).
Rose Bowl braces for Madden fans
The release of a new version of the Madden NFL series is no longer just any old Tuesday. It's now an event.
Brace yourselves, Angelenos: Maddenpalooza invades the Rose Bowl Monday. In addition to the tickets being given out in radio station promotions, 1,000 more will be given out free on a first-come, first-served basis to what should be a whole new celebration of "Maddenoliday-Eve." ("Maddenoliday" was the name given to the day of the '07 version's release.)
The event, which runs from 2 to 10 p.m. at the Rose Bowl, is scheduled to include six bands (including Busta Rhymes and Good Charlotte), four former NFL stars signing autographs (including Tim Brown and Rod Woodsen), NFL-related activities and, of course, the first copies of Madden NFL 09 available for purchase. (Never mind that the core game is now so good that there is really nothing new to add from year to year beyond new rosters and a new cover athlete to curse.)
Interested? Get there early. This is a national holiday, after all.