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GEEK SPEAK

Summer's almost here — time to stay inside and geek out

Summer blockbusters aren't just for the movie theaters — they're making their way to your video-game consoles, as well.

Publishers are busy trying to capture the all-important off-from-school student dollar. And while there's nothing on the slate that likely will live up to Grand Theft Auto IV's $500 million opening week, the next three months' releases still have plenty to offer.

Nintendo's Wii really fired the first volley on Monday with Wii Fit, the fitness game sold with a balance board on which players can practice yoga, do push-ups, walk tightropes and more. The $90 game and peripheral is selling briskly, and with its record-keeping profile of weight, routines and body-mass index, it will hopefully lighten more than gamers' wallets.

But also light are the consoles' other offerings; Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures is a pan-platform title arriving June 3, while the only other biggie is the Wii version of Harmonix/MTV Games' Rock Band on June 22.

Much more exciting is the flagship title for the Playstation 3, Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, which is due June 12. Publisher Konami has followed the adventures of Solid Snake since the NES original way back in 1988, so it's appropriate that Snake is now an old codger much more reliant on digital camouflage and helper robots.

This is a big title for Sony; it may be just the thing the Japanese giant needs to pull even with Microsoft's Xbox 360. And it will come none too soon, as the PS3's only other big titles are shooter Haze, released on Tuesday, and Battlefield: Bad Company, a sandbox FPS the 360 is also getting.

All three next-gen consoles are getting Atari's Alone in the Dark, a revival of the old survival horror game from years past. The impressive feature of this third-person adventure is the new fire physics, which allows players to solve puzzles by burning anything flammable in the game world. No more hunting for keys to unlock rickety wooden doors!

And this year's August 12 release of Madden NFL '09 shows Electronic Arts is trying to lift the Madden Curse by using Brett Favre, who is now retired, as its cover boy. Perhaps EA should focus on creating versions that can be upgraded online instead, so players don't have to blow $60 every season.

The clear winner this summer, however, is the 360, which also offers several exclusive titles. Ninja Gaiden II is a watershed sequel, a blood-soaked followup to the original Xbox's Ninja Gaiden, which itself had roots in an old 8-bit NES title, as any child of the '80s will recall. Tecmo has scheduled a June 3 release, a week-and-a-half before Metal Gear Solid 4.

For real-time strategy fans, EA's excellent Command & Conquer gets an expansion with Kane's Wrath, which will (at the request of fans) follow the Brotherhood of Nod's shadowy leader. Kane will further escape assassination attempts on June 25.

Rounding out the summer for the 360 is Too Human, due Aug. 19. This adventure title postulates that Norse gods were actually cybernetically enhanced super-soldiers, and their enemies were robots. It'll take awhile to get used to the idea, so developer Silicon Knights has already announced a planned trilogy. Reportedly, the entire trilogy will be based on the 360, meaning the console will either have a long life or the sequels will come quickly.

While the kids are home most of the time during the summer, the odd road trip requires handheld games. Even though the roster isn't too impressive, there are some gems. The PSP banks on proven characters with Secret Agent Clank on June 17 and Naruto Ultimate Ninja 2 on June 24.

Meanwhile, the Nintendo DS features a dual-screen version of a fan favorite, Guitar Hero: On Tour, on June 22; and two sequels of Game Boy Advance RPGs, Summon Night: Twin Age on June 3 and Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift on June 24.

Come this fall, the PS3's LittleBigPlanet and SOCOM: Confrontation will lock horns with Gears of War 2 to win the hearts and minds of fence-sitters, but at least both will have Star Wars: The Force Unleashed and Silent Hill: Homecoming to look forward to. And the Wii? Well, just look for screen pics of Madworld to see what Nintendo's so excited about.

But that's next quarter.

— jgillin@tampabay.com

Summer's almost here — time to stay inside and geek out 05/22/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 30, 2008 12:25pm]
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