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Comics & Games Retailer

The Sport of Games

By Oliver Chin

In this industry, one meaning of the word "game" is often forgotten. However sports is omnipresent in our society, for as the seasons change, the public's attention is guided to the next field of play. A recent college football controversy perversely shows how profit is more important than how one plays the game. The Bowl Championship Series (BCS) has been soundly criticized for computer rankings of Oklahoma, LSU, and USC that don't add up. But by the time you read this, the question of who deserves to be the #1 ranked team in the country will be a moot point. But the underlying fact that computers exert such a dominant influence on people playing sports will remain. This point is even more telling when one considers how much time, money, and effort people spend playing sports and games on computers themselves.

Once a holiday phenomenon, the consumer feeding frenzy for video games is now a year round obsession. So here are how some recent titles mirror the variety of genres that comics and games have traditionally catered to. But now Sony's PlayStation2, Microsoft's Xbox, and Nintendo's GameCube have enabled another level of interactivity and sophistication that make electronic entertainment an even more formidable competitor in the game of customer satisfaction.

Sports on Demand

The BCS is a relatively new incarnation that packaged the Sugar, Orange, Fiesta and Rose Bowl games to increase the value of sponsorship and broadcasting contracts. It has worked, as the total take surpasses $100 million annually. As in other markets of licensing and merchandising, software developers have bought the rights from national leagues and star athletes to create officially sanctioned video games on their behalf.

Therefore fans can immerse themselves in their favorite sports and pretend to be player, coach, and owner all in one. Getting the seal of approval 989 Sports has released a number of basketball and football titles for 2004 that depict the action at both the college and professional ranks. On the gridiron, there is NCAA GameBreaker and NFL GameDay. On the hard court there is NCAA Final Four and NBA ShootOut. In each, one not only can call the plays but also can play online on the Internet. Inhabiting the role of superstar even more fully, one can manage one's career while gawking at acrobatic feats in 360 degree replays.

For those who prefer more solitary pursuits, Activision deifies a skateboard legend with Tony Hawk's Underground. As the "bored" lifestyle has made great inroads with mall fashion, music, and mentality, punks can now play themselves on the TV…literally. Here the tale tempts you to become a big shot X-gamer, by customizing your board, tricks, skate park, and by digitally downloading your own face to make your ascent that much more fulfilling.

Fighting Forces

In the sci-fi and fantasy universe, video games continue to come out swinging. As the recent sales success of Image Comic's adaptation of StreetFighter series suggest, readers have an unquenchable appetite for punchouts in any media.

Capcom's rival SNK Neo Geo enters the ring with the combo release of King of Fighters 2000/2001. In this umpteenth revitalization of the 1994 cult concept involving the battling brothers Andy and Terry Bogard and the bodacious Mai Shiranui, they hope fans with enjoy the twofer even though it may be two years late.

Konami's latest entry is the fourth installment of Bloody Roar, whose twist is that human characters can power up to transform into a variety of supercharged beasts. The blood quotient increases as you too can develop one of 14 characters in "Career Mode" and siphon off opponents' best moves if you defeat them.

True to the tradition of sequels, Namco's heavyweight contender is the long-awaited Soul Calibur 2. In these one-on-one slugfests, collect 200 weapons and choose between 13 fighters plus secret guests such as Nintendo's Link, the evil Heihachi, and even Spawn (depending on the platform of play). Then Namco targets comicdom directly with Spawn: Armageddon, where Todd McFarlane's anti-hero runs the gamut between Heaven and Hell destroying all evildoers in his path. Flinging firepower of all sorts, he tries to put the smackdown on Cy-Gor and Violator through 25 escalating missions.

Virtual War

Warfare is a tried and true genre for comics and games, and has become big business for videoholics as well. From historical recreations to messianic missions, gamers can indulge in a wide variety of shoot-em-ups. Namco has recruited kill.switch where the player is actually a nefarious mastermind who makes an American soldier is tool of terrorism. Here duck and cover takes on new meaning, as one blasts away blindly to get the job done.

On the other hand, Activision is trying to corner the market on carnage with a slew of high-caliber conficts. From the urban jungle comes True Crime: Streets of LA, where you play the Hollywood role of martial arts detective Nick Kang who's charged with stopping the Russian and Chinese mobs at all costs. From the third world jungle comes Soldier of Fortune II: Double Helix, where you are a mercenary, armed to the teeth, who takes out drug lords and the world's most wanted in a slew of contracts around the globe. Again revitalizing a heralded franchise, Activision reinvents World War II with the Return to Castle Wolfenstein, which seamlessly blends period pieces with nightmarish Nazi inventions. One US Army Ranger must destroy the secret scientific laboratory of the Third Reich, in a Castlevania version of Quake.

Real-Time Stress

Lastly, games that can be played in real-time and where your success hinges on your strategic abilities have became also very popular on PC and consoles. In this vein, NEC has launched Culdcept (PS2) to capitalize on the crossover appeal among role-playing games (RPG), collectible card games (CCG), and board games. Ported from a Japanese version created in 1999, the premise involves four players who each optimize 50 cards from a deck of 480 to then amass power over territory maps by battling creatures under their control.

Activision weighs in again with another 20th century military maneuver Call of Duty. The Allied command needs the help of ordinary soldiers and citizens, as you control squads of infantry fighting across battlefields. Utilize the armed forces of American, Britain, and Russia troops in a series of campaigns and missions (seach and rescue to seeming suicide). For those who seek the grandeur of time and space, Activision rolls out the intricate Empires which allows one to direct the evolution of power mad civilizations over a millennia. From medieval China to Hitler's Germany, one can wage war with evolving land, sea, and air units in the attempt to be numero uno.

So the pursuit of the top spot may be a timeless human endeavor. But hope burns eternal those coach potatoes who can go from critical spectator to pulse-pounding participant in the comfort of their own computer.

Magazines

Comics Buyer's Guide is the USA's longest running magazine about comic books. Every month it features new comic reviews, nostalgic retroviews, interviews and a price guide. Oliver Chin reviews anime, manga, movies, videos, graphic novels, comics, and books.

Comics & Games Retailer provides news to comic and games retailers about practical how-to tips on selling comics and keeping up with industry and market trends. Monthly issues include Oliver Chin's column "Going Global" and other articles that give a national overview of the market.