(Namco Bandai; Xbox 360, PS3; Teen)
More than a decade after debuting on the original Playstation and the Dreamcast, the Soul Edge and Soulcalibur titles continue to hold a special place in the hearts of diehard fighting-game fans. They’ll be pleased to hear that the latest game in the series, Soulcalibur IV, still uses a multilayered fighting engine, which allows players of varying skills to engage in brawl after bloody brawl — and always feel evenly matched. And aside from the requisite upgrades and enhancements, there are some significant additions. To an already extensive roster of international combatants (battling to possess a pair of benevolent and malevolent mystical swords), SCIV adds characters from the Star Wars universe: Yoda, exclusively on the Xbox 360; and Darth Vader for the PS3. Yes, it’s weird: Having such iconic characters step into this familiar arena just seems so…random.
While some users may have fun trying to figure out why their lightsabers aren’t melting right through their opponent’s blades — magic? A strangely high midichlorian-count? — others may begin to feel like the Soul series has officially jumped the shark. Such sentiments are hasty and should be suppressed. Improved features like breakable armor and a character creator nicely supplement one of the franchise’s great strengths: lightning-fast combat. Also new to SCIV is online play. Lag times are nearly non-existent — moves seem just as deadly quick when playing with a friend sitting in a living room across the country. Soulcalibur purists will have to come to the same bit of understanding a Star Wars-obsessed fan shared with us a long time ago: It’s Vader’s world — we just live in it. B+ —Evan Narcisse
GEOMETRY WARS: RETRO EVOLVED 2
(Activision; Xbox 360; Everyone)
A sequel to one of Xbox Live Arcade’s most beloved games hardly seems necessary — even at nearly three years old, it’s one of the best shooters around. Play a round (or ten) of GWRE2, though, and you’ll see the light — or, more precisely, the lights, all of which colorfully snap, crackle, and pop on your screen with even more vibrant abandon than on its predecessor. The game’s basic formula remains the same: (1) use the left thumbstick to move your spaceship, (2) use the right thumbstick to shoot laser beams at a swarming geometric blobs; (3) stay alive for as long as possible.
The newest Geometry Wars adds some intriguing layers to its tried-and-true gameplay. Players rack up point multipliers — the key to achieving those coveted 7- and 8-figure scores — not by shooting enemies but by collecting the pixilated detritus (called geoms) they leave behind. Unless you possess near-superhuman reflexes, games typically last no more than a few minutes (no matter which mode you choose), but they just may be the most sweat-inducing minutes you can spend playing a game. A? —Gary Eng Walk