Saturday, October 13, 2007

Saturday's Column

‘Sword’ slices a beautiful, fun swath

"Heavenly Sword” for Sony’s PlayStation 3 is a sexy game.

The lead character, Nariko, is a hot, steely heroine with flame-red hair. Her sidekick Kai (who reminds me of the singer Bjork) is her adorable foil. The two have a special bond in an all-male clan of warriors. Whether it’s anything more than an extremely close relationship between women is up to the imagination.

“Heavenly Sword” is often compared to “God of War” and UK gamemaker Ninja Theory, which created “Sword,” certainly took a cue from “God.” But I think “Heavenly Sword” succeeds in ways the developer of “God of War” only dreamed about. The visual tapestry of broad landscapes, cinematic camera angles and massive explosions are confetti for the eyes. “Sword” is big and beautiful.

It also tells a good story, even if the acting is a bit hammy in places. King Bohan is an over-the-top cartoon super-villain trying to take control of the Heavenly Sword guarded by Nariko’s clan. Nariko struggles for acceptance, particularly from her father and trainer Shen.

A deity from the heavens is supposed to wield the Heavenly Sword and defeat evil. When Bohan captures her father, Nariko has no choice but to wield the weapon.

At its core, “Heavenly Sword” is a story about children who want approval from their parents. As the story progresses, children learn to stand on their own and parents learn to accept their kids for who they are, not who they want them to be.

Like “God of War,” you learn so many combos with the heavenly sword, pushing random buttons will do any number of cool things. There’s no hair-pulling puzzle solving like “God of War,” though.

The game makes good use of the console’s “Sixaxis” motion-sensitive controllers. They record movement, allowing players to physically guide arrows and missiles by moving the controller up, down or side to side. Sony is nowhere near Nintendo’s Wii in terms of capturing real motion, but “Heavenly Sword” incorporates physical moves in a meaningful way. The player’s ability to use movement is an important part of beating the game.

I beat this game in about a week. Despite its epic premise, it’s surprisingly short. Beating it once will unlock several different extras, including the “Hell Mode.”

It’s a stunning achievement for Sony. I give “Heavenly Sword” four-and-a-half buttons out of five.

Tips and Tricks: In “Heavenly Sword” it pays to know your moves. Nariko uses three stances: power, range and speed. Enemy attacks are color-coded to match the different stances. Blocks vary accordingly. Learn these stances and their corresponding colors quickly.

The best offense is a good defense. Use the right analog control stick to dodge-roll and do it often. Most of the baddies are slow and incompetent.

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