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Batman: Rise of Sin Tzu

Platform(s): Arcade, Game Boy Advance, GameCube, Nintendo DS, PC, PSOne, PSP, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, Wii, Xbox, Xbox 360
Genre: Action

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PS2 Preview - 'Batman: Rise of Sin Tzu'

by Thomas Wilde on Oct. 13, 2003 @ 1:35 a.m. PDT

Genre : Action
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Ubisoft
Release Date: October 14, 2003

Pre-order 'BATMAN: Rise of Sin Tzu':
Xbox | Game Boy Advance | PlayStation 2

Attention, people of Earth! This is your future ruler, Thomas, speaking to you on a matter of some importance!

Batman: Rise of Sin Tzu is not, repeat not, a double-dipped pure injection of suck like Dark Tomorrow! Unlike that game, it does not cause sterility, has not induced explosive head trauma, and does not make the baby Jesus cry! You can return to your homes, fellow humans, safe in the knowledge that someone, somewhere, has managed to take the Batman license and not commit horrible crimes against God and man with it!

That being said, Rise of Sin Tzu is that rarest of creatures in the overcomplicated modern age of console gaming: a solid, straightforward beat-‘em-up. Based upon the square-jawed “Batman: the Animated Series,” it’s the story of a massive campaign against Batman, conducted by the new villain, Chinese mastermind Sin Tzu. As Batman, Nightwing, Robin, or Batgirl (the redheaded Barbara Gordon Batgirl and not the current Cassandra Cain Batgirl; Comic Geek Points +1), it is your task to fracture skulls and kick super villain ass all over Gotham City.

And kick it you do! Many beat-‘em-ups devolve into mindless button-mashing, with an occasional deviation in the form of throw maneuvers or beating some poor mook with a chunk of the landscape. Rise of Sin Tzu does this as well, but only at the beginning of the game.

You see, when you start, you’re limited to basic punch and kick combinations; a handy Batarang, which stuns opponents and returns to your hand; a diving dodge maneuver/quick rolling escape; and the ability to charge up a power meter with successful combinations, until it fills to its maximum and enables you, for a short time, to crush skulls with charged power attacks.

The environments are littered with smashable, explosive items to help you dispatch mooks, and as you deal with them, you score points; the more extensive the combos you land, the more points you earn. These points, in turn, can be spent at the end of each proper level, to purchase advanced attacks such as throws, extended combinations, better power combos, and special tokens that can be used to unlock secrets. The secrets, though, are nothing spectacular, featuring concept art, polygon models, and the like. Your life is full and complete without them, particularly given just how often you’d have to play through the game to get them all; an individual type of token can only be purchased in two-player mode, or on Easy, or on Normal, or on Hard.

In other words, Rise of Sin Tzu puts most of its button-mashing right at the start of the game. As you progress, you’ll earn more moves—here’s a hint: get the throw moves first, so you can break grab attempts—so your combat variety improves as you do. It’s an interesting approach, but it does mean that the first couple of levels get a little monotonous.

Granted, the game is still a button-masher’s wildest dream, even with these extended combinations. A frequent problem you’ll encounter is that many missions, if not all, are timed; you must rescue civilians or defuse bombs before the clock runs out, or you’ll quietly, and without fanfare, lose a life. This means that many levels wind up being more of a mad dash than a free-for-all brawl, and also means that you’ll be doing quite a few not-quite-Batman things in order to proceed. While the idea of Batman and Robin cooperating to throw uncooperative thugs off of a roof, or Batgirl breaking a barrel full of that most perfect video-game substance, the Unknown But Powerful Contact Explosive, over a mook’s head, does have a certain frisson—I am of the opinion that Batman should have slammed the Joker’s head in a door years and years ago, his oath to never kill notwithstanding—it seems to be a bizarre move away from the spirit of the source material. Sure, you could just beat all your opponents into dogfood as per usual, but when you have thirty seconds to go before the entire building explodes like the fourth of July at Hunter Thompson’s house, you’re going to do some things you’ll probably regret, like wedging a Batarang up someone’s left nostril and mule-kicking him into a convenient tank of clearly toxic chemicals. Sure, you may hate to do it—really, you do, it’s unpleasant and you’ll feel bad about it later—but it’s necessary. Honest.

I’m rambling again, aren’t I?

As far as difficulty goes, it’s fairly well-balanced. Rise of Sin Tzu earns my respect in one regard, in that it’s neither brain-dead easy nor obviously-cheating difficult; take Fighting Force as an example of the former, and Hunter: the Reckoning as an example of the latter. In the former type of brawler, you have either too many combat options or the opponents are just brain-dead stupid; repeat the same tactics sixteen thousand times and you win, with nothing more than the grotesque and over exercised muscles on your right thumb to show for it. In the latter example, the rank-and-file enemies may be easy to defeat individually, but they come after you in mobs of at least nine, occasionally supported by a gun-wielding ally somewhere off to the side. If you get past them, you have a boss to contend with, whose life bar is bigger than that of the entire Australian continent and who can crush you for most of your health more or less at will.

Sin Tzu takes a middle road here, with crowds of thugs who can be defeated with quick reflexes and occasional tactical planning—a well-thrown Batarang can detonate most nearby explosives, and not all environmental hazards simply explode or break; a klieg light will blind an enemy if he’s struck with it, and you can run an opponent over with a forklift if you time it right—and bosses who’re competent without being quarter-sucking bastards from hell. The only complaint I have about the game play, really, is that Sin Tzu really should’ve had multi-tap support; it has the option of two-player simultaneous action, but the PS2 could’ve used a good four-player free-for-all brawler. My multitap is dusty, and cold from disuse.

The only improvement I can think of for the game play is simple: this, above all else, is a game that could’ve benefited from a Hunter-style open-ended environment. Much like arcade brawlers, Rise of Sin Tzu likes to impede your progress with artificial walls, which drop upon your defeat of all the local enemies. When you have six seconds left on the clock, the last bomb is in sight, and six healthy thugs drop out of nowhere, this is unpleasant and arguably unnecessary. To summarize my perspective: no


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