News from the virtual world:
— 'HALO' EVERYWHERE: Even people who haven't played a video game since "Pac-Man" have probably heard something about "Halo 3," thanks to the kind of publicity blitz usually reserved for summer movies.
The "Halo 3" logo is everywhere, from Burger King wrappers and Mountain Dew bottles to the hood of a NASCAR vehicle.
A life-size version of Master Chief, the game's hero, has even been enshrined at Madame Tussaud's Las Vegas museum.
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According to Microsoft, more than 10,000 stores in the United States will be opening their doors at midnight next Tuesday, the first day "Halo 3" will be on sale.
The midnight mayhem includes four major events — in New York, Los Angeles, Seattle and Miami — where gamers will get to play "Halo 3" with "local celebrities." (Whee!)
In 2004, when "Halo 2" arrived, it grossed $125 million in its first 24 hours on sale. That's more than the worldwide box office generated by "Spider-Man 3" in its first day in theaters back in May.
Microsoft clearly expects "Halo 3" to surpass that figure — and, perhaps more important, to goose sales of the Xbox 360, which is engaged in a fierce battle with Nintendo's Wii for home console supremacy.
— EASTERN PROMISES: One area where the Xbox has struggled is Japan, where gamers prefer to buy from the home teams, Sony and Nintendo. But Microsoft hasn't given up on Asia, and is trying to make a big splash at this week's Tokyo Game Show.
Takashi Sensui, the head of Microsoft's Xbox operations in Japan, knows what audiences there want: role-playing games like "Dragon Quest" and "Final Fantasy."
At a pre-TGS press conference in Tokyo, Sensui focused on forthcoming RPGs such as Microsoft's own "Lost Odyssey" and Square Enix's "Infinite Undiscovery" and "The Last Remnant."
Sensui also introduced legendary game designer Tomonobu Itagaki, who delivered the news that many hardcore Xbox-heads have been waiting for: A proper sequel to 2004's popular "Ninja Gaiden" is finally in the works. And Microsoft also promised a pile of additions to Xbox Live Arcade, including remakes of the cult-favorite shooting games "Ikaruga" and "Rez."
— ZAPPY HOLIDAYS: Nintendo has at least three guaranteed best-sellers — "Super Mario Galaxy," "Super Smash Bros. Brawl" and "The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass" — coming out this holiday season, but it's dedicated some firepower to a nifty bit of hardware due in November.
The Wii Zapper is a pistol-shaped doohickey that houses the Wii's wand-and-nunchaku controller combo, turning your gaming setup into a shooting gallery.
The Zapper will be packaged with "Link's Crossbow Training," a target game featuring the hero of "The Legend of Zelda."
Other titles promised for the Zapper include Sega's "Ghost Squad," Electronic Arts' "Medal of Honor Heroes" and Capcom's "Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles" — keeping your living room safe from, respectively, terrorists, Nazis and zombies.
— 'BIO' FEEDBACK: According to the Metacritic Web site, which gathers reviews from just about every source imaginable, the best-reviewed game in the Xbox 360's history is 2K Games' "BioShock."
It's selling nicely too, finishing third on the August charts, just behind the 360 and PlayStation 2 versions of EA Sports' "Madden NFL 08."
So, naturally, 2K's parent company, Take-Two Interactive, is thinking sequel — and beyond.
"'BioShock' is shaping up to be a very important franchise," Take-Two Chairman Strauss Zelnick told Wall Street analysts. "I feel awfully good about where that's going."
But is "BioShock" — one of the most distinctive games in ages — really suited for sequels?
Here's a better idea for Take-Two: Give creative director Ken Levine and his team as much money and time as they need to keep coming up with fresh, innovative games. We'll buy them.
— NEW IN STORES: Namco Bandai's musical role-playing game "Eternal Sonata" arrives on the Xbox 360. ... The Wii gets a wave of family-friendly fun, including Konami's "Dewy's Adventure" and "Fishing Master," Electronic Arts' "MySims" (also on the DS) and Ubisoft's "Cosmic Family." ... Sony expands its PlayStation 2 karaoke library with "Singstar Amped" and "Singstar '80s." ... Ubisoft's "Blazing Angels 2: Secret Missions of WWII" soars on the 360. ... And Sega's high-speed hedgehog returns in "Sonic Rush Adventure" for the DS.