Do kids really imitate the violence they see in video games?
If you believe they do, then answer this: Why haven't we seen a huge surge in sword-related crimes over the last few decades?
I'd wager that far more games involve swordplay than gunplay. In role-playing games, for example, the sword is typically the default weapon; guns are usually reserved for weaker support characters.
But in action games, too, from "The Legend of Zelda" to "Prince of Persia," you're more likely to attack someone with a pointy object than a hail of bullets.
Heck, even in the "Star Wars" universe, light sabers — really just fluorescent swords — far outnumber projectile weapons.
Sure, there are plenty of first-person shooters out there for cowards who would rather take out the enemy from a distance. But nothing matches the visceral kick of mano-a-mano, blade-to-blade combat.
—"God of War II" (Sony, for the PlayStation 2, $59.99): When we last saw Kratos, the tattooed, muscle-bound hero of "God of War," he had defeated the Greek deity Ares and assumed his throne on Mount Olympus. But the rest of the gods aren't too happy with Kratos' interference with human events, so he's booted back to Earth.
Armed with Athena's Blades, a nifty pair of daggers that he can whip at enemies, the dyspeptic hero sets out on a new mission of vengeance.
Everything that gamers loved about the original "God of War" — the smooth combat, the clever puzzles, the extreme ultraviolence — is bigger and badder in the sequel. And fans who were dazzled by the original's climactic fight against the massive Ares will be delighted.
Right from the start, "God of War II" heaves you into a battle against the Colossus of Rhodes, and the bosses only get more colossal from there.
"God of War" surprised a lot of people with its compulsive gameplay and cinematic flair, but "God of War II" surpasses it in every way. It's a superb send-off to the reliable old PS2.
Four stars out of four.
—"TMNT" (Ubisoft, for the Wii, Xbox 360, PlayStation 2, GameCube, $59.99): The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles should be in their mid-30s by now, but they aren't showing their age. Their new video game picks up their story at the same place as the movie, with the team divided.
For the most part, you'll be playing with one turtle at a time, and each has his own weapon and special technique. Sword-wielder Leonardo, for example, can warp through solid obstacles, while Michelangelo can use his nunchakus as a helicopter.
All of the boys are fairly acrobatic too, able to flip through the air or run along walls to solve environmental puzzles that resemble "Prince of Persia" Lite.
"TNMT" stumbles badly in combat, however. A couple of times per level you're surrounded by thugs, but they're so dumb and slow that it's generally easy to escape.
It's understandable that Ubisoft would want to make "TNMT" easy enough for children, but the fighting here is a drag.
—"300: March to Glory" (Warner Bros., for the PlayStation Portable, $39.99): No one guessed that the "300" movie would be such a huge hit; otherwise, we might have seen a wave of Spartan fighting games published near its debut.
As it is, we have this humble PSP knockoff, which is bound to disappoint admirers of the film.
As King Leonidas, you get to slash your way through hundreds of Xerxes' Persians, but the combat is so simplistic and repetitious that it gets old fast.
"March to Glory" does throw in some real weirdness — the occasional downpour of arrows, or boss fights with hapless elephants — to break up the bloodshed.
At times you'll need to line your troops in a phalanx to mow down the enemies; these are the dullest sections of the game.
All of the attempts to add variety to "300" seem poorly thought out, and the basic hack-and-slash isn't all that enjoyable either.