The Week in Games: Jan. 18, 2008

News from the virtual world:

— DESERT STORM: The annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas doesn't cater much to gamers, unless you're the type who needs a 150-inch plasma TV to play "Call of Duty 4."

But there were a few video-game-related announcements at this year's show — thanks mainly to Sony, which always has a big presence at CES with its broad range of tech products.

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Sony introduced a batch of new features for the U.S. version of its handheld PlayStation Portable, including a GPS receiver and the ability to make phone calls using the Skype Internet service.

Sony also nailed down a September release date for "LittleBigPlanet," one of this year's most intriguing PlayStation 3 titles.

One device getting a lot of attention was Jada Toys' Guitar Hero Air Guitar Rocker, a belt buckle that plays notes when you strum across it with a special pick.

But the announcement that really set geeks' hearts aflutter regards Namco Bandai's forthcoming "Soul Calibur IV."

Thanks to an agreement with LucasArts, "Star Wars" villain Darth Vader will be appearing in the PS3 version, while Xbox 360 gamers will get to fight as Yoda.


— BLU CHRISTMAS: Sony executives were in a celebratory mood during CES, due in large part to the apparent triumph of Sony's Blu-ray Disc high-definition DVD format over Toshiba's HD DVD.

Just before the show got under way, Warner Bros. Entertainment announced it was ditching HD DVD in favor of Blu-ray, making it the fifth major movie studio on Sony's bandwagon as opposed to the two on Toshiba's side.

Asked if the format war was over, Sony CEO Howard Stringer said, "I never put up banners that say 'Mission Accomplished.'"

But the mood was grim on the other side, as the North American HD DVD Promotional Group canceled its major CES event.

Sony took a lot of heat (including, I admit, from this corner) when it decided to cram Blu-ray technology into the PlayStation 3, boosting its price and making its manufacture more complicated.

But now that PS3 prices have come down, a lot of people are buying the consoles to play Blu-ray discs as well as games, increasing demand for the new DVD format.

Looks like Sony's gamble paid off.


— RYAN'S HOPE: Last month I made fun of 2K Sports for choosing shortstop Jose Reyes — a key figure in the New York Mets' historic collapse last season — as the cover model for "Major League Baseball 2K8."

So Sony's sports department made sure I got the news when it chose a more deserving frontman for its "MLB 08: The Show": Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard.

Howard, the 2005 National League rookie of the year and 2006 most valuable player, was part of the 2007 Phillies team that came out of nowhere to derail the Mets. He follows in the cleats of the Red Sox's David Ortiz, the Angels' Vladimir Guerrero and, um, the Mets' David Wright.

More important, Sony says its "Road to The Show" mode, in which you play your way up through the minors and into a starting big-league role, is back.


— USE YOUR ILLUSION: Last year saw a wave of consolidation in the video-game industry, topped by Electronic Arts' assimilation of BioWare/Pandemic Studios and Vivendi's acquisition of Activision.

The trend doesn't appear likely to slow down, even though the first deal of 2008 — Take-Two's acquisition of Czech Republic-based Illusion Softworks — is relatively minor.

Illusion is best known for 2002's "Mafia," which got some good reviews despite (or perhaps because of) its clear debt to Rockstar Games' "Grand Theft Auto."

Since Take-Two also owns Rockstar, it should be interesting to see how the company juggles the forthcoming "Grand Theft Auto IV" and "Mafia II" on its schedule.


— NEW IN STORES: The Wii remote becomes a sword in Koei's "Samurai Warriors: Katana"; motorcycle handlebars in Ubisoft's "Nitrobike"; and 30 other things in Majesco's minigame collection "Furu Furu Park." ...

The dating sim "Miami Nights: Singles in the City" (Ubisoft) makes the leap from cell phones to the Nintendo DS.