"Def Jam: Icon" is the best fighting game ever. Sure, these combatants punch and kick as in other titles, but the 40 or so rappers in "Icon" have a new weapon in the mix: music.
As two fighters battle, a hip-hop soundtrack makes nearby buildings bounce and hazards explode - on the beat. Time your attack so that you knock your opponent into a flaming gas pump or a careering helicopter, maximizing punishment to your foe. Or, while your enemy is down near a hazard, hold down your controller's left trigger and rock the right stick back and forth, like a deejay scratching a record. On the beat, the hazard blows up, sending your opponent flying. Talk about giving somebody a beatdown.
It's addictive stuff, putting a new twist on the regular fight-game fun of stringing together combinations. The smooth animation, the dark color palette, the infectious tracks make this a game meant to be played loud on a high-definition TV. And if hip-hop isn't your thing, Xbox 360 owners can pop in their on MP3s. "Icon" analyzes the loud sections of the song and coordinates exploding hazards to the beat. That way, you can have your rappers fighting to the overture from the opera "Carmen."
"Icon" has a story mode: Use your fighting skills to protect rappers, who are so grateful that they sign to your new label. Allocate money for record promotion, disc manufacturing and artist appearances, then hope the record zooms up the charts and makes you rich. Watch out, though: Where there's money, there are leeches, so wisely choose for whom you buy gifts and pay bills. You can't keep everyone happy. Move up through the ranks and eventually win the icon label.
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But the music-as-weapon aspect is what makes "Icon" replayable. It's so much fun, that I spent hours in practice mode, scrapping without receiving or dishing out lethal damage -- I didn't want my or my computer opponent's injuries to interrupt my fun. There's also an online mode, so you can create your rapper from head to toe and pit him against "Icon" owner in the world.