Quite frankly, I thought Kirby's Avalanche was going to suck before I popped the cartridge into my Super Nintendo, which just goes to show how wrong first impressions can be.
For those who don't know who Kirby is, he is a puffy pink, marshmallow-shaped Nintendo hero with a drippy smile whose appeal I fail to see. Despite all that, Kirby's Avalanche is a blast--if you skip all the goofy intermissions and concentrate on playing the game.
The game itself is a lot like Tetris. Pairs of different-colored blobs drop from the sky as players try to connect four blobs of the same color to make them disappear.
The goal is to prevent the blobs from stacking up to the top of the screen. That's an easy enough proposition on its face, but is complicated by the fact that an opponent is trying to do the exact same thing--and all of the blobs she clears end up on your side.
Such simplicity makes for great fun. As play progresses, the blobs come faster and faster, giving players less and less time to configure them in their ever-growing walls.
When finding another human opponent gets tough, the game offers a cast of computerized foes all as cutesy as Kirby. They are nonetheless challenging, though. I just recommend zipping through their corny introductions as quickly as possible.
Platform: Super Nintendo
Earthworm Jim / Special Edition
Nine-year-old reader Kyle Logue of Chatsworth wrote in to say that Earthworm Jim is the greatest game he has ever played. And while I agree that it does make for one swell time, I would have to stop short of calling it the greatest game ever.
But that may just be because I don't get a lot of the jokes and the game is full of them.
Unlike a lot of games that are outright laughable in their earnestness, Earthworm Jim is decidedly not serious.
After all, who could take seriously a game that features levels with names such as Snot a Problem and Buttville and features villains with the names Major Mucus, Professor Monkey-for-a-Head and, my favorite, The evil Queen Pulsating, Bloated, Festering, Sweaty, Pus-Filled, Malformed, Slug for a Butt?
Although the original Earthworm Jim has been out for several months for Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis, Interplay Productions is releasing a special edition later this month on Sega CD that includes an extra level, a new weapon as well as new animation and a password system.
But the fun of Earthworm Jim remains, and game play is as wacky and implausible as ever.
The short course on Jim and how he came to be a super-hero is fairly simple.
Jim was an earthbound earthworm who never got any peace from a scavenging crow. About the same time in outer space, however, the bounty hunter Psy-Crow--dealing with a severe case of gun envy--was blasting away at a renegade with a magic suit.
It fell to Earth and landed--you got it--right on top of Jim, who was transformed into a muscly biped with a worm for a head.
After Jim dispatches the predatory crow, his adventures begin as he flees the dreaded Psy-Crow and tries to find the lovely Princess-What's-Her-Name.
There is frankly nothing about this game that turns me off, despite the fact that many of the gags are aimed at 14-year-old boys for whom bodily oozings such as mucus and vomit are the cornerstones of humor.
In terms of playability, there are few games like it. The sound is beautiful, although Jim's constant exclamations of pain get a little tiresome.
The graphics are smooth and colorful, and backgrounds include a level of detail missing in most games.
Thanks for the tip, Kyle.
Platforms: Special Edition on Sega CD only, original version on Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis
Atari Jaguar / Alien vs Predator
Ever since the original Doom was released and changed forever the way we think about video games, literally dozens of companies have released crummy knockoffs that promise excitement in the first person.
But Alien vs Predator is actually a pretty cool game that comes close to duplicating the ambience and attitude of Doom.
With the Jaguar's 64-bit processor, the graphics and movement in Alien vs Predator are superior to almost any other game on the market right now.
It is actually three games in one since players can choose between playing as a colonial marine, an alien or a predator. All have different missions, start in different places and are armed with different weapons.
All of the action takes place on a Marine training base taken over first by aliens and then by predators.
Playing as a Marine demands wiping out both beings and activating the self-destruct mechanism for the base before jettisoning in the escape pod.
Aliens must rescue their imprisoned queen. Predators, in turn, must try to capture the alien queen.
One of the neatest aspects of Alien vs Predator is that once a player comes across an enemy, it is almost impossible to shake. In some games, enemies never leave the room they haunt.
But once an alien is freed, he's in chase mode until he is blown away--slashing and chewing all along.
The environments in which all the action take place are themselves quite cool.
Dimly lit and eerily quiet, the hallways, cells and air ducts of the Marine base take on a character much like they had in the sci-fi films on which the game is based.
To wit, my brother played for only a few minutes before quitting. "This game gives me the creeps," he said.
Platform: Atari Jaguar