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VIDEO GAMES REVIEW : If You're a Player in This Field, You're Bound to Be a Winner : New technology and competition should give consumers some excellent choices.

June 01, 1995|AARON CURTISS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Where to start?

At the recent Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles, the video game industry pulled out all the stops to gear up for a year that just might end up being bloodier than all the levels of Doom combined.

Sega announced the debut of Saturn, its 32-bit disc-based system, and Sony trotted out its offering in the platform wars, PlayStation. Nintendo, for its part, offered its Virtual Boy virtual-reality system, but knocked introduction of Ultra 64 into next year. Companies like 3DO and Atari also unveiled upgrades to keep their systems competitive in the months ahead.

On the software front, it is too early to play a dirge for 16-bit games. A slew of titles were shown at the expo--including Batman Forever from Acclaim, Donkey Kong Country II and Killer Instinct from Nintendo and Weaponlord from Namco--proving that Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis continue to be the hands-down most popular machines around.

Even so, the most exciting parts of the show were glimpses at next generation machines and the hot new games in development for them. Pundits may blather on endlessly about which company has the financial resources and marketing savvy to put it on top, but from a gaming perspective, it is going to be a tough call.

The good news, however, is that with so much technology and competition, game-loving consumers should end up winners regardless of which system they choose. The trick will be in determining which systems will survive long enough to ensure a steady stream of great games beyond the initial launch.

In addition to all the cool game machines and software at the show, developers of CD-ROM software and PC peripherals hawked their wares in a major way with a stack of stuff that makes computer gaming all the more fun.

With all that said, let's take a quick look at what to expect in the year ahead.

3DO

As the first 32-bit disc-based system on the market, 3DO is looking to hold onto what it has as Sony and Sega launch their machines. The big jump 3DO has over the other two systems is an already impressive library of more than 200 titles. And at about $400, the 3DO Multiplayer is about the same price as Sega's Saturn, which was launched this month with fewer than 10 titles.

The big news from 3DO, though, is that it is planning its own next-generation machine, which relies on 64-bit technology and promises to deliver unprecedented graphics and sound. Watching a demonstration of the M2 technology was amazing. Video was clear, graphics did not get blocky up close, and sound was crisp.

Problem is, 3DO and its manufacturers did not want to talk about details like price or potential availability. Until they do, it's anyone's guess.

Another cool toy from 3DO is a portable version of its current 32-bit system. A prototype looked like a beefy portable compact disc player. Designed like a clamshell, the screen pops open to reveal a control pad, which in turn flips up to hold the game disc. All current 3DO titles will work on the portable unit.

Again, the 3DO folks are vague on specifics.

For current 3DO owners, the show was a chance to check out all the new titles either in development or just released. Among the coolest are BladeForce, a 360-degree flying and shooting game, and Killing Time, a first-person shoot-em-up that includes live-action villains.

ATARI

Once the mightiest force in home video games, Atari is trying to fight its way back with the Jaguar, the only 64-bit machine on the market. Despite its advanced technology, the Jaguar is also the cheapest next-generation machine on the market at a reasonable $150.

In the months ahead, Atari will introduce a CD-ROM attachment for the Jaguar to enable even better, more complex games to be developed for the system. Among the games on tap is a version of the PC classic Myst and arcade remakes such as Defender 2000. The company said the CD-ROM attachment should be available later this year and sell for about $150.

Also in the works from Atari is a virtual-reality headset that will work with Jaguar. The cost is expected to be about $300.

In terms of software, the Jaguar's library continues to grow and Atari expects to have nearly 100 titles on the shelves by the end of the year. Games highlighted at the show included Rayman, TRF, Ultra Vortex and White Men Can't Jump. All looked great, by the way.

NINTENDO

It was what Nintendo did not show at the expo that had everybody talking. The Ultra 64, put together by what Nintendo calls its Dream Team, was scheduled for release by the end of the year, but then was pushed into next year.

Nintendo did, however, put the Virtual Boy system on display. This odd-looking red machine is touted as a portable virtual-reality unit. Scheduled for release in August with a price tag of about $180, the unit almost defies description.

I'm not sure yet whether that is good or bad.

The games I tried were fun, but the Virtual Boy's red-and-black screen was a little tough on the eyes after a while. Judgment on the system is reserved for later.

Nintendo did show off games galore, including Killer Instinct and Donkey Kong Country II for Super Nintendo. Both were an absolute blast, as was Donkey Kong Land, the Game Boy version of Donkey Kong Country.

SEGA

Sega announced that Saturn has hit the shelves in a few stores nationwide and will go into wider release in September. At about $400, the system includes a Virtua Fighter game disc.

With seven titles ready right now, Sega expects to have as many as two dozen by the end of the year. I tried all seven of the launch titles and was impressed by each one, particularly Panzer Dragoon, a dreamy shooting game in which players ride dragons.

SONY

With PlayStation, Sony enters the ring to fight it out with such longtime players as Sega and Atari. The system is scheduled for release in September with a price just under $300.

Dozens of titles are in development and the ones I saw looked great. Destruction Derby by Psygnosis was awesome, as was Tekken by Namco.

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