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VALLEY WEEKEND | VIDEO GAMES

Wario Good for a Hoot and a Headache : The Virtual Boy adventure has some fun features, but the 3-D, red and black display can be a pain.

February 08, 1996|AARON CURTISS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Is it just me or should those warnings all over every single Virtual Boy game be a cause of concern? All I know is that every time I finish a game, I need a few minutes to get my bearings and a few Tylenol to kill the inevitable headache.

Until recently, Virtual Boy wasn't worth the pain. Its three-dimensional, red and black LED display was a neat little novelty, but most of the initial batch of games were minor amusements not worth the considerable toll it took on the eyes and head.

Then along came Wario Land, a dandy little side-scrolling adventure that is a hoot to play and dazzling in its execution of a 3-D world filled with Bomb-Bats, Chain-Saw Fish and Blade Faces.

(Yes, their names are indicative of their appearances and purposes. Remember, it's just a video game.)

In all other respects like the adventures of cousin Mario, Wario's journey takes place on an additional axis, a feature that adds a new challenge to the game and opens up a whole new realm of possibilities.

Wario is able to bounce in and out of the primary plane as are the rather numerous bad guys. And it begs the question whether Nintendo will incorporate some of this into games designed for Ultra 64, slated for release this spring.

Otherwise, it might all go to waste. Although Virtual Boy is showing off its stuff, it's still hard to think of it as anything more than a party favor. The display is just too darn hard on the eyes to make it playable for very long.

And if you can't play, why pay?

Sega's Rally: OK, we all know Sega is getting whipped in its war against Sony. But that doesn't mean the Saturn doesn't deliver some top-end game play that so far even PlayStation can't touch.

Sega Rally Championship is a nice example of just what Saturn developers can do when they put their minds to it. The game is a clean, tight and elegant off-road racer that features some brilliant scenery and nice features that make play a kick.

Just like true rally races, players are advised by a co-pilot, who reads the maps and points out the course ahead. It allows drivers to plan, but hardly spoils the fun of discovery since the three tracks I played were plenty challenging.

Sega Rally Championship also cleans up some of the bothersome quirks of Daytona USA, one of the launch titles released with Saturn last spring. Because the courses have considerably more curves, designers did not have to worry about long perspectives, which take longer to fill in on the screen than tighter views.

Control on the joypad is not as clean as it should be. I'm told Sega's arcade racer peripheral clears up the sloppy control problem, but I'm too cheap to drop the extra $80. Besides, a game should perform at top form with just the basic equipment.

All in all, though, Sega Rally Championship is a champ.

Not-So Wildcats: In this, the twilight of 16-bit gaming, let us take pause to reflect. They served us well, but now their time is passing. One thing I won't miss, though, is the slew of side-scrolling fighting games that all looked the same and were never that fun.

Playmates Interactive has taken the genre to a new level with Jim Lee's Wildcats Covert Action Team, but it still isn't enough to sway my opinion that sometimes it's better to just pull the plug.

To its credit, the game features nice, big characters in environments that are richly detailed and allow an almost unheard-of range of motion. For what it is, it's nice. And some folks may just love it to death.

But then there's the formula: level of bad guys, boss; level of bad guys, boss; level of bad guys, boss. You get the idea.

Personally, when I'm kicking the life out of someone, I like to have a little more control, a little more finesse. Sometimes, a drop kick just doesn't fit my mood. Never mind, because the programming makes those choices in advance.

So while I'm not wild about Wildcats, I can see its appeal to folks who live and breathe kick-jump-punch games. It doesn't break any new ground, but it pushes the same old dirt around in interesting ways.

Staff writer Aaron Curtiss reviews video games regularly. To comment on a column or to suggest games for review, send letters to The Times, 20000 Prairie St., Chatsworth, CA 91311. Or send e-mail to Aaron.Curtiss@latimes.com.

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