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VALLEY WEEKEND | VIDEO GAMES

Nintendo Virtual Boy Measures Up to Billing

As its library of titles slowly grows, the 3-D system is becoming more well-rounded and less of a headache.

May 02, 1996|AARON CURTISS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It takes some getting used to, but Nintendo's Virtual Boy is, in the end, not a bad little system. Granted, the migraine factor is pretty high and it's not the most social way to play.

But the LED-powered V Boy lives up to its promise of three-dimensional gaming--even if it is in a red-and-black world. And with a slowly growing library of titles, Virtual Boy's range exceeds my early expectations.

On a recent weekend when the good wife repeated, "Don't you have anything to do?" like a mantra, I plopped my head into the Virtual Boy's viewfinder and immersed myself in a smattering of the newest offerings.

They ranged from a pretty lousy reincarnation of Tetris to a couple of pretty great shooters in Vertical Force and Waterworld. And much to my happy surprise, the old nog didn't hurt as much as it has in sessions past.

I was seeing red, however, after playing the latest game to mooch off the good name of Tetris. Nintendo's 3-D Tetris is one of those games that adds nothing to the original and leaves players feeling cheated.

The playing field spins in a weirdly hypnotic way and actually makes game play more difficult and annoying than necessary. As in the original Tetris--which most people with a pulse find incredibly addictive--blocks fall from above and must be fitted into an ever-growing wall.

What's different about the Virtual Boy version, though, is that instead of the walls being just one brick thick, they are four and five bricks thick. That could have made from some great play, as it did in older, but similar, versions for the PC.

But control is difficult and sometimes awkward and the entire 3-D experience seems a little wasted in an environment that looks like a bunch of vector graphics with some shading.

I perked up a little when I slapped Vertical Force from Nintendo into the Virtual Boy's port. I played an early version of this zippy little shooter last spring at the Los Angeles electronics expo and was impressed with what little I saw.

The final version lives up to the promises it made last year. Imagine a beefy Solar Striker, except with two planes of play. Mastering the dive and climb controls can be a little tough, but once accomplished, Vertical Force provides hours of twitch-and-flinch fun.

Although it moves a little slower and suffers a few hokey elements, Waterworld from Ocean surprised me as one of the first games that might actually be better than the movie from which it was derived.

Set in a catamaran on the open water, the game requires players to blast encroaching Smokers and rescue helpless Atollers. Perhaps the coolest feature of Waterworld is the perspective. Players have full 360-degree mobility as in Doom and the playing environment is as close to real as Virtual Boy can deliver.

The intermissions between rounds were pretty lame, though, and took way too much time to tally up points. Sure, the 3-D effects are nice, but I want the effort to go into the actual game, not the half-time shows.

In the end, with the afternoon successfully killed, I felt a little closer to my Virtual Boy, had a little more respect for the dorky looking box on stilts. In fact, I kind of hope Nintendo can make a go of it.

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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