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VALLEY WEEKEND | VIDEO GAMES

Browsing Binge Turns Up the Best and Brightest at Expo

Electronics extravaganza sights and sounds overwhelm even the veteran player. But a Lego CD-ROM and Nintendo's 64-bit machine make it all worthwhile.

May 23, 1996|AARON CURTISS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Yowza! After only a few hours at the annual Electronics Entertainment Expo, even die-hard video game fans like me found themselves longing for a taste of the outside world.

The mammoth trade show, held last week at the Los Angeles Convention Center, is about as close as it comes to actually being inside a giant video game. Lasers. Smoke. Flickering monitors. Throbbing digital sound. Scantily clad women armed with big, ugly guns.

Everywhere you looked, another game, another system, another peripheral that, taken by themselves, would ordinarily be the coolest parts of a day. But when lumped together under one roof, they were all a little overwhelming. Video games are nice places to visit, but you wouldn't want to live in them.

So fueled by a couple quarts of Diet Coke and a handful of Power Bars, I set out in search of all the video-game news that fits. Today, I write about the best of the good. Next week, look for the rest of the good, most of the bad and some of the ugly.

The Good: Nintendo's unveiling of its 64-bit cartridge-based machine, the Nintendo 64, wowed just about everyone at the show with its super-fast graphics and spiffy new controller. Delayed again and again, the Nintendo 64's current launch date is Sept. 30 with a suggested price of about $250. Based on the six titles I saw--and the three I actually played--the wait and the cost will be worth it.

The system tears along at a clip unheard of among its disc-based competitors. Super Mario 64 zips through three-dimensional worlds like nobody's business, with clear, textured polygons that keep their shapes and their surfaces even up close.

The new analog controller takes a little getting used to, but once mastered it offers refined control that makes a game like Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire a true thrill to play. Even with full mobility in a variety of environments, the game never loses speed or quality.

A rig of this quality means the fight for gamers will turn white hot this fall as Sega, Saturn and Nintendo duke it out for holiday dollars. But don't think Sega and Sony aren't ready for Nintendo's offensive.

Sony announced it was slashing the price of PlayStation by $100, taking it to $200 for the core system with one controller but no game. That makes PlayStation one of the cheapest next-generation rigs on the market.

For its part, Sega is banking on a slew of new titles that take Saturn's sophisticated architecture to new levels of beauty and speed.

Born to Build: Although not a video game per se, the best thing I saw at the show was a Lego building program by Mindscape. The CD-ROM won't be available until next spring, but it re-creates the Lego building experience on screen and then allows builders to explore their creations.

Trust me on this one. You want this program.

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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