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The Expo Challenge: Dodging the Pretenders

Many show-and-sell spiels at L.A. conclave pushed tired products in zippy new packages. Sega was an exception.


Last week, I hit the highlights of my tour through the dark belly of the annual Electronics Entertainment Expo at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Today, I detail some of the other cool stuff I saw as well as chronicle some of the junk folks are pushing.

And beware! One thing the show made clear to me is how much junk is out there. The true gems are getting harder and harder to find as guys in spiffy suits and shiny loafers take over the video game business.

Their idea of a good game is the same old low-rent garbage packed in a shiny new box. That way, development doesn't cut into profits. Luckily, though, some still care about what they sell.

Case in point: Sega. Although the early titles for Saturn looked half finished, the folks at Sega are banking on a slew of newer, better games to bring their 32-bit flagship into direct competition with Sony's PlayStation and the Nintendo 64.

Based on what I saw at the show, they have a good chance of succeeding.

Sega's mascot Sonic debuts later this year on Saturn in a 3-D adventure that looks pretty good. Playable levels were limited, but videotape showed some hot environments that really moved.

Also on deck are tasty sequels like Virtua Cop 2 and Bug Too! One of the hottest titles, though, was also one of the weirdest. Nights follows a couple of kids through their dreams, allowing players to fly free through some truly dreamy worlds.

What was it Freud said about flying in a dream?

Anyway, the best element of this game is the controller, which incorporates an analog joystick into a nice hand-held unit. I hate the standard Saturn controller, but this new model felt and played like a champ.


One final piece of good news from both Sega and Nintendo is that they will continue to support their 16-bit workhorses for at least another year--but the flow of titles will slow to a trickle.

On Super Nintendo, look for yet another Donkey Kong sequel, this one featuring Dixie Kong and a new buddy. On Genesis, the big ticket games will be a sequel to Vectorman as well as a new Sonic 3-D adventure and a 16-bit version of Virtua Fighter.

With all of that good stuff noted, though, be warned that both Sega and Nintendo have plans to sock you for money better left in the bank. Nintendo's big announcement on portable gaming, for instance, left me noticeably underwhelmed.

Get ready for, yes, another reincarnation of Game Boy. Pocket Game Boy is smaller than either the original or the Play It Loud! series and the screen is a little clearer. But it's the same old Game Boy with a new $60 price tag. One of Nintendo's representatives defended the move by saying that Game Boys still fly off the shelves.

But so would Model Ts if they were the only car around. Just because people will buy antiquated technology doesn't mean that's all they deserve. Sega showed that it was possible to make 16-bit gaming portable with the Nomad, but Nintendo shows its true colors by repacking the same old black-and-white stuff and selling it as new.

Not that Sega is so holy. I got a chance to watch a demonstration of its Internet peripheral. Yawn. Leave it to Sega to figure out new ways to separate folks from their money. New keyboard. New mouse. All sold separately from the $200 modem, of course.

To be fair, the demo I saw was very early beta, but the browser was slow and unreliable. And the Web sites we did manage to reach looked terrible. Everyone says the key to gaming in the future is online, but I doubt seriously whether this first generation of peripherals will unlock the door.

Don't fall for 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

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