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VALLEY WEEKEND | VIDEO GAMES

No Need to Break a Sweat at This Olympics

T.HQ's collection of 10 summer events has clean graphics, smooth control. But going out for a jog can be fun too.

July 18, 1996|AARON CURTISS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

As the Olympics get underway in Atlanta, I thought it might be fun to get into the spirit of the world's greatest athletic competition with a tribute to Athens--the birthplace of the modern games, the cradle of democracy and a place that has spent the better part of three millenniums perfecting the art of war.

Granted, the city is known for a lot more than just those three things, but they're all I'm interested in today. Remember, it's a video game column, not a dissertation on Socratic method.

Even if you don't have a ticket to the Games in Atlanta, T.HQ offers a passable 16-bit alternative with Olympic Summer Games, a collection of 10 events that are fun for a while, but quickly turn painfully repetitive. There's no risk of twisting an ankle or cracking a skull, but the fast-paced finger twitching necessary to excel at events such as the 100-meter dash might leave wrists feeling a little tired.

Olympic Summer Games--for Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo and Game Boy--is a lot like those old track and field contests at the arcades in which victory depended on pounding the buttons so fast and furious that the paint job never lasted long on most machines.

(Thankfully, the game doesn't include a marathon competition. The marathon, appropriately enough, originated in Athens. In 490 BC, a runner ran the 26 miles from the village of Marathon to Athens to relay the news of a victory over the Persian Army.)

Why was it that the best guys at those arcade games were always the Big Gulp-toting, Slim Jim-scarfing chubs who got winded walking to the change machine? My biggest gripe about Olympic Summer Games is similar to the gripe I had about those old arcade machines when I was a kid: They're both pale imitations of real life.

Video games should offer an experience we can't get in everyday life. It's much more fun to go out and actually run and jump and play. I guess I miss the point. That aside, the game itself has some nice features.

Among the coolest: listings of world and Olympic records for each of the sports. It would have been nice to see more of this kind of information in the game. On the technical side, the game is great. Control is smooth. Graphics are simple, but clean and clear. The music varies enough to prevent insanity. In all, a nice package. I just fail to see the need.

Democracy in Action II: Next, in our tribute to Athens, we thank the ancient polis for giving us democracy. Of course, voters way back then had to meet a ton of qualifications, which generally meant that most folks had no voice in the government.

But everyone who sent in a note or e-mail had a voice in the referendum announced two weeks ago on the style of this column. After complaints about it being too casual, I put the issue to the readers--on the Fourth of July, appropriately enough.

The unanimous decision was to keep the column chatty and informal. Cool. Thanks to all who voted. As promised, one voter was picked at random to receive a library of 32-bit games. Ken Brunell of Encino walks away with a stack of titles for his PlayStation.

Duke Nukem 3D: Finally, we pay tribute to Athenians' talent at war throughout history. Unfortunately, they were sometimes at the losing end. But Sparta would not have stood a chance if the Athenian army had employed the services of Duke Nukem, the cool and detached hero of the PC shooter that takes video violence to a new level.

Young kids might want to steer clear of Duke Nukem, though--not so much because of the violence, which is no more graphic than Doom, but because of some of the game's adult themes. Most 6-year-olds probably shouldn't be shooting digitized go-go dancers.

Most adults and teens probably shouldn't be doing it either, but the game is so addictive that it's hard not to overlook the more objectionable elements. Challenging and smart, Duke Nukem raises the standard by which first-person shooters should be judged.

Clean, fluid graphics. Great audio cues. Incredible shading. Big, ugly weapons. Even bigger, uglier bad guys. Environments so complex and interesting that it's fun just to explore. Add it up and Duke Nukem is the result.

Staff writer Aaron Curtiss reviews video games every Thursday. 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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