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VALLEY WEEKEND | VIDEO GAMES

In Decathlete, the Skill Is All in the Thumb

August 22, 1996|AARON CURTISS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

With Atlanta's Olympic flame now but a fond glow in our memories, those aching for a taste of the games need reach only as far as their Sega Saturn joypad.

Decathlete from Sega Sports gets a gold for bringing the technical feel of the Olympics' most famous macho event to 32-bit game consoles, but gets disqualified when it comes to capturing the action of the 10-event competition.

With dazzling graphics and some awesome character motion, Decathlete is one of the best-looking sports games around for console machines. Changing camera angles and a precise attention to detail definitely make it one of the best track and field games.

But that's not saying all that much.

My main beef with Decathlete is the same one I have with all the track and field games in which repetitive stress injury is all but guaranteed. The only way to excel at these games is to bang the C button over and over and over--for almost four minutes in the case of the 1,500-meter dash.

I end up with a wrist and forearm that hurt like crazy, and all I get for my trouble is a goofy animation of some polygonal palooka either punching the air in victory or holding his head in defeat.

And although I hate to sound like a grumpy old man, what's the point of making some animated character run around a track on your TV screen when you could be out doing the same thing? It's not like most other sports games in which players get to swap star players or plot strategies.

Victory here comes not to the cunning of mind, but to the spry of thumb. I give Decathlete--and the rest of the games in its genre--a thumbs down.

Friendly Fun: Imagine a game that stars a cute marsupial and his elephant chum. Keep imagining that the key to success is cooperation and friendliness and that the various levels are populated by a host of cutesy foils.

Sounds awful, I know. Where are the big guns? The menacing sneers? The finishing moves?

That's what I asked when I popped Marsupilami into my Sega Genesis and watched a world too cute for its own good unfold on my screen. Then I got sucker punched and ended up playing the game for the better part of a weekend.

As dorky as it sounds, Marsupilami is a heck of a lot of fun. The goal is to help your pachyderm pal Bonelli escape from the circus. That's easier said than done, though, because Bonelli can't do much on his own and he's always on your tail.

Literally.

Marsupilami's most effective tool and weapon is his overly long tail, which can transform into stairs, a mouse, a shield or a parachute. Trust me, it's pretty cool.

Although it looks like a kid's title, Marsupilami offers a challenge to gamers who like side-scrollers where higher reasoning is as critical as brain stem reflexes.

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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