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VALLEY WEEKEND | VIDEO GAMES

Sometime Gamer Plays Beaucoup Baku Baku

With the Sega title, which is Tetris-like in its design, a reviewer gets the best of his better half.

September 26, 1996|AARON CURTISS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

For my wife, enlightened discourse on video games generally runs along the lines of "I'm eating without you" or "Can you turn that down?" or "That's nice, honey; now shut the door." So it was with no small amount of smug satisfaction that I watched her slip into her own little video addiction with the Sega game Baku Baku for Saturn and Game Gear.

Here's her story, in her own words:

"I hate video games. I was proud that I could walk away from teenage addictions like Asteroids and Ms. Pac Man. Later on, it was even easier to ditch Kirby's Avalanche and Donkey Kong Country--and these were my favorites.

"Several months ago my favorite video game reviewer told me about Baku Baku. He said he thought it was the kind of game I would really get into. Needless to say, I didn't believe him. 'I don't get into any video games,' I thought.

"I hate to admit it, but he was right.

"The game, which involves matching a certain animal with its food--rabbits eat carrots, dogs eat bones, pandas eat bamboo and monkeys eat bananas--is Tetris-like in its design. As the animals or the food blocks fall, players try to match them up with the right animals or food blocks below. If done properly, the animals eat the food and the blocks disappear. The animal will eat all similar food blocks that are connected to the one it lands on either horizontally or vertically.

"You play against one of many computer opponents--or against a live person on Saturn--who drop blocks faster in your area as you increase the level of difficulty for the game. If your area fills up with blocks before your opponent's, you lose.

"When Baku Baku first appeared on Game Gear, I played it for about five minutes, happy that it didn't interest me. But several nights later I found myself setting aside time--usurping my usual late-night reading hours--to play.

"I'm not sure what the game's draw is, but it's the first time I can remember that a video game has managed to hold my attention for more than a few minutes."

Box Shots: I've learned to take the big promises of video game boxes with a grain of salt. More often than not, they're like those movies at the video store showing scenes of scissor kicks and exploding restaurants that turn out to be love stories with subtitles.

Nonetheless, I had to chuckle at the boast made by Microprose's Gunship for Sony PlayStation: "Any more real, it'd be classified." Sure thing, man. Although playable and competent, Gunship is likely to leave players feeling flat, particularly if they've ever taken either of the excellent PC chopper sims Apache or Comanche out for a spin.

Those two classics define the standard by which all other helicopter games should be measured. So far, none of the 32-bit offerings even come close. Black Fire for Saturn tried and failed. And, in the end, so does Gunship.

The missions are straight out of the same old playbook: central Europe and the Persian Gulf. The difference is that one is green and the other is tan. Enemies aren't defined clearly enough, so it's often tough to know exactly what you're shooting at.

The ever-present co-pilot tries to help, but I just found him annoying. That's eventually how I felt about the whole game. For consoles like PlayStation, action is key. Technical sims work well enough on the PC, but game machine joypads just don't cut it for the kind of constant control this kind of flier demands.

Pity, because Microprose turns out some pretty nice PC titles. Classify Gunship as a valiant effort, but one that fails to achieve its mission objective.

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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