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Star Wars: There's Time to Get Pizza

April 13, 1998|AARON CURTISS

Star Wars Rebellion takes a long time to play.

Days. Weeks, really.

Even then, it doesn't quite seem enough.

The first computer strategy game to use characters and situations from George Lucas' "Star Wars" universe, Rebellion puts players in command of a diplomatic and military campaign for control of the galaxy.

It's an absorbing, complicated and infinitely enjoyable experience that demands all the managerial, strategic and tactical skills players can muster. Rebellion's universe is familiar, but never before have players been able to control it like this.

Rebellion starts, as do all "Star Wars"-based games, with the words that introduced the first film more than 20 years ago: "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away . . ." After that, players pick sides--Empire or Rebel Alliance--and launch their quest for galactic dominance.

Players start with a few scattered bases, a few troops, a few ships and a lot of unexplored territory.

I played as the Rebel Alliance and learned quickly that an immediate head-on assault on enemy headquarters is tantamount to suicide. Such a feat can only hope to work after hours of building ships and training troops and winning the political support of neighboring planets.

Rebellion takes place in real time. In other words, it's not a turn-based game where players alternate moves. So as a player prepares a fleet for battle, the computer may be dispatching troops to another planet where defenses are weak.

As in the real world, everything takes time. Simply ordering up a couple of divisions does not instantly put them on the battlefield. They need to be trained, fed and dispatched. Plus, they need resources in combat. Despite the time-cutting use of light-speed travel, it can still take a long time for ships and materials to reach their destinations.

How long?

I dispatched my fleet to a distant planet. Then I ordered a pizza. The pizza arrived. A few slices later, my fleet left hyperspace at its destination. All the while, I was making other preparations and plotting strategy--including ordering spies to infiltrate hostile planets. That kind of long-range thinking is a must if players hope to capture Vader and the Emperor.

But Rebellion is not all big-picture strategy and hands-off command. Once fleets engage in battle, players take over tactical battlefield control and direct the attacks of specific ships. It's a nice change of pace, but demands a fair amount of practice.

For fans of strategy games, Rebellion expertly takes the genre into a universe with its own rich history. For "Star Wars" fans and strategy neophytes, Rebellion offers a good place to start, with several difficulty levels that can be changed as players get better.

The game requires a Pentium 90 or better running on a Windows 95 machine with at least 16 megabytes of RAM. I played on a Pentium 133 laptop with 48 MB of RAM with no problems.

Syrup on Ice

Maybe it's genetics. Or maybe it's just my Philistine tastes. Although I can appreciate the skill and talent involved in figure skating, I don't much like it.

The same goes for Kristi Yamaguchi Fantasy Ice Skating, a syrupy PC game that lets players dress the perky former Olympic skater and then design a routine. Little girls may dig the whole scene, but since I've never been a little girl, I'll just have to guess.

The game's big problem: There's not a lot to do. I don't mind kiddie games that actually keep kiddies busy. But aside from dressing Yamaguchi in all kinds of outfits, the only real draw is the ability to plan routines right down to a synthesized soundtrack.

Planning a routine held the potential, at least, to be pretty cool. But after choreographing a complicated routine--done through an easy-to-use menu of pictograms--all I got was a bunch of video clips spliced together in the order I selected.

It was like, start, cut, skate, cut, jump, cut and so on. All of it fell together fairly well, but it was kind of a letdown. Younger eyes might not be as critical, so parents looking for a game free of violence or bad taste might want to take a look.

Game Boy Plays On

Just a few more years and Nintendo may have to update the name of its durable 9-year-old portable, Game Boy. Happily, though, Game Boy shows no signs of the unpredictable churlishness that generally accompanies the second decade of life.

The little rig seems as eager to please as ever.

Until Color Game Boy and the Game Boy camera hit shelves later this year, players can treat themselves to new games such as James Bond 007 and Wario Land II. Both show off how far Game Boy developers can push the pocket-sized unit. But both also point up the limits of the machine's liquid-crystal display; they can be tough to see.

Wario is a clean side-scroller with lots of bad guys and some challenging jumping around. It's the perfect antidote to a boring flight or a long car trip because it demands lots of attention and not much thought.

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