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Fast-Paced Martial Arts Masters Banish the Darkest Clouds on a Rainy Day

January 15, 1998|AARON CURTISS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Few things beat a good fighter on a cold and rainy weekend. Though some folks like to curl up under the covers with a good book, I prefer stretching out in front of the idiot box and pounding some video martial arts master as mercilessly as the rain pounds the streets outside.

And even though 32-bit fighters are in their fourth and fifth generations, there's still quite a bit of variance in terms of quality, control and fun. That goes double for 64-bit offerings, which are still in the first generation.

Consider, for instance, Masters of Teras Kasi, a "Star Wars"-based fighter for PlayStation from Lucas Arts. I was dubious at first. I mean, why on Earth would Luke Skywalker want to whip Princess Leia with the business end of his light saber? But then I played.

The game is as smooth a fighter as they come: simple, elegant and faster than the Millennium Falcon. Players can play as any of their favorite "Star Wars" characters--from Han Solo or Chewbacca to a Tusken Raider or Boba Fett--or as a new character created for the game: Arden Lyn, master of the ancient fighting art Teras Kasi.

Environments spin in dizzying three dimensions and big characters look so smooth and silky that it's hard to believe this is a 32-bit game. Moves number in the hundreds, and players pack a big arsenal of light sabers, blasters and bow-casters.

In all, Masters of Teras Kasi is a title worthy of the "Star Wars" name. Switching from Masters to Square's Bushido Blade took a little getting used to. In fact, many players will find Bushido Blade one of the weirdest fighters ever. But a little devotion reveals a game that is truly unique.

Players can elect five modes for the action: story, versus, slash, training and first-person. In each, the emphasis is on technical swordplay. For instance, a single well-placed chop can fell an opponent more effectively than half a dozen minor nicks.

The coolest feature is the first-person mode. Not since Super Nintendo have I played a fighter with the action viewed from behind the fists. It's about as real as I want it to be. Despite all of Bushido Blade's neat features, I was peeved that the game didn't get a new voice track when it got ported over from Japan. Consequently, everyone speaks Japanese, which gets annoying after a while.

That goes double for Sega's Last Bronx for Saturn. Here's a game with characters named Joe, Lisa and Tommy, yet all speak perfect Japanese. True, the game unfolds in Tokyo, but is it too much to ask that when game companies want American players to shell out more than $40 for a CD, they at least translate the stupid things into English?

That aside, Last Bronx is a decent fighter with tight control, lush environments and big, nasty weapons like sledgehammers. Definitely among the best right now on Saturn.

Sadly, the same cannot be said of Interplay's Clay Fighter 63 1/3 for Nintendo 64. A truly great fighter has yet to emerge on the 64-bit platform. Considering how many have tried, it's a little unusual that none has stuck. Clay Fighter enjoys great graphics and sound but suffers from a sloppiness in control that makes the game ultimately not worth the effort.

Even on a rainy day, there are better things to do than waste time on a half-baked video game. Reading, for instance.

*

Aaron Curtiss reviews video games every other 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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