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A Guide Through the Digital Underground

November 30, 1998|AARON CURTISS

To the uninitiated, the video game section of most stores can be a confusing wasteland of noise and violence--a digital domain not even Dante could conjure up. Consider this easy-to-clip column a sort of video Virgil, your guide to the video game netherworld. I'm not promising you'll discover paradise in any of these recommendations, but you might find a little fun.


Any system bought this year will be old hat next year. Get used to it. The goal is to enjoy the system for as long as possible and expect that the rig will age faster than you do. Happily, prices are lower than ever. But a mistake can still be costly.

Sony PlayStation: Generally this disc-based system is perfect for older players--teens and adults. Its library is by far the largest for any console, but it tends toward games with a lot more sex and violence. Lately, Sony and its developers have tried to capture younger players with less intense games. About $130.

Nintendo 64: For kids under 12, this is the system. Its library of kid-oriented games and relatively rugged construction make it perfect for grubby little hands. The N64's cartridge-based architecture allows for faster play and shorter load times than disc-based systems. However, cartridges tend to be more expensive than discs. About $130.

Game Boy Color: In the first total overhaul of the Game Boy in nine years, Nintendo finally endows its popular hand-held unit with a color screen. Capable of displaying 56 simultaneous colors from a palette of thousands, Game Boy Color is a solid system for players who like to take their games on the road. Older games work on the new system, but new titles won't play on regular Game Boys. About $80.

Sega Dreamcast: Although Dreamcast won't be out until next year, Sega is already hyping its super 128-bit machine as worth the wait. Next year probably belongs to Sega, but Sony and Nintendo own the console market this year.


Most game boxes or jewel cases are hard to tell apart. But discerning shoppers should give the packaging a critical look if they're worried about content. Look at the back of the box, which generally displays screen shots. If the pictures show aliens tramping through blood, it's a pretty good bet the game will contain plenty of that sort of action.

Almost all games are rated by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board or similar advisory groups. If a game is rated "Mature," that's about the equivalent of a "Restricted" rating at the movies.

PlayStation Games For Older Players

Metal Gear Solid: Konami delivers tense spy action with a game that values cunning and stealth over brute strength. Missions require players to be smart about avoiding armed bad guys rather than simply blasting them apart. All but the best players might still be slinking through "Metal Gear Solid" next year. That's how tricky and addictive it can be. About $50.

Parasite Eve: Square, the same house responsible for the Final Fantasy series, updates the adventure genre with a modern thriller set in the spookier parts of New York City. Players follow a cop named Aya as she uncovers a genetic mystery that's millions of years old. Although play is fairly linear, the action is intense. About $50.

For Younger Players

Crash Bandicoot 3--Warped: By the third installment of any franchise, the action and characters tend to get a little tired. Not so with Sony Computer Entertainment's newest incarnation of the sneaker-wearing bandicoot named Crash. Various levels allow players to try out vehicles as they dodge enemies and hunt for crystals. It's just edgy enough to hold a kid's interest, but not so edgy that it's inappropriate. About $40.

Spyro the Dragon: Part of the effort to make PlayStation more friendly to younger players, "Spyro" offers straightforward play in some beautifully drawn environments. As a character, Spyro is among the cutest in the video game world, and his missions focus on finding treasures and sometimes spitting a little fire on bad guys' butts. About $40.

For All Players

Gran Turismo: Younger players might not appreciate all the detail in this nearly perfect racer, but even the most unsophisticated will understand the game's speed and silky performance. "Gran Turismo" pushes PlayStation to new limits and highlights how doing the details right can invigorate even a relatively tired genre like racing. About $50.

Nintendo 64 Games For Older Players

Goldeneye 007: Yes, this game is old. But it remains one of the best games for the over-12 set. Action is straightforward but demands at least a minimal degree of cunning. I know guys in their 40s who are addicted to this game. About $30.

Mission: Impossible: Although not as fun as "Goldeneye," "Mission: Impossible" gives frustrated spies the opportunity to give the dark art a try without physical risk. Like "Metal Gear Solid," a premium is placed on stealth, but the levels are not as hard and there's a lot more shooting. About $60.

For Younger Players

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