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The Cutting Edge / Personal Technology | Gamers' Corner

Want to Visit--or Revisit--the Early 1980s? You Can

May 03, 1999|AARON CURTISS

There was a time when I gladly would have swapped my kid brother for an Intellivision, the "wow" video game system of Ronald Reagan's first few White House years. Nearly two decades later, I'm glad I didn't--particularly since the system's top games have been compiled onto a single CD-ROM for the PC and Macintosh.

Here in all their clunky glory are games such as "Frog Bog," "Sea Battle," "Night Stalker" and "Astrosmash." Of course, they look and play like something out of a museum. But some of these games, like museum pieces, deserve reverence and respect for helping set the standards for today's high-power video games.

"Intellivision Lives" celebrates the machine and games that saw action in the first console wars of the early 1980s--days when systems such as the Atari 2600 and Colecovision were duking it out for the hearts and wallets of game players. Flash forward nearly 20 years, and the marketplace looks pretty similar. After the great crash of the mid-1980s, new combatants emerged with names such as Nintendo and Sega.

Then, in the mid-1990s, Sony got into the game and changed the landscape yet again with PlayStation. As Sony and Sega prepare to launch new 128-bit rigs this year and next, "Intellivision Lives" provides an enjoyable and informational look back at the earliest days of what has matured into a $6-billion-a-year industry.

As much documentary as it is game compilation, "Intellivision Lives" guides users through the machine's development and marketing by Mattel, which abandoned the third incarnation of Intellivision in 1983 after a wild ride of profit and loss. Interviews with key programmers tell the story, and users can peruse old commercials and learn secrets about old games.

The games themselves hold up surprisingly well. Although some of the controls are screwy because of the migration to a computer keyboard, games such as "Astrosmash" play without a hitch. Simplicity reigns in these titles, and young gamers accustomed to the millions of polygons and complex controls of today's games would do well to take a look at games that made their dads and uncles drool.

In some ways, playing these old games is like reading the source material for the plays of William Shakespeare. Just as no armchair Shakespeare fan should go without reading the works largely believed to have inspired the master, no well-rounded game enthusiast should pass up a chance to dive into the crude--but fascinating--world of "Intellivision Lives."

"Intellivision Lives" requires a Pentium 90 with at least 8 megabytes of RAM or a Power Macintosh running OS 7.5 or later with 16mb of RAM. The game is easiest ordered at http://www.intellivisionlives.com.

'Joust/Defender'

Although it offers none of the background of "Intellivision Lives," "Joust/Defender" for Game Boy Color resurrects--for the nth time--classic Midway arcade games.

Around the same time Intellivision was helping shape home video gaming, "Joust" and "Defender" were gulping quarters at the arcades. As with the classic Intellivision games, these are simple titles. In "Defender," players pilot a ship across simple terrain to save the planet from aliens. In "Joust," players mount giant birds and poke opponents with lances.

The beauty of these games lies in that simplicity, which makes them perfect as Game Boy titles. Earlier versions, however, were more maddening than fun. Game Boy's older screen made action difficult to see, particularly in "Defender."

But with the color screen, enemies are easy to see and the games become a joy to play.

What a difference.

'Gex 3: Deep Cover Gecko'

And what a difference a decade or two can make. After playing a few hours' worth of classic games, a newer title such as "Gex 3: Deep Cover Gecko" for Sony PlayStation can be jarring at first. With modern machines and the huge storage capacity of CD-ROMs, little is left to the imagination.

I don't have to guess that Gex is a gecko. Nor do I have to assume that Agent Xtra is a buxom gal in black stretch pants--I can clearly see she is played by Marliece Andrada from "Baywatch."

This third installment of "Gex" is better than the first two, but it does not represent as great a jump as the franchise made between "Gex" and "Gex 2: Enter the Gecko." That leap was quantum, switching from a fairly traditional side-scroller starring a wisecracking, TV-watching lizard to a three-dimensional adventure starring a wisecracking, TV-watching lizard.

"Deep Cover Gecko" offers much the same solid action and control as "Enter the Gecko," with a host of new worlds. Everything is big and beautiful and a hoot to explore. But the improvements were incremental as far as I could tell. Nothing--save the appearances by Andrada--made me at all worshipful.

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ESSENTIALS

Intellivision Lives

Platform: PC/Mac

Publisher: Intellivision Productions

ESRB rating: Unrated, but nothing objectionable

Price: $29.95

Bottom line: Nifty nostalgia

*

Joust/Defender

Platform: Game Boy Color

Publisher: Midway

ESRB rating: Everyone

Price: $29.95

Bottom line: A portable pleasure

*

Gex 3: Deep Cover Gecko

Platform: Sony PlayStation

Publisher: Eidos Interactive

ESRB rating: Everyone

Price: $39.95

Bottom line: Something old, something new make something cool

*

Next Week: "Micro Machines 64 Turbo," "Requiem: Avenging Angel," "Sports Car GT"

Times staff writer Aaron Curtiss reviews video games every Monday in The Cutting Edge. To comment on a column or to suggest games for review, write to aaron.curtiss@latimes.com.

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