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Weekend of Duking It Out With a Buddy

August 17, 2000|AARON CURTISS

The first rule of Fight Club may be not to talk about Fight Club. But after a weekend eating things made of cheese, drinking things made of barley and punching things made of pixels, a buddy and I with our own little Fight Club knocked through a fistful of video game fighters worth mentioning.

"Gekido," "Mortal Kombat: Special Forces" and "Street Fighter EX2 Plus"--all for Sony PlayStation--offer varying degrees of challenge, technical proficiency and fun. At their best, the games demonstrate the evolution of the fighting genre from simple side-view slugfests to three-dimensional tournaments of skill in which plot actually starts to matter. At their worst, the games remind players how little inherent variety fighters possess.

'Gekido'

"Gekido" promises "furious four-player fighting action," but I can only imagine what a nightmare that would be. In single-player mode, the game is actually pretty entertaining. But when my buddy and I played together in two-player mode, it was a confusing mess that left both of us cross-eyed and frustrated.

Here's the deal: A girl is plucked from the streets of a futuristic Tokyo, a foul city "writhing with human scum." Her family hires a detective named Travis and his crew, a streetwise bunch trained in the deadly arts and eager to show off their proficiency. The game basically follows this gang as they punch, stab, kick, shoot and burn their way through level after level of bad guys.

Because my buddy immediately chose to play as the studly Travis, I had to content myself playing as Travis' ex-girlfriend Michelle, a "tight ball of military-trained rage, perfectly harnessed, perfectly balanced."

Action scrolls from left to right. As players slug through one screen of ninjas and tough guys, another awaits. Although players have full mobility within each screen--able to run right, left, forward and back--there is a decidedly two-dimensional feel to "Gekido." The game doses out opponents and it's tough to get too excited about moving forward because the new enemies look and fight much like the ones just dispatched a couple of screens ago.

For the most part, the fighting is pretty simple. There is the heavy punch, the light punch and the kick. These can be combined into various combination moves that players acquire as play progresses. Cool, though, is a condition called "rage," in which characters get so fed up that they simply explode in a ball of fury that hurts everyone around.

Sadly, my buddy and I endured bouts of rage ourselves as we tried to keep track of who was doing what on screen. Because the play mode is cooperative, we were trying to take out the same bad guys. PlayStation's graphics ability simply cannot make it obvious enough who is who. Frequently, we found ourselves wailing on each other. Not good.

'Street Fighter EX2 Plus'

Wailing on each other was very good, though, in "Street Fighter EX2 Plus," in which the whole point of the game is to beat on the other guy until he falls over. This was the most traditional fighter of the weekend and the one that made for the most trash talk.

The "Street Fighter" franchise is one of the most durable in the fighting genre, and for good reason. "EX2 Plus" starts with 23 different fighters, from the venerable Ryu and Ken to the freakish Dhalsim and Skullo. We took turns playing as different characters, trying out their combos and seeing how much damage we could do to each other.

Quite a lot, it turned out. Every character comes with a ton of special and combination moves--from Zangief's Cosmic Final Atomic Buster to Sharon's Prisoner Scissors, which we in our female-free weekend found strangely erotic. All of the moves were easy to learn and master, which made head-to-head fighting more fun. It's one thing to simply punch your friends over and over. It's quite another to slap them hard against the boundaries of space and time.

"Super Street Fighter EX2 Plus" requires almost no brain power. For us, it was perfect.

'Mortal Kombat: Special Forces'

Both of us were surprised at just how much brain power was required to play "Mortal Kombat: Special Forces." The Mortal Kombat series is not exactly intellectual fare. It's most often recalled by non-players as the franchise in which the request to "Finish Him" meant fileting an opponent or ripping his spinal column out through his mouth.

But "Special Forces" seeks to explain at least one of the myths that make up the "Mortal Kombat" universe. One of the most recognizable and popular characters in the series is Jax, a special forces agent with bionic arms. "Special Forces" follows Jax toward a showdown with his old nemesis, the career criminal Kano.

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