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The Cutting Edge | Gamers' Corner

'Warlocked' Packs Biggest Bang for the Discriminating Traveler

August 31, 2000|AARON CURTISS

This being Southern California, everybody who's anybody has an entourage--a posse of constant companions to provide entertainment, enlightenment and that cozy feeling of never being alone. Not really being anybody, I make do with a coterie of Game Boy cartridges that follow me almost everywhere.

Stocked with standards such as "Tetris," "Donkey Kong" and "Scrabble," this small collection has served me well through long flights and sleepless nights. But as I prepared for a marathon vacation to the other side of the world, I decided to stage a series of tryouts for newer games that might fill out my essentials. I tried five--three action games, a role-playing adventure and a real-time strategy title. Three were pretty good. But only one made it to my traveling stash. And I suspect it won't last more than a few months.

More on that later.

First, the losers.

'Men in Black 2'

I'm always amazed at how much the marketing machine can squeeze out of a mildly entertaining movie such as "Men in Black." There is, of course, the upcoming sequel, the animated series and, now, the second video game.

"Men in Black 2" spins off the animated series and is not even sort of entertaining. In fact, it may be one of the worst games I've played in a very long time. In addition to being unimaginative and tedious, it's so poorly executed that I would be pretty upset if I had plopped down $30 of my own money for it.

(The Times receives free review copies of most games, which are donated to charity after they are played.)

Players get to choose between either Agent J or Agent K, played by Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones in the film. In the game, the only difference between the two is that one is white and the other is black. They do exactly the same thing: Shoot aliens, jump over stuff and slog through level after side-scrolling level of the mind-numbing action. The controls are unrefined and tough to get the hang of. Not that most players will spend the time to perfect them. There's so little to "Men in Black 2" that it's best just left alone.

'Looney Tunes Collector Alert'

Try as I might, I could not get into "Looney Tunes Collector Alert," a highly imaginative and complex adventure that suffers from glitches in execution that ultimately make it frustrating.

Too bad, because the concept is excellent. Marvin the Martian has lost his instant alien army and only Bugs Bunny can save the planet from invasion by hooking up with his various Looney Tunes pals. Each character--from Elmer Fudd to Daffy Duck--has a special ability that helps Bugs complete his mission--from shooting to swimming. The multi-character story line is a great idea, one that makes the Sega Dreamcast title "Fur Fighters" such a hoot.

But "Alert" is tough to control, and many of the bad guys move in totally unrealistic ways. I had a hard time seeing some of the action on Game Boy's smallish screen. The designers need to compensate for this by making characters and threats bigger and easier to see.

'Toonsylvania'

Even though it's little more than a simple platform jumper, "Toonsylvania" lets players assume the role of Igor from the DreamWorks cartoon series. Igor is the lab assistant for mad scientist Dr. Vic Frankenstein and he has to recover all the body parts of his pal, Phil, who's been blown to bits in an accident.

Sounds more gruesome than it actually is. Most of the levels require Igor to find the pieces of various inventions that help him move from one level to the next. For instance, Phil has to build a diving suit and a propeller helmet to help him through levels that range from graveyards and crypts to swamps and the very corridors of the nether world. All the levels are richly detailed with visual gags and tons of enemies that make getting from one end of a level to the other a real challenge. "Toonslyvania" is simple and derivative, but it takes care to cover the basics.

'Crystalis'

Game Boy adventures are consistently inconsistent, swinging wildly from excellent to maddening. "Crystalis," which debuted on the original Nintendo Entertainment System, falls squarely in the excellent camp.

If there is an upside to nuclear annihilation, it's that folks got back to basics--like foraging for food instead of sticking it to each other at the office. "Crystalis" takes place after the button has been pushed and chronicles the adventure of a magician on a mission to topple the evil Dragonia, a wizard who mixes sorcery with technology to take over what's left of the world.

"Crystalis" is the name of the magic sword that can slay Dragonia, forged from the elements of wind, fire, water and thunder. The sword has been splintered into its constituent parts and players must reassemble it before they face off against Dragonia.

Like all role-playing adventures, there's a whole lot of nothing going on much of the time. Players wander from town to town, talking to peasants and gathering information as they slaughter beasts in the wilderness and gain experience points.

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