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Featuring a Janitor as Alien-Fighting Hero, 'MDK 2' Sparkles With Wit

May 11, 2000|AARON CURTISS

One of my favorite games of all time was the original "MDK" for the PC, a creative third-person shooter that mixed challenging play with a sense of humor. Now, one of my favorite Sega Dreamcast games--sadly, there aren't many--is the sequel with the uninspired title of "MDK 2."

That's excusable, though, because almost everything else about "MDK 2" manages to pull off the virtually impossible task of seeming fresh and familiar at the same time. In the same way that "Earthworm Jim" freshened up tired side-scrollers, "MDK 2" brightens a genre known more for violence than for wit.

Yes, it's a third-person shooter, but is that a six-legged dog wielding a Gatling gun? Yes, aliens are invading Earth, but is the hero really an off-duty janitor? Yes, the game mixes in puzzles to slow the carnage, but what am I supposed to do with a loaf of bread and a pile of dirty towels?

Players begin "MDK 2" as Kurt Hectic, the aforementioned janitor, who slips into a special suit that looks like something out of "Spy vs. Spy." Looks aside, the Coil Suit delivers where it counts: firepower. As Hectic, players learn quickly that the only good alien is a dead one.

At various points during the game, though, players switch characters and can play as either Max--a six-legged, jet-pack-wearing pooch--or Dr. Fluke Hawkins--the frail genius who created the Coil Suit and Max. When playing as Hawkins, players must use and combine random items "MacGyver"-style to crack some pretty tough puzzles.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about "MDK 2," though, is the platform. Although Dreamcast titles are improving--particularly with gems such as "Code: Veronica" and "Crazy Taxi"--the overall impression many players have is that Sega's last gasp hosts nothing but fighters and racers.

And although "MDK 2" would hardly be considered cerebral, it is a very smart game handled exceptionally well by Dreamcast. The action is lightning fast, and designers built controls that take full advantage of Dreamcast's joy pad and thumb stick. For instance, running circles around an enemy while keeping him targeted is a snap.

Visually, "MDK 2" lives up to the standards set by its predecessor. The environments take on a character of their own, and it's easy to be mesmerized by the strangely beautiful surroundings.

No, it doesn't look as good as a beefed-up PC with graphics hardware, but considering the current price of a Dreamcast--free with a subscription to Sega's online gaming network--it's pretty impressive.

Sega may never be able to survive the coming blitzes by Sony and Microsoft--and to a lesser degree, Nintendo--as they launch hot consoles. But the best technology in the world isn't worth a lick if it doesn't support great games. If it can manage to attract games like "MDK 2," Dreamcast may yet be able to keep Sega afloat.

"Walt Disney World Quest Magical Racing Tour"

The coolest thing about "Walt Disney World Quest Magical Racing Tour" is the ability to scoot through the Jungle Cruise and other landmark attractions at Disney World. In fact, that's the only cool thing most adults will find in "Magical Racing Tour," a predictable racer that helps fill the hole for kids' games on Sony PlayStation.

Parents who worry that their little darlings might learn bad habits from the images spewing out of their game machines can take comfort in knowing that "Magical Racing Tour" is about as unoffensive and family-friendly as they come. About the worst thing one player can do to another is turn him or her into a frog--but only temporarily.

Unlike most racers, "Magical Racing Tour" has a plot. Sort of. Seems Chip and Dale broke the giant fireworks machine that pumps out the nightly show at Disney World. Parts are scattered throughout the resort's various theme parks. Players accumulate pieces of the machine by placing first in races against unfamiliar Disney characters.

Jiminy Cricket makes an appearance along with Chip and Dale, but the vast majority of characters in "Magical Racing Tour" were created for the game. They've got such names as Oliver Chickly III, Baron Karlott and Polly Roger and enjoy none of the panache of more established characters such as Donald Duck and Goofy.

Maybe it's just me, but if I'm going to play a Disney racer, I want to drive as Goofy, Pluto or at least as some character I recognize. Even Scrooge McDuck would do.

The saving grace of "Magical Racing Tour" is the selection of tracks. None are overly difficult, but all are set in familiar attractions at Disney World.

For instance, players can scream through the Haunted Mansion or barrel through Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. My favorite was a high-speed trip through Pirates of the Caribbean, complete with an endless cycle of "Yo Ho (A Pirate's Life for Me)."

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