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A Few Rules to Help You Play Santa

November 30, 2000|AARON CURTISS | aaron.curtiss@latimes.com

The easiest way to avoid making a bad video-game choice this year is to do what we do: ask. Odds are, the video game players on your list know exactly which titles they want and can rank them quickly in order of desire.

If that seems crass, you can brave the aisles and try to figure it out for yourself. But understand the price of failure. Most stores are pretty persnickety about returns on video and computer games. If it's open, forget it. And many won't even accept sealed games with a receipt after 30 days.

Know this too: Most of the games on shelves are not that much fun.

You can take the easy way out and skip right to the listings below, where we've collected 30 no-brainer titles and organized them by platform. Don't know what a platform is? Read on, because it's the most important thing to know about the video-game player in your life.

Platforms are the machine formats on which games are played. Nintendo 64, PlayStation and PlayStation 2, Sega Dreamcast and the PC are all platforms. And games designed for one platform don't work on others. So if you know nothing else about video games, at least know which platform your loved ones own.

The second most important thing to know is what genre the player is partial to. It's not true that a video game is a video game is a video game. Genres include racers, real-time strategy and first-person shooters, and each genre has its own devotees. Buying a first-person shooter for a real-time strategy purist is like buying Operation for a Scrabble fan because, hey, they're both games, right?

Finally, if a salesperson recommends a game, ask whether he or she has actually played it. If not, move on and find someone who has.

But, really, you can save yourself all of this trouble by just asking.

Nintendo 64

"Perfect Dark"

Genre: First-person shooter

Price: $55

ESRB rating: Mature

Nintendo historically has shied away from games designed specifically for older players. When the company does ante up, the results are generally excellent. "Perfect Dark" is Exhibit A. An enthralling shooter that follows the exploits of Joanna Dark, "Perfect Dark" puts new spins on an old genre.

"The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask"

Genre: Role-playing adventure

Price: $55

ESRB rating: Everyone

Although competing systems deliver better graphics and stronger storytelling, "The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask" proves that Nintendo 64 can still hold its own. The game follows Link, a hero who never seems to get old, as he tries to save the world of Termina from a moon that's about to fall from the sky.

"The World Is Not Enough"

Genre: First-person shooter

Price: $45

ESRB rating: Teen

Slip into the role of Bond, James Bond, and act out many of the scenes from the film "The World Is Not Enough." This virtual Bond comes equipped with as many gadgets and guns as the one in the movie. But he also can die, so players have to think as fast as they move to get very far.

"Hey You, Pikachu"

Genre: Pokemon

Price: $75

ESRB rating: Everyone

Baffling to most adults, "Hey You, Pikachu" allows kids to talk to the most famous Pokemon as it hangs out with its Poke-pals. Pikachu responds to a wide range of commands and follows orders fairly well. Older kids might get bored quickly with the range of activities, but younger kids will get a kick out of seeing Pikachu respond.

"Banjo-Tooie"

Genre: 3-D kiddie adventure

Price: $55

ESRB rating: Everyone

You'd have to have a heart of stone not to fall in love with Banjo, a big lug of a honey bear, and Kazooie, his cackling sidekick bird. This sequel to "Banjo-Kazooie" offers colorful worlds that kids can spend hours exploring as they hunt for pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. It's good clean fun for all ages.

Nintendo Game Boy

"Tetris DX"

Genre: Puzzle

Price: $25

ESRB rating: Everyone

The oldest game in the Game Boy library is still the best. This classic puzzler was updated for Game Boy Color and offers a few extra game modes as well as the addition of Pez-colored blocks. Easy to learn and impossible to put down, "Tetris" is the single title every Game Boy owner must have.

"Warlocked"

Genre: Real-time strategy

Price: $25

ESRB rating: Everyone

Far from perfect, "Warlocked" is the only real-time strategy game for Game Boy, so it fills a long-empty niche. The action is sometimes simple, which makes it easy for younger players to learn the basic rules of strategy games. But even experienced players will appreciate some of the more advanced levels.

"Pokemon Gold" or "Pokemon Silver"

Genre: Pokemon

Price: $25

ESRB rating: Everyone

Don't feel bad if you're among the many who fail to appreciate the Pokemon mystique. Almost any kid with a Game Boy will love either of the two newest Pokemon cartridges--"Gold" or "Silver." The Pokemon craze is bound to fade sooner or later, but it won't be this Christmas, so most kids will still dig it.

"Space Invaders"

Genre: Space shooter

Price: $20

ESRB rating: Everyone

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