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The Cutting Edge: Focus on Technology | Gamers' Corner

Three New Games Dress Up Familiar Territory With Splashy Graphics

'Pokemon Puzzle Challenge,' 'Star Trek Invasion' and 'D2' offer some fun, but leave new frontiers uncharted.

October 12, 2000|AARON CURTISS

The last time I played "Pokemon Puzzle Challenge" it was called "Kirby's Avalanche." It was a fun game five years ago on the old Super Nintendo Entertainment System and--despite the presence of Pikachu and his cloying clan--this crass rehash for Nintendo 64 retains the power to keep players entranced for hours.

To be fair, "Pokemon Puzzle Challenge" does slightly tweak the puzzles of "Kirby's Avalanche" but not nearly enough to justify passing it off as a new game with a $60 price tag. This is a good 16-bit game dolled up with sharper visuals and scads of uninteresting modes to make kids feel like there's more "there" there.

I know Nintendo makes a boatload of money off the world's obsession with Pokemon, but its shameless flogging of the franchise may come back to bite the company when tots tire of Squirtle and his ilk.

Nintendo, particularly with its development relationship with Rare, can do better--as proved by recent titles such as "Perfect Dark" and "Mario Tennis."

"Pokemon Puzzle Challenge" pits players against either a computer or human opponent as they try to clear a "Tetris"-style vertical field of blocks. There are seven types of blocks and players try to arrange them in horizontal or vertical groups of three or more. Doing so makes them disappear even as new blocks well up from below.

Players manipulate blocks by switching pairs on the same row. For instance, if a water block is on the left and a fire block is on the right, players use the cursor to switch the two--ideally to line one or the other up with two or more of the same kind of block.

Dozens of puzzle games--from "Columns" to "Baku Baku"--follow the basic "Tetris" model of clearing blocks before they reach the top of the screen. So why pick on "Puzzle Challenge"? Because the entire look, feel and style of the game borrows so heavily from "Kirby's Avalanche" that it's essentially the same game.

"Kirby's Avalanche" required players to line up four--not three--or more multicolored globs, which fell in pairs from the top--rather than the bottom--of the screen. In some ways, "Avalanche" was more sophisticated because it allowed players to spin the pairs rather than just flip them.

If this was all there was to the game, it would be a very fun puzzler that should retail for $20, about the same as some of Nintendo's older games. Instead, designers larded the game up with all sorts of Pokemon paraphernalia--none of which adds much to the game.

Kids will no doubt scream for "Pokemon Puzzle Challenge" because the box features Pikachu and Ash looking like they're having a great time. For a truly great time, dust off the SNES, fire up "Kirby's Avalanche" and let the neighbor kid spend his allowance on "Pokemon Puzzle Challenge."

"Star Trek Invasion"

As space fighters go, "Star Trek Invasion" for Sony PlayStation delivers the goods as any competent copycat should. Players who enjoyed "Colony Wars" and are partial to "Star Trek: The Next Generation" are clearly the target audience for "Invasion," a 3-D shooter that puts players behind the stick of a Valkyrie-class attack ship in pursuit of the pesky Borg.

Actors Patrick Stewart and Michael Dorn provide voice-overs for Capt. Picard and Ambassador Worf, giving "Invasion" an authentic "TNG" feel--at least on the surface. The universe of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" is generally a smart, thoughtful place in which wits play as big a role as weaponry.

Not so in "Invasion." This is fighter-jockey heaven--a place where players shoot at stuff that moves and fly away from stuff that shoots back. If "Invasion" were set in the original "Star Trek" milieu of Capt. James T. Kirk, players would essentially be the red-shirted ensign who accompanies every mission to the planet surface only to die a horrible death in the first five minutes--a disposable cog in Starfleet's machine.

"Invasion" has some nice touches. For starters, the game attempts to mix things up a little by occasionally varying play modes. On one mission, players might be in command of their own fighter.

In another, they man the turrets of the mother ship's defense system. And players can mix it up against another human being in a split-screen head-to-head mode.

The weapons and flight systems are easy to get the hang of and sophisticated enough to allow some tricky maneuvering in heavy dogfights. Graphically, the game slips along without a hiccup--a feature no doubt made easier by the fact that many levels take place against the black background of space.

Overall, though, "Invasion" looks and plays too much like every other 3-D space shooter out there. Fans of either the genre or the show may find enough joy to justify a weekend rental, but "Invasion" is not the sort of game that most players are likely to keep coming back to.


The original "D" was one my least favorite games on Sega Saturn. It wanted to be more than the system would allow. One would think that the 128-bit Sega Dreamcast would take care of that. It doesn't.

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