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THE CUTTING EDGE / FOCUS ON PERSONAL TECHNOLOGY | GAMERS'
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'Sydney 2000' Lets You Run the Race, Experience the Pain

September 14, 2000|AARON CURTIS

Even before the Olympics begin Friday in Sydney, average folks can get a very faint notion of the physical pain required to succeed among the world's best athletes. Just play "Sydney 2000" for Sony PlayStation.

Within minutes of playing, a dull ache spreads from the wrist up the forearm until after an hour or so it hurts just to pick up a gallon of milk. Without leaving the comfort of the sofa, it's possible to suffer a sports injury with "Sydney 2000," a potentially fun--and potentially crippling--tribute to 12 popular Olympic events.

Nearly all require players to madly tap PlayStation's X and O buttons to make athletes run the 100-meter sprint or swim the 100-meter freestyle. Those are pretty simple. In more complex events--such as the hammer throw or weightlifting--players mix the X-O-X-O-X-O routine with strategically timed taps at the square button to let the hammer fly or perform a clean and jerk.

Riveting, eh?

Actually, it can be quite enjoyable--particularly if players have a Multi-Tap adapter that allows up to eight people to play at once. That way, everyone in a player's circle of friends can enjoy debilitating repetitive strain injuries together.

Graphically, "Sydney 2000" performs better than most track and field games for PlayStation. On track events, players can see their character clearly, which makes it easy to time a jump right. Only in the 100-meter hurdles, where the default view is mostly top-down, does it get tricky to see where to jump.

In the weightlifting event, the musclemen are animated particularly well. When they drop the weight, for instance, they act humiliated or frustrated. It adds a nice level of realism to the game.

Sadly, "Sydney 2000" depends too heavily on Olympic events that translate quickly and easily to the rules of video games. Not even the 10-meter platform diving event offers much in the way of innovation. Truly groundbreaking would have been to include events such as gymnastics to the game.

But for strong-forearmed fans who want to play along with their favorite Olympic events over the next couple weeks, "Sydney 2000" offers a fair amount of multi-player excitement. It's not the sort of game to play solo, though. It gets pretty boring just tapping the same two buttons over and over and over.

"KISS Psycho Circus:

The Nightmare Child"

Color me surprised. I expected "KISS Psycho Circus: The Nightmare Child" for the PC to be yet another tired first-person shooter, this one with the gimmick of featuring the four members of the rock band KISS. I was wrong.

In fact, "Psycho Circus" is a pretty decent first-person game. And although it features both music and characters from KISS, "Psycho Circus" is based more on the comic books of Todd McFarlane than on the albums of the band that made its name painting its faces.

So here's the deal: The Nightmare King has spawned a child of "corruption absolute." At the same time, the souls of the original Four Who Are One have been cast across the cosmos, leaving them helpless to save the planet from evil.

Players alternate between members of the band Wicked Jester, whose four members correspond to the original roles of Starbearer, Beast King, Celestial and Demon that make up KISS. Each has a special set of skills required to work through some devilish levels.

Visually, the environments of "Psycho Circus" rock. They slide creepily along as players work their way through levels crawling with nasty beasts. The weaponry--from the Thornblade to the Zero Cannon--all are more imaginative than most first-person games.

There's really nothing not to like about "Psycho Circus" except that it really doesn't break any new ground. It's perfectly fun and very competent, but nothing that anyone could really call innovative.

"KISS Psycho Circus: The Nightmare Child" requires a Pentium 266 with at least 64 megabytes of RAM, 350mb of available hard disk space and a graphics accelerator card.

"Mario Tennis"

For all its cutesy appearances, "Mario Tennis" for Nintendo 64 is a darn fine tennis game. There's a simple reason Mario keeps plugging away as the star of so many Nintendo games: He draws a crowd.

Tennis purists might turn up their noses at "Mario Tennis," but they'd be missing a good time with a game that offers a fair amount of technical tricks. Yes, yes, Mario can play against Donkey Kong and Yoshi--hardly very realistic--but from court surfaces to playing styles, "Mario Tennis" delivers where it counts.

For instance, the court surface dictates how the ball bounces and how fast it travels. Weak and fast on grass, strong and medium on a standard composite court. That affects play in real ways. That's just the beginning.

The thumb stick allows players to put a spin on the ball. Running forward into a swing provides more power. Mastering a combination of buttons gives the ultimate control through lobs, drop shots and smash shots.

And the range of play--from quick matches to full tournaments--is exceptional.

Perhaps the best thing about "Mario Tennis," though, is the speed. Because it's a cartridge-based game, "Mario Tennis" has almost no load times. So players can knock through a vigorous rally and immediately launch a new one. There's no disc to slow things down.

*

Aaron Curtiss is personal technology editor of The Times. To comment on a column or to suggest games for review, send e-mail to aaron.curtiss@latimes.com.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Essentials

Kiss Psycho Circus: The Nightmare Child

* Platform: PC

* Publisher: Gathering of Developers

* ESRB* rating: Mature

* Price: $40

* Bottom line: Surprising

Mario Tennis

* Platform: Nintendo 64

* Publisher: Nintendo

* ESRB rating: Everyone

* Price: $60

* Bottom line: Awesome

Sydney 2000

* Platform: Sony PlayStation

* Publisher: Eidos Interactive

* ESRB rating: Everyone

* Price: $40

* Bottom line: Ouch

*Entertainment Software Ratings Board

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