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Man Versus Tin Can: Test Your Metal

February 08, 2001|AARON CURTISS | aaron.curtiss@latimes.com

My folks being hippie pacifists, I never had my own set of Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots, but boy, did I envy those kids who did. If they were half as much fun as the new "Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots Arena" fighting game for Sony PlayStation, my childhood was not nearly as complete as I once thought.

Now, I like to fancy myself a pretty handy guy with the fighting games. From "Tekken" to "Dead or Alive" and "Mortal Kombat" to "Ready to Rumble," I've played--and beaten--almost every digital brawler to come down the pike. So imagine my surprise when I slipped "Arena" into my PlayStation and promptly got whipped by a computer opponent named Slamurai.

It took me three rematches before I finally showed Slamurai that I could do more than sissy slap his tin carcass.

The original Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots were plastic robots that duked it out in a ring. The winner was the kid whose robot knocked off the other robot's head. This time out, the robots tussle in futuristic rings. The premise holds that people of the future tire of traditional sports and take to building bots of their own to slug it out for kicks. Oh, brave new world.

Players control various robots--with names such as Sir Haxalot, Ben Hurt and Tywrenchula--in an arena that shifts seamlessly between standard side view and a three-dimensional perspective. Bots come pre-assembled with various weaponry--from General Torso's Phat Gat to Nuclear Wastor's Snatcher--but the real thrill of "Arena" lies in pummeling an opponent to the ground and then scavenging his chassis for parts.

Of course, players also can buy new equipment with their fight winnings, making "Arena" something more than just another slugfest. As in smart racing games such as "Gran Turismo," "Arena" requires players to think and strategize. Buy that new Hand of Justice? Or save up for a Dino Claw?

Although the robots tend to clunk around the ring, the fighting action is tense and fast. Slamurai kicked me when I was down and wouldn't so much as let my Blue Bomber collect his thoughts. The robots look great with big, bright designs that don't break apart during a fight.

As with any fighter, the real joy lies in playing against a human opponent. Nothing cements a friendship like smacking each other around for a few rounds. And the added thrill of snatching your pal's hard-earned Pluto Boots makes victory all the sweeter.

'Gigawing'

Games like "Gigawing" for Sega Dreamcast enjoy a purity largely absent from home digital entertainment of the last decade. Sure, it has a story: Four fighters take to the air to destroy a divine stone that has caused centuries of war. But none of that really matters because the point of "Gigawing" is to destroy everything that's not you.

That's it. Simple. Clean. And a whole lot of frantic fun--even if it does become insanely difficult in later levels.

Originally a coin-op arcade game, "Gigawing" plays perfectly on Dreamcast and speeds along without a hitch. That's amazing because at any given moment, dozens of objects--from enemy ships and tanks to fire balls and rockets--dance pell-mell across the screen. Some of the graphics are a little simple and garish, but they're not so bad that it detracts from play.

Into this multicolored frenzy, players pilot one of four tricked-out planes and scrounge about for power-ups to boost the punch of guns and bombs. Without the upgrades, players can kiss off any hope of finishing the game alive. Even fully loaded with powerful ammo, players might find it tough to progress in later levels. In the final stage, for instance, I was getting blown apart every, oh, 45 second or so.

It's "Gigawing's" single-mindedness that makes it work. Players don't need to read the instruction manual. Just fire up a plane, hold on tight and shoot as fast as possible.

'Road Rash'

One of the few reasons to own a 3DO Multiplayer was that platform's version of "Road Rash," a motorcycle racer that allowed players to thrash their opponents at 90 mph. It was one of the handful of awesome games that really stood out on that ill-fated system.

Now it's arrived on Game Boy Color. And although it retains many key features, the portable version lacks the attitude that makes the "Road Rash" franchise so cool. Yes, players can still slap other riders off their hogs, but gone are the rocking soundtrack and the video interludes of busty babes and burly bikers carousing at the finish line.

I know, I know, cut scenes and soundtracks do not a video game make. But in the case of "Road Rash," they were an integral part of the experience. What players get on Game Boy Color is a bunch of tiny riders cruising around simple tracks to painfully repetitive music.

Such are the limits of Game Boy Color. As a Game Boy racer, "Road Rash" delivers the goods quite ably. But it isn't really the "Road Rash" fans know and love.

*

Aaron Curtiss is editor of Tech Times.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

The Skinny

Title: "Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots Arena"

Genre: Robot fighting

Price: $45

Platform: Sony PlayStation

Publisher: Mattel Interactive

ESRB* rating: Teen

The good: Fighting that kicks bot

The bad: Not much

Bottom line: It rocks

*

Title: "Gigawing"

Genre: Shooter

Price: $45

Platform: Sega Dreamcast

Publisher: Capcom

ESRB rating: Everyone

The good: Screaming fast

The bad: A little too difficult

Bottom line: Worth a look

*

Title: "Road Rash"

Genre: Motorcycle racer

Price: $30

Platform: Game Boy Color

Publisher: Electronic Arts

ESRB rating: Everyone

The good: Decent tracks

The bad: Tinny music and tiny riders

Bottom line: It's not "Road Rash"

* Entertainment Software Ratings Board

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