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'Giants' ' Kabuto Steals the Show; 'Mario' Is Flat

March 01, 2001|AARON CURTISS | aaron.curtiss@latimes.com

Ever have one of those days when you wish you were a 60-foot monster smashing everything in sight and grabbing cowering villagers for a tasty mid-carnage snack? Although there's much, much more to "Giants: Citizen Kabuto" than that, the ability to stomp around as a 900-ton beast is definitely the game's coolest element.

A mix of action and real-time strategy, "Giants" for the PC drops players on the Island, an idyllic hunk of rock in the farthest reaches of space. As with any beautiful piece of real estate--from the highlands of Nepal to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge--opposing forces jockey for control.

In this case, the Sea Reapers--a race of scantily clad blue sea women--duke it out with Kabuto, a giant monster created by the Reapers to keep others off the Island. As such things go, Kabuto decided instead to boot off the Reapers and wander around the Island gobbling up Smarties, the eggheaded Pygmies who live there.

Into this fray land the Meccaryns, a group of free-spirited Brits who get sidetracked on their way to a vacation. No one is very happy with the situation as it exists, and the game allows players to follow each race through a series of adventures that are both tense and hilarious.

The game lays out missions with clear objectives that move the story forward. Players begin with Meccaryns before moving on to control Reapers and, finally, Kabuto himself. Ultimately, peace is restored to the Island and the Meccaryns get on with their vacation.

As in traditional real-time strategy games, Meccaryns and Reapers build bases to provide support and more sophisticated weaponry. Both races use Smarties as their grunts, offering a supply of Vimp meat in exchange for labor.

Kabuto needs no base, preferring instead to rampage around the Island, devouring Smarties and stomping on enemies. Although the ability to play as Kabuto doesn't come until about two-thirds-way through the game, it is the most fun. If Kabuto is full, players can impale Smarties on his horns to save them for later.

Brainy devotees of real-time strategy might be disappointed by the level of empire building in "Giants." Although fun to construct, the bases are not complex. Instead, they serve primarily to keep players stocked with nifty weapons and to add a little sophistication to the action.

The variety of challenges served up by "Giants" is unsurpassed. Each race's story unfolds with sub-missions that require mastery of various weapons, devices and spells--from careful control of a jet pack to the ability to summon a wicked hail storm.

Between each round, players are treated to cut-scenes that are a true joy to watch--at least the first time. Despite its epic story line, "Giants" never takes itself too seriously and gives its characters a rich sense of humor.

Visually, "Giants" delivers 25 realms that get progressively more beautiful. The sky above the Island constantly changes, and as clouds pass over the sun, landscapes fall into shadow. The Meccaryns and the Reapers are pretty standard humanoid characters, but they enjoy nice detailing. (There's even a way to make the main Reaper go topless.)

But it's Kabuto who steals the show. He moves gracefully for such a big character, and players have a range of actions--all involving some form of blunt force. So next time you feel like the Man has you under his thumb, just imagine him writhing at the end of Kabuto's horns until he becomes a midmorning munchie.

'Paper Mario'

Mario has not starred in his own Nintendo 64 adventure since the console debuted in 1996. Without intending to, "Paper Mario" makes it clear why. A two-dimensional side-scrolling adventure game, "Paper Mario" is simplistic, cloying and aggravating--the kind of game in which a whole lot of not very much happens.

Princess Peach gets kidnapped by Bowser--again--and Mario sets off to save her--again. A more reasonable plumber would have long since found a gal pal less appealing to giant lizard kings and given old Peach the heave-ho. Not our Mario.

Set in a storybook, Mario and all the other characters in "Paper Mario" exist as two-dimensional cutouts that live in a three-dimensional world. Someone must have thought this looked cool during the design process. But it really just looks cheap.

In fact, the whole game suffers from a sense of being slapped together with bits of various other games. Most of the action is a side-scrolling platform jumper, in which Mario and his pals walk from bad guy to bad guy. Engaging a meanie in combat means skipping to a turn-based fight sequence that's too simple to be anything but a time-killer.

The same goes for the wasted hours spent reading box after box of insipid dialogue from all sorts of cutesy critters. Some parents might think there's educational value in video games that require players to read the story line.

There isn't. Parents who want to feel good about what their kids are doing with their free time should check out "Treasure Island" or "The Velveteen Rabbit"--and leave "Paper Mario" alone.

*

Aaron Curtiss is editor of Tech Times.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

The Skinny

"Giants: Citizen Kabuto"

Genre: Real-time strategy and action

Price: $45

Platform: PC

System requirements: Pentium 166 with 16 MB of RAM, 40 MB of available hard disk space and a graphics accelerator

Publisher: Interplay

ESRB* rating: Mature

The good: Beautiful environments

The bad: Not too tough

Bottom line: A great diversion

"Paper Mario"

Genre: Role-playing

Price: $50

Platform: Nintendo 64

Publisher: Nintendo

ESRB rating: Everyone

The good: Instantly familiar

The bad: Flat graphics, inconsistent play

Bottom line: Don't bother

* Entertainment Software Ratings Board

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