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'Starfighter' Makes PlayStation 2 Shine

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

"Star Wars Starfighter" justifies buying a Sony PlayStation 2.

Finally, a game that begins to show off what Sony's hard-to-find 128-bit console can do in terms of graphics, speed and control. Although the game's a pretty standard flight-based shooter, "Starfighter" is the first PS2 title that offers players a truly intense game experience.

Yes, yes, the system has hosted a handful of high-quality games such as "Smuggler's Run," "SSX" and "DOA 2 Hardcore." But "Starfighter" is good enough by itself to justify hunting down a PS2.

Set about the time of "Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace," "Starfighter" follows three very different pilots--the strait-laced military man Rhys Dallows, the rebellious mercenary Vana Sage and the inscrutable space pirate Nym. Together, they discover a nefarious plot by the Trade Federation and try to thwart it.

Players start as Rhys as he undergoes training and launches into his first mission behind the controls of a Naboo Starfighter. As the game unfolds, Rhys' path crosses Vana's and players take over her character and her ship, the Guardian Mantis. When she runs into Nym, players pilot his Havoc bomber.

Really, though, there's very little difference between the three ships. The cockpit interface is substantially the same. Control is identical. The crafts differ in their weaponry, however, and players get to tinker with everything from proton torpedoes to a napalm-like Plasma Scourge.

The analog thumbsticks on the PS2 controller offer extremely refined maneuverability. The left stick controls direction and the right stick controls roll. The combination, which takes a little practice to master, allows for sharp turns and gives players plenty of flexibility in tight situations.

But the graphics are the game's true star. With missions that take place on and in orbit around various planets from the "Star Wars" universe, "Starfighter" delivers beautiful scenery swarming with enemy ships.

Even the black void of space--which generally doesn't offer much in the way of visual opportunities--sparkles with the brilliance of far-off suns or the colorful fog of nearby nebulae. The ships--both enemy and friendly--enjoy nice detailing and move gracefully across the screen without hiccups.

On planet surfaces, designers did a great job creating terrain that is nice to look at and challenging to play. Enemies can hide behind ridgelines or dive down a side canyon to stay alive. On the whole, though, many of the bad-guy ships don't seem all that intelligent--preferring to swarm targets instead of responding to player actions.

If there's a beef to be had with "Starfighter," it's that the game is solely a single-player endeavor. Given the nice flight controls and beautiful landscapes, it would have been nice to offer a two-player mode allowing head-to-head play against human opponents.

Mission-based games such as "Starfighter" offer a good time--the first time they're played through. Many other games get around this inherent limitation by tacking on multi-player offerings. Not "Starfighter," and that's too bad.

"Mario Tennis"

Games that make the jump from Nintendo 64 to Game Boy Color usually fall flat. That's because the elements that make them work on a 64-bit console generally don't translate too well to the 8-bit Game Boy.

An exception to that rule is "Mario Tennis," an incredibly addictive hand-held version of the incredibly addictive set-top game. Despite its cutesy appearance, and the fact that Donkey Kong and Baby Mario are among the player choices, "Mario Tennis" offers a fairly sophisticated challenge.

For instance, court choices make a difference, with play on clay different from grass or composition surfaces. With a little practice, players can direct the ball so their opponents spend half the time running after it. There's a lot more here than just knocking the ball back and forth.

A nice touch: The game cartridge works with Nintendo's Transfer Pak, which allows players to swap character data with ongoing matches on the N64 version of "Mario Tennis." Players can begin a season on their home console, transfer the rankings to the Game Boy cartridge and then continue their career on the road.

That's a smart way to keep players plugged into both games. Plus, "Mario Tennis" allows two players to compete over a link cable, although each Game Boy must have its own copy of the game.

*

Aaron Curtiss is editor of Tech Times.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

The Skinny

"Star Wars Starfighter"

Genre: Space flight simulator

Price: $50

Platform: Sony PlayStation 2

Publisher: LucasArts

ESRB* rating: Teen

The good: Gorgeous graphics

The bad: No multi-player option

Bottom line: A reason to find a PS2

*

"Mario Tennis"

Genre: Sports

Price: $30

Platform: Game Boy Color

Publisher: Nintendo

ESRB rating: Everyone

The good: Portable tennis

The bad: Not much

Bottom line: Great fun

*

* Entertainment Software Ratings Board

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