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A Nod to Old Friends

'Cel Damage' pays respect to predecessors, whereas 'The Simpsons Road Rage' merely rips them off. The pet project of 'Jimmy Neutron' is rescuing adults.

January 10, 2002|AARON CURTISS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but it's just business as usual in the video game industry--truly fresh ideas being about as rare as a Budweiser in Kandahar.

But two recent games from Electronic Arts--"Cel Damage" and "The Simpsons Road Rage"--highlight the difference between artful homage and old-fashioned rip-off.

Both titles borrow heavily from earlier games. "Cel Damage" spins an elegant twist on its predecessors in the genre of vehicular combat.

"Road Rage," on the other hand, simply slaps popular characters into a crass copy of Sega's innovative "Crazy Taxi" series.

"Cel Damage"--available for Microsoft Xbox and Nintendo GameCube--is straight and simple. Players cruise around in a heavily armed vehicle in search of other vehicles to ruin.

It's a formula that's worked since 1977, when "Combat" debuted on the Atari 2600.

More recently, the "Twisted Metal" franchise enlivened the genre with three-dimensional environments and fast-paced action that spawned a fresh crop of imitators.

In physical play, "Cel Damage" offers very little that other games before it have not.

But it somehow manages to create a sense of newness with graphics unlike anything in previous console action games. The game looks like an interactive cartoon. Players take control of stylized Cadillacs, Studebakers, bulldozers and hovercrafts to rampage through detailed landscapes in which Wile E. Coyote would feel right at home.

Players can slice an opponent's car with a giant ax. Or knock it out of the park with an oversize baseball bat. Or bludgeon it with humongous boxing gloves. Or put it on ice with a freeze ray. In short, the cartoon motif carries over to the action, which is every bit as fun to watch as it is to play.

"Cel Damage" is one of the premiere titles for Xbox, and Microsoft used the game to highlight the console's processing power in the months before the launch in November. The game looked great. Most titles for unreleased consoles do--in large part because they are shown only in carefully controlled circumstances on custom-built components.

When they show up on mass-produced boxes subject to whatever abuse a player can throw at them, however, many games don't look nearly as nice as they did before release.

"Cel Damage" does. Even with four players duking it out at once in split-screen mode, the scenery and action never slow down. There is a single-player mode in "Cel Damage," but why bother? This is the kind of game to play with friends--the more the merrier.

Not so with "The Simpsons Road Rage"--available for Xbox, GameCube and Sony PlayStation 2. Although players can compete against a friend in "Road Rage," it adds little to an already unsatisfying game.

"Road Rage" might as well be called "The Simpsons Star in a Poor Knockoff of 'Crazy Taxi.'" Sega's "Crazy Taxi" and its sequel put players behind the wheel of big-city cabs as they scramble for fares. "Road Rage" puts players behind the wheel as any of several "Simpsons" characters as they scramble around Springfield for fares.

Aside from a few witty lines, which are looped so often that they quickly lose their wittiness, "Road Rage" offers nothing that "Crazy Taxi" does not.

Stick with the original.

*

"Jimmy Neutron Boy Genius"

For a simple side-scrolling platform game, "Jimmy Neutron Boy Genius" for Game Boy Advance offers a range of diversions in both single- and multi-player mode.

Based on the Nickelodeon movie of the same name, "Jimmy Neutron" follows the boy genius as he tries to rescue adults from the clutches of aliens.

This requires collecting parts for a busted spaceship, flying it to the alien planet and then doing battle to free the parents.

The nicely detailed levels will hold the interest of most kids, although some of the repetitive collecting tasks become tedious.

"Jimmy Neutron" supports up to four players; each person needs to have a copy of the game and their own Game Boy Advance.

The multi-player games are mainly contests to find the most amount of stuff before competitors, but there is a racing component that can be quite fun.

*

Aaron Curtiss is editor of Tech Times. He can be reached at aaron.curtiss @latimes.com.

The Skinny

*

"Cel Damage"

Genre: Vehicle combat

Platform: Microsoft Xbox, Nintendo GameCube

Price: $50

Publisher: Electronic Arts

ESRB* rating: Teen

The good: Beautiful visuals

The bad: Often confusing

Bottom line: A perfect party game

*

"The Simpsons Road Rage"

Genre: Driving

Platform: Microsoft Xbox, Nintendo GameCube and Sony PlayStation 2

Price: $50

Publisher: Electronic Arts

ESRB rating: Teen

The good: Voices by "Simpsons" cast

The bad: Nothing new here

Bottom line: Play "Crazy Taxi" instead

*

"Jimmy Neutron Boy Genius"

Genre: Side-scroller

Platform: Game Boy Advance

Price: $40

Publisher: THQ Inc.

ESRB rating: Everyone

The good: Nice challenges, sharp graphics

The bad: Repetitive

Bottom line: A great game for kids

*

*Entertainment Software Ratings Board

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