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Off the wall, under your thumb

Here's a strictly by-the-numbers look at some offbeat elements of the vast video-gaming world.

November 24, 2005|Pete Metzger | Times Staff Writer

6 genres of video games

RPG: Role-playing games are incredibly popular online (where they are called massively multiplayer online role playing games; see story, Page 4). In essence, your character "learns" new traits and skills as you continue playing. An offshoot of the old Dungeons & Dragons fantasy games of the '70s, RPGs reward playing experience with more powers and skills for your character. Usually, the games involve slower-moving, turn-based combat (you attack, they attack, and so on), and players become deeply immersed in the story. Most RPGs, especially those online, are open-ended, never-ending journeys in which gamers try to build up characters with cooperation and collaboration. The Final Fantasy series is one of the best examples.

Simulator: In this type of game, a player creates a world that relies on strategy more than action (although sports games fall under this umbrella category and those definitely need a lot of action to make gameplay fun). From the imaginary people of the Sims, to the hardscrabble players of the NFL, to the real-time strategy of games like Rome Total War, sims vary widely.

Platformer: These games require a lot of jumping and puzzle solving, mixed in with a little combat. A typical platformer stars a cutesy character such as Death Jr. or Sonic the Hedgehog, is played on a console or hand-held system, and sometimes requires hidden character improvements to solve battles or tasks. Super Mario Bros. set the bar in 1985.

Shooter: Games in which shooting your enemies is the primary focus. They are similar to platformers in that the player has to navigate a route while defeating enemies, but here a gun is key. Also in this category is the first-person shooter, or FPS. The view from the screen is exactly what you'd see were this a real-life situation. Doom and Wolfenstein 3D were two of the first FPS concepts to successfully immerse gamers into the environments. (Doom 3, a recent release, is so immersive, we actually got scared -- briefly.)

Racers: Simply enough, racing at its finest. Whether cyber versions of real-life autos (like the finely tuned imports of Need for Speed), imaginary auto combat (as in the Twisted Metal series) or other vehicles (ATVs, motorcycles, even spacecraft), if it's got a motor, it fits here.

Fighters: Two people duke it out in a ring, sometimes with swords, usually for the best two out of three. It's a button-mashing brawl until only one is left standing. Double Dragon and Final Fight paved the way for the Street Fighter series, which set the standards.


5 ways Nintendo thinks outside the box

Nintendo DS: Japan's Nintendo never seems to be content with simply making good wholesome games. Company engineers always strive to push the boundaries of play and continue to do so with their Dual Screen, the portable unit that uses a touch screen and stylus to control the games created especially for it.

Nintendogs: If you told us a few years ago that we'd love playing a game in which you train and care for a cyber puppy, we'd tell you to get off the drugs. But then along came the cute little puppies of Nintendogs for our DS and we were hooked.

Electroplankton: Part music creator, part incubator, part rave. We're still not sure exactly what the point of this musical game is, but we know we'll be playing it when it lands early next year.

Donkey Kong Jungle Beat: Yeah, we were bored with the regular controllers too. Luckily, Nintendo invented a controller from a pair of bongos to use for its side-scrolling platformer. We were amazed with how original it was.

Compatibility on the Revolution: It is rumored that Nintendo's next-generation entry, the Revolution, landing next year, will allow gamers to download classic Nintendo Entertainment System games. My favorite: Mike Tyson's Punch Out.


4 of the strangest games we've seen in a while

Katamari Damacy: Roll around and stick all the elements of the cosmos to your magic collection ball while listening to upbeat Japanese pop tunes. Queasy and quirky at the same time.

Feel the Magic XY/XX: Impress a girl by completing all kinds of diverse tasks including spitting up goldfish (with the DS stylus) and blowing out the candles (using the microphone). Each mini-game is weirder than the last.

Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney: He's a rookie attorney! He has to analyze evidence and make objections! He has to solve crimes! Huh? For a video game? Oddly, this title was a blast.

Graffiti Kingdom: Get your magic paintbrush, sketch something in the notebook, and watch it come to life and do battle with the other strange inhabitants. Simple to use and fun to create unearthly creatures.


3 games we'd love to see

Sin City: A sequel is in the works for the stylish Robert Rodriguez film that was popular with gamers. Surely there are enough Frank Miller-created graphic novels to inspire some games. All those tough guys and hot dames seem like perfect fodder for controller hounds.

Lacrosse: There are video games for bass fishing and paintball. Why not lacrosse?

Space Ace: In 1984, Ace was released as the sequel to Dragon's Lair with the same animation by Don Bluth ("The Secret of NIMH") and same clunky controls as its predecessor. Update the controls, keep the visuals and characters, and introduce a new generation to a classic.


2 reasons we can't wait for the PlayStation 3

Killzone and Motor Storm: Sure, it's been six months since we saw a preview at E3, and yeah, there are rumors that the clips were just well rendered movies and not actual game footage. Still, when we saw the graphic potential of these titles, we knew the next generation was here. When the PS3 lands in spring, we'll be ready.


The 1 best game this year (so far)

Grand Theft Auto Liberty City: It's a new story set in the familiar crime-ridden streets of Liberty City. And though the game is definitely not for anyone younger than 18, fans of the series will find it a happy return to the old neighborhood.

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