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Thursday, June 20, 1996 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Game Gear -- Nintendo 64 Console, Another `Super Mario' Add Zip To Video Fun

Special To The Seattle Times

The video-game industry has suffered from slow sales for the last two years, which is one reason for the interest in the release of Nintendo 64, the new 64-bit video game console.

Priced at $249.95, and packaged with the "Super Mario 64" cartridge, the Nintendo 64 is clearly the most powerful game console ever released for the consumer market. Its new high-memory cartridges hold games that are several times larger and more complex than previous cartridge games, with brighter colors, larger characters and very fast action.

It also comes with a three-handled controller that can be used like a standard game pad for some games and offers special analog control for others. There is only one speed of motion with regular game pads; no matter how hard you squeeze the controller, the character moves at the same pace. With analog controls, the farther you push your joystick, the faster your character moves.

The only problem with "Super Mario 64" is learning how to control Mario in his new three-dimensional environment. No longer do players simply have to worry about timing jumps. Now they must aim Mario to make sure he jumps in the right direction.

On the other hand, Mario's newest worlds are amazing. He has areas in which he wears a winged hat and flies, areas in which he jumps on revolving platforms, undersea worlds with giant fish and a huge vertical world in which he slides down mile-high slopes. This game is dizzying!

In "Pilot Wings 64," Nintendo's new flight game, players control one of six pilots as they fly everything from hang gliders to jet packs. This game comes complete with special missions that send players to fly across large, detailed worlds. There's a U.S. world in which players fly from Seattle to Cape Canaveral, Fla., and other equally large and complex locations.

Though this game is not as visually stimulating as "Super Mario 64," the flight mechanics and immense flight areas make it one of the most impressive games ever made. Of course, the flight mechanics should be superb, because the game was designed by Paradigm, a Texas flight-simulation company that has created software for military flight simulations.

Other Nintendo 64 games include "Doom," "GoldenEye" (based on the James Bond movie), "Blast Dozer" and "Shadow of the Empire" (a "Star Wars"-inspired game created by filmmaker George Lucas' software company, LucasArts).

Nintendo's other big announcement at the Electronic Entertainment Exposition held in Los Angeles a few weeks ago was the release of a new version of the Game Boy. Even though it has been six years since Game Boy was first introduced, it is still the top-selling hand-held game system in the world. The new version, which is 20 percent smaller, is made to fit in shirt pockets and features a high-contrast screen that makes the games easier to see. It is planned to retail at $59.95.

NEW GAMES FROM MICROSOFT

Microsoft is also attempting to come out strong as a game company. In an effort to promote Windows 95 as a game platform, Microsoft has a full slate of games scheduled for 1996 release, the first being "Close Combat." The game is sort of a cross between the detailed war simulations published by companies like Avalon-Hill and WarCraft II, by Blizzard Entertainment. This is a detailed and fairly realistic World War II simulation with real-time combat. Players control either Allied or German forces as they meet shortly after the Normandy invasion.

This game may be too detail-oriented for fans of such real-time combat games as "Command and Conquer" and "WarCraft II," but it adds a new level of excitement to authentic games like "Panzer General" and "Gettysburg."

Microsoft's strongest game is "NBA Full Court Press," which easily outclasses "NBA Live '96," EA Sports' computer basketball game. PC basketball games have generally been a dreary lot. EA Sports improved the level of software sophistication of these games with "NBA Live '96," but gave the game no graphics appeal. "NBA Full Court Press" has the same great statistics and game play offered by "NBA Live," but improves the look of the game with bright, colorful graphics.

Though this game is a vast improvement over any existing PC basketball games, it does not compare to similar games on the Sega Saturn and Sony PlayStation. With built-in 3D support and dedicated hardware, these consoles still outperform PCs when it comes to sports.

Microsoft's most impressive programming stunt, however, is another game: "Monster Truck Madness." This is a four-wheel-drive racing game that moves faster than most DOS games and makes Windows 95 look like a legitimate game environment.

In this game, players drive Big Foot, Grave Digger or one of several other real-life monster trucks through a series of realistic and exciting tracks. In truth, "Monster Truck Madness" looks less exciting when compared to racing games on Sony, Sega or Nintendo super systems, but it's a huge achievement for computer racing games.

Microsoft has also updated "Fury 3," a disappointing 3D flying and shooting game released last year to demonstrate Windows 95's game-handling abilities. "Hell Bender," the latest incarnation of "Fury 3," has greatly improved graphics, better flight controls and a variety of missions to break up the fly-and-shoot monotony.

Other upcoming Microsoft games will include an arcade-style flight game called "Deadly Tide" and a very improved Windows 95 version of "Flight Simulator" that comes complete with photo-realistic renditions of airports in Hong Kong and Chelan.

Copyright (c) 1996 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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