Flying planes and dirt bikes

Times Staff Writer

Most of those amusement parks are no fun to go to alone. You kinda want to have someone around to share the laughs and excitement to make the experience worth the 40 bucks you had to plunk down to get in.

"Freaky Flyers" has the same vibe.

Sure, it's got really great graphics and fun, original characters, but basically, the gameplay is like a standard go-cart race, just this time in funky little planes. And go-cart racing against the computer just isn't the same without all the taunting and trash talk that go on with your buddy sitting next to you on the couch.

Right off the bat you get to select from unlocked cartoon characters, each with his own movie intro and custom-styled plane. (More characters are unlockable as more levels are completed.) Like Pauli Atchi, the reigning crime boss of Chicago, who flies around in a purple plane that looks like a '57 Chevy. Or there's always Tracy Torpedoes, a "top secret German experiment" whose plane resembles that of the Red Baron, Snoopy's arch nemesis from the "Peanuts" cartoon strip.

You pilot your plane across 12 themed tracks, the main goal being to win the race. Along the way you can also complete subgoals that give you stuff like more and better power-ups. The courses have all the fun of a visit to Disneyland, without all those annoying lines. There's "Bigfoot Mountain," which is like taking a trip to the Matterhorn, complete with snowflakes and trees, or "Coyote Canyon," kind of like a trip down Big Thunder Mountain Railroad with mine cars and ornery prospectors.

The controls of the plane are pretty simple to learn -- unlike with real flying, you don't have to worry about keeping your plane in the air -- but popping off your machine gun with any kind of accuracy takes a little practice. When your screen looks like a movie filmed in a dizzying fish-eye lens, like "Freaky" does, taking out Johnny Turbine gets tough.

Sit someone down next to you for a little two-player action, and that's where the fun begins. Choose dogfight and have a split-screen shootout -- first to achieve the predetermined number of kills wins. Or choose to race against your pal and select any one of the unlocked tracks and compete with or without the rest of the "Freaks."

Trash talk not required.

A real ride

Does the thought of making hundred-foot leaps off the edge of a mountain on a bicycle scare you?

Then stay away from "Downhill Domination."

This really cool mountain bike racing game is so realistic, you can almost feel your bones snap after your rider eats dirt.

And, man, is there is a lot of dirt to eat. The mountain tracks that you race down are beautifully rendered and surprisingly spacious. You can race down the same track 40 times and find a different way down each time. Courses are also full of obstacles like angry goats, oblivious trail hikers, puddles of water and sharp, jagged rocks.

Crashing into said rocks shows off the great sound of the game. When you go splat, you really hear it. It sounds so real, it seems like it should hurt more than just your eyes.

And if flying down the hill at breakneck speeds and trying to avoid all the stuff in your way isn't enough, you've got up to 10 competitors trying to whiz by you and knock you off your bike. But good news -- you can drive through the right power-up and get the ability to chuck water bottles at that guy who's in second place.

Oh, yeah, but you have to do that while trying to win the race, do a bunch of tricks to earn bonus money for bike upgrades, and avoid the forest fires caused by lightning.

Whew!

*

Games

"Freaky Flyers"

Good: Imaginative characters, fun two-player mode.

Bad: Gets kind of lonely in single-player mode.

Details: All platforms; $39.99; rating: teen (comic mischief, mild violence, suggestive themes).

"Downhill Domination"

Good: Graphics and sound. Tracks look great and bones snap nicely.

Bad: A lot to focus on besides the mountain.

Details: PlayStation2 platform; $39.99; rating: teen (mild language, violence).

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