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VALLEY WEEKEND : Latest Incarnation of Mario Is Flagship Character’s Best : Yoshi’s Island on Super Nintendo is much more than just a sequel. It appeals to longtime fans and neophytes alike.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Sometimes I think I know more about Mario than about some members of my own family. Now Nintendo takes its flagship character back in time to his baby days on Yoshi’s Island.

Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island on Super Nintendo is the latest in the hugely successful Mario series. But this is not just another sequel. It’s the best Mario game to date.

Rather than playing as Mario or Luigi, though, players assume the role of Yoshi to reunite a kidnaped Mario with his twin brother. Along the way, players encounter some of the best scenery ever on a 16-bit game.

Game play is fast and furious, requiring all the skills of a standard side-scroller and a few new ones. Despite that, controls are easy to master, allowing players to focus on the task at hand instead of fumbling with the joypad.

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True Mario fans are sure to dig Yoshi’s Island, but it appeals to neophytes nonetheless. My wife thought it was cute. To her, saying anything nice about a video game is like shouting its praises from the highest mountaintop.

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Bored by Bug: Sega Saturn has a lot of muscle and its games show off some pretty dazzling technical work. But the first game developed in America for Saturn, Bug, has very little soul under its beautiful skin.

Make no mistake, this is one of the most technically elegant games I’ve ever played. It takes side-scrolling adventures and turns them on their head with the ability to wander on three different axes through environments so crisp and clear that it’s fun just to sit and admire them.

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Yet for all this, Bug is kind of boring.

Despite several hours with an open mind, I was never drawn in by Bug. Bug’s wise-cracking title character was less than charismatic. His attempts at wit landed like bricks--nothing like the thoroughly likable gecko that starred in Gex.

Saturn obviously has the wherewithal to pump out some incredible game play, but technical perfection goes only so far. Without a soul, beautiful games just bug.

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Virtua Cool: Even as I write this sentence, the television on my desk is running an ad for Virtua Fighter on Sega’s 32X. Here’s a perfect example of technical grace melting seamlessly into a game that is as addictive as they come.

For those shy of spending the green on a Saturn, the 32X version of Virtua Fighter offers an alternative that is better in many ways than its big brother.

All of the elements of the original arcade game were retained, packing a punch that shows off just how handy the 32X can be with heavy-duty games. It also includes a variety of camera angles, instant replay and the ability to switch around fighter costumes.

Sega better be careful, though. If it keeps turning out games like Virtua Fighter on the $100 32X, what motivation do players have to drop three times that much on Saturn?

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Staff writer Aaron Curtiss reviews video games regularly. To comment on a column or to suggest games for review, send letters to The Times, 20000 Prairie St., Chatsworth, CA 91311. Or send e-mail to Aaron.Curtiss@latimes.com.


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