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Valley Weekend : VIDEO GAMES : Kombat Fans Will Get a Big Kick Out of MK3 : The third version of the popular fighting game breaks no new ground, but it features plenty of bone-breaking moves.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Call me a heretic, but I doubted Mortal Kombat could be a contender in its third incarnation--especially when stacked against hot next-gen fighters like Battle Arena Toshinden and Virtua Fighter.

But sure enough, Mortal Kombat III from Williams Entertainment packs all the gory oomph of its predecessors and tosses in some new moves to keep Kombat-krazy fans happy. MK3 will no doubt be a big seller this winter because nothing says “happy holidays” quite like a finishing move.

As with the previous games, the only way to play MK3 is against a live human opponent. Playing against the computer has that been-there-done-that feel, but the one-on-one action is hard to beat.

My brother and I spent most of a recent weekend flipping through characters, mastering their moves and generally making a noisy nuisance out of ourselves. Both of our left thumbs were sore.

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I was disappointed that MK3 is still a pretty standard--and pretty violent--side-view fighter at its heart. Nothing really new about any of this. For those tired of bloody fighting games, MK3 may be anti-climactic and best avoided.

For true fans, though, it’s killer--with plenty of gore, tasty finishing moves and special moves with names sure to turn parents off: fatalities, animalities and babalities.

I played MK3 only on the Sony PlayStation, the sole next-generation machine to support it until next year, but saw versions on Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis that looked great.

Off World Showdown: Choosing which next-generation machine to buy is practically impossible. Off World Interceptor, an outer space dune buggy ride from Crystal Dynamics, illustrates the problem.

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The game looks and plays great on the three systems for which it is available--Sega Saturn, Sony PlayStation and 3DO. But each system plays the game slightly differently.

On PlayStation, the opening cinemas are the sharpest of the bunch. They’re worst on 3DO. But PlayStation falls down when it comes to actual game graphics. That’s where Saturn leads the pack. But 3DO rules in terms of control and maneuverability.

Ugh! What’s a gamer to do? Why can’t someone just make the perfect system? Whichever you choose, Off World Interceptor is a raucous ride through hostile worlds in a heavily armed buggy.

Definitely worth checking out.

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Mail Bag: I’m quick to admit that I don’t know everything. Readers are often quick to point it out, too. Your e-mail and letters help The Times decide which games to review and which ones to pass on. So if you think we’re not hitting the games you want, let us know by sending a note to the addresses below.

George Derk and Marc Rickenbach of Thousand Oaks did just that. They wanted to let me know what they thought of Primal Rage, the dinosaur fighting game reviewed a few weeks back. For the record, I loved it.

Here’s what George and Marc had to say:

“Primal Rage is really an exciting game the first time you play it. But after a while it starts to get boring. We suggest you rent it before you decide to get it. The great thing about this game is that you get to choose your controls, how many credits and if you want the gore on or off in the gore switch menu.

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“This game is packed with Dinos and Apes you wouldn’t believe. But at the player select screen the graphics are kind of fuzzy and unclear. Primal Rage is a very fast-moving game with great controls and great playability.

“On a scale of 1 to 10, we give this game a 5!”

Thanks, George and Marc.

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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