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VALLEY WEEKEND : Donkey Sequel Not the King, but a Good Kong : Nintendo pairs Diddy with a new character, Dixie. But the action’s not as exciting as the original.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Last winter, Nintendo wowed players with Donkey Kong Country, a fully rendered adventure that showed the life left in 16-bit gaming. This winter, Nintendo reprises the wow factor with Donkey Kong Country II: Diddy’s Kong Quest.

DKC II for Super Nintendo borrows a lot from its predecessor, but adds just enough to stay interesting, including the introduction of a new character: Dixie Kong, Diddy’s ponytailed girlfriend.

The cast of villains is made up largely of the familiar Kremlings with a few variations. Peg-legged Kremling. Bouncing Kremling. Climbing Kremling. Kremling in a barrel. You get the idea.

Diddy’s moves are much as they were in the original DKC, and Dixie comes with her own arsenal of subtle switcheroos. Easy to master, the jumping, grabbing and rolling of the characters is perfect for first-timers, but the levels are challenging enough to keep pros happy.

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As in Donkey Kong Country, the true novelty of the sequel is its beautiful rendering. Sometimes, it’s easy to forget this is a 16-bit game. From pirate ships to amusement parks, the levels of DKC II are just plain gorgeous.

Maybe it’s just me, but in the end, DKC II is too much like its predecessor to be truly exciting. Playing it over a recent weekend, I sometimes got bored, which still never happens with the original.

* KILLING TIME: As one of Studio 3DO’s big winter titles, Killing Time was supposed to be a showcase game that knocked the beleaguered 3DO Multiplayer into the big time. Yet, playing it feels sometimes like just killing time.

With its first-person perspective and live-action actors, Killing Time could have been one of the best games in a long time. It’s still got a lot of nice elements, but they don’t seem to work very well together.

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Control with the 3DO joypad is difficult, making play frustrating. And often, there are too many elements on-screen at once, making it hard to concentrate on the tasks at hand.

Just what those tasks are sometimes gets confusing. Ostensibly, the goal of the game is to solve a mystery on the estate of occult fan Tess Conway, who disappeared along with a bunch of friends in the 1920s. But players depend more on superior firepower than on superior intellect to maneuver through the mansion and grounds.

So it’s neither a great puzzle game nor a great shooter. Pity, because Killing Time could have been such a great time and just the boost 3DO needs to hit the big time.

* VECTORMAN: Sega’s side-scrolling shooter Vectorman is a no-brainer jaunt through the future with a maintenance drone on a mission to save humankind. While it requires very little brainpower to play and enjoy, Vectorman is obviously the result of some very hard thinking and hard work by Sega’s game team.

Simply put, it’s the best game to hit Genesis in a long time. Screens are smooth and some of the action is among the finest around. Add to that the gimmicky trick of a $25,000 cash prize to one player who finishes the game.

Like a modern Willy Wonka, Sega has burned special cartridges that flash a phone number at the end of the game. The first caller to the line can win $25,000. While it’s a neat idea to hype a crummy game, Vectorman needs no help.

It’s a winner on its own.

Staff writer Aaron Curtiss reviews video games every Thursday. 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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