Never has there been a better year for video game players. In addition to a great range of lightning-fast arcade titles, players have a choice of systems that range from 16-bit workhorses like Sega Genesis and 32-bit rigs like Sony PlayStation all the way to 64-bit wonders like Nintendo 64. Competition has driven prices for top-of-the-line systems from $400 to $200. Games range in price from $40 to $70.
Resist the temptation to buy heavily discounted games or systems like Sega's CD or 32X peripherals, Nintendo's Virtual Boy or Atari's Jaguar. They're cheap for a reason: Either they've been discontinued or their game libraries are tiny.
PLAYSTATION, Sony. This 32-bit disc-based machine supports by far the best library of games of any system on the market. Most titles are designed for older teens or adults. Although more than a year old, PlayStation continues to set the standard for console game machines.
NINTENDO 64, Nintendo. Offering some of the fastest, prettiest game play in history, this much-delayed project from Nintendo and Silicon Graphics is sure to delight. The N64's big drawback is the size of its library, which Nintendo hopes to boost to 12 by the end of the year. A definite first purchase for N64 buyers: Super Mario 64, a game so big it will take even the best players weeks to finish. The perfect family machine.
SATURN NET LINK, Sega. For those who want more than just games, Sega's new Net Link package offers easy access to the Internet for a lot less than the price of a desktop computer; $450 buys the Saturn core unit, the Net Link attachment, a keyboard and a game. It's a cheap way onto the Internet, and Saturn hosts some great games.
RESIDENT EVIL, Capcom. This PlayStation title, one of the best games of the year, takes players on an eerie trip through a haunted mansion. Equal parts skill and strategy, Resident Evil delivers the kind of game play few designers even aspire to. Better for older kids or adults.
NIGHTS, Sega. Saturn's showcase game comes packed with an analog controller that makes flying through some beautiful environments downright dreamy. A great game for young kids and adults tired of dismembering video monsters.
BAKU BAKU, Sega. This deceptively simple puzzler for Saturn, Game Gear and the PC makes nicotine seem easy to kick. Match various animals with the food they eat for a Tetris-like game that's even more fun against an opponent.
WIPEOUT XL, Psygnosis. Wipeout XL for PlayStation carries on the tradition of fine anti-gravity racing with a sequel that is faster and more fun than the original. No game library is complete without at least one Wipeout title. Probably too difficult for small kids.
DONKEY KONG COUNTRY 3, Nintendo. This sequel features the same kind of beautifully rendered game play that made the first two instant classics. This time, action focuses on Dixie Kong and her spinning ponytail. A perfect title for kids, although teens and adults will love it too.
SONIC 3D BLAST, Sega. The hedgehog mascot is back for one of his final tours on the Genesis. This title demonstrates how far 16-bit gaming has come, with three-dimensional environments and blazing speed. Already, though, Sonic is moving up to Sega's flagship, Saturn.
TETRIS ATTACK, Nintendo. One of the first Tetris clones to work well, this game serves up addictive play and clear graphics that make good use of the Game Boy's clunky liquid-crystal display.
VIRTUA FIGHTER ANIMATION, Sega. This title, a nice conversion of the arcade and Saturn hit to Game Gear, proves there's life left in portable game machines. Although the violence is not nearly as graphic as in other titles, this game is best left to teens and adults.