'Cardinal's' Fighting, Graphics Are Syn-Sational

A game that promises not only the usual "torture, mutilation, rivers of blood and bestial howls" but the added feature of "living death chambers" has some pretty big claims to live up to.

"Cardinal Syn" for Sony PlayStation promises all that and more. And delivers. That's quite a feat, considering the only differentiation between most fighting games is the method by which players elect to kill their opponents.

Always, fists. Definitely, a few scissor kicks. Most often, swords. Occasionally, a mace or two. Now and then, an ax. It really does become quite tiresome after a time.

Ho hum. Just another day in the land of video games.

I had low expectations for "Cardinal Syn," which initially comes across as just another medieval fighting game. But I enjoy being wrong--just ask my wife--and I was wrong about "Cardinal Syn."

This game rocks.

It even has a story--or as much of a story as video game designers can muster. The Clans of the Bloodland are locked in a messy fight for control. Then a prophet appears with a Book of Knowledge. Under the prophet's guidance, the clans live in peace.

Then, of course, the prophet hits the road. Before he goes, he hands a scroll from the Book of Knowledge to each clan leader. Within minutes, war has again broken out--this time interrupted only by the appearance of a buxom shaman named Syn.

She persuades the clans to hand over the scrolls, which she magically turns into three swords inscribed with what we are to believe are the secrets of life. The winner of a fighting tournament wins the swords--and with them, control of the Bloodland.

Each of the fighters brings a different motivation to the ring, and designers have done a great job programming varying fighting styles into the different characters. A deranged jester who fights with a multicolored mace. A thief who sneaks in with dagger attacks. A dark knight who engages in classic broadsword combat.

Why is it, though, that female warriors always leave their buns and midriffs exposed? That can't be smart.

In any case, the fighters move swiftly in perfectly done interactive arenas. In Hecklar's lair, for instance, a psychotic merry-go-round knocks players into razor-sharp spikes. Ooze in Plague's domain saps the strength of even the hardiest combatant.

Control is dead-on, and the array of moves is impressive. Sometimes, though, it was tough to repeat moves or to put together a string of attacks. It might have just been me getting my butt kicked, but it feels better to blame it on the game.

No matter. After each defeat, players can continue, which allows players to master the fighting techniques necessary to beat each fighter with the various characters. How Nephra fights Mongoro, for instance, differs from how Vanguard fights Finkster. Each battle brings players closer to uncovering the truth about the swords and the mysterious Syn.

No mystery about it: "Cardinal Syn" is a different kind of fighter. But it's still not the kind of fighter small kids or the squeamish should play. It's as violent as any game out there. The torrent of blood on the back of the jewel case should give parents a pretty good idea of what awaits on the disc.

"F-1 WORLD GRAND PRIX" Fast-paced games are the lifeblood of Nintendo 64. Players like to slap in a cartridge and zoom off--often without reading the manual. Most of the time, that works. But players attempting that with "F-1 World Grand Prix" will miss quite a bit in this fast--but smart--racing game.

Players can fire up "Grand Prix," be on the track within seconds and still have a good time on tight, nicely drawn courses. But serious racing fans will appreciate the range of options available to customize cars--from tires and steering to the gear ratio and wing angles.

Each tweak translates into different performance on 17 realistic tracks from Australia to Luxembourg.

"Grand Prix" is the kind of intelligent game that plays to Nintendo 64's strengths. Let's hope we see more like this.

"REVENGE OF ARCADE" If anyone over the age of 17 has made it this far, here's your reward. Microsoft's series of old arcade games has a new installment, allowing those of us old enough to remember the 1970s a chance to relive those glory days in the Pizza Hut game room.

"Revenge of Arcade" has faithful versions of "Ms. Pac-Man," "Rally-X," "Xevious," "Mappy" and "Motos."

Even in an age of motion capture and full-screen video, these old quarter-gobblers measure up. Playing them is a lot like watching a classic movie such as "Casablanca," in which the basics are not overshadowed by the technology.

"Revenge of Arcade" requires at least a Pentium 90 with 16 megs of RAM. I played on my laptop--a Pentium 133 with 48MB--and every game worked like a charm.

Times staff writer Aaron Curtiss reviews video games every Monday in The Cutting Edge. To comment on a column or to suggest games for review, send e-mail to aaron.curtiss@latimes.com.



Revenge of Arcade

* Platform: PC

* Publisher: Microsoft

* ESRB* rating: Everyone

* Price: $44.95

* Bottom line: Blast from the past


F-1 World Grand Prix

* Platform: Nintendo 64

* Publisher: Video System

* ESRB* rating: Everyone

* Price: $59.95

* Bottom line: Worlds of fun


Cardinal Syn

* Platform: Sony PlayStation

* Publisher: 989 Studios

* ESRB* rating: Mature

* Price: $49.99

* Bottom line: Forgiveness unnecessary


Next week:

* "Iggy's Reckin' Balls"

* "Jazz Jackrabbit"

* "Bomberman Hero"


*Entertainment Software Ratings Board

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