The best way to play any video game is with friends. Whether it's football or boxing or a battle in some creepy crypt, nothing beats the thrill of competing against a human player. They're smarter than even the most advanced artificial intelligence. Besides, what's the fun of shouting "In your face!" to a screen?
"Turok Rage Wars"
For Nintendo 64, "Turok Rage Wars" capitalizes on the need even the most addicted game players have to interact with other human beings. And then kill them. Up to four players can fight each other with lovely weapons such as a Tek Bow, Napalm gel or the Inflater, a gun that injects opponents with pressurized air to the point that they burst.
In other words, "Turok Rage Wars" is antisocial behavior turned into a social event. Among the other weapons available to inflict pain and suffering is the Emaciator, which withers opponents into nothingness.
Now, my beef with all this is not that it's violent. That's clear. The Entertainment Software Ratings Board gave the game a Mature rating, which means kids should not be playing it. No, my gripe is that the publisher, Acclaim, expects players to shell out $60 for a game that, for all intents and purposes, is free on many other Nintendo 64 cartridges.
First-person shooters such as "Goldeneye 007" and "Quake II" include multiplayer games on the cartridge. So players can wind their way through the game when alone and then switch to multiplayer mode when friends come over. It's a smart ploy and keeps fresh longer.
"Turok Rage Wars," which is part of the "Turok the Dinosaur Hunter" story line, offers very little in the way of satisfying single-player action. The single-player modes are basically training grounds for multiplayer contests. Ho hum.
It's a little like buying "Madden 2000" only to find out that you then have to buy "Madden 2000 Deathmatch" to play against a human opponent. This is not to suggest that the weaponry and arenas of "Turok Rage Wars" are not cool. They are. But are they worth $60? Not to me.
Playing a title like "40 Winks" for Sony PlayStation reminds me why I love video games. At their best, they offer imaginative trips in which players have at least some degree of control over how the voyage progresses. Games are more like books than film, in the sense that they demand the player's attention.
The premise of "40 Winks," which is designed for younger players, is that happy dreams are induced by cute creatures called Winks. What about nightmares? They come from Hood-Winks, which are Winks that have been turned nasty by the evil NiteKap, a surly insomniac who takes it out on everyone else because he can't get to sleep. When NiteKap and his ursine sidekick, Thread-Bear, try to infect the dreams of brother and sister Ruff and Tumble, they meet their match.
Players control either Ruff or Tumble as they confront Hood-Winks and other monsters of the mind. Most of the action is familiar. Jump from platform to platform. Collect cogs to unlock other dream worlds. One interesting twist on the traditional life meters, though, is the use of Zs. Each Z represents a deeper state of sleep. Lose all the Zs and Ruff and Tumble wake up. It's a more civilized way to end a game than having them die.
The worlds Ruff and Tumble explore are big and clean, but not as fantastic as I would expect a dreamscape to be. That's a small quibble, really, because the sheer joy of "40 Winks" lies in its play.
Parents looking for a friendly game their kids will enjoy should check out "40 Winks." It's the sort of title even the most protective parent can feel comfortable leaving a child alone with.
"Omikron: The Nomad Soul"
It's easy to get lost in "Omikron: The Nomad Soul," a complex and engrossing adventure for the PC. With beautiful graphics, challenging play and a soundtrack by rock legend David Bowie, the game is a trip through the futuristic city of Omikron.
Omikron is a peaceful, tranquil, creepy place--the sort of place where robots patrol the streets and folks are executed for their thoughts. Players land in Omikron through a clever device: A mysterious stranger named Kay'l appears on the computer screen and asks players to lend their souls so he can return to Omikron.
Seconds later, players begin to piece together the bits of Kay'l's life. He lives in a swank apartment with a wife who seems to spend most of her time lounging on the sofa in bra and panties. But all is not well. Turns out Kay'l is a cop and his partner has gone missing. He's a suspect.
"Omikron's" story unfolds over three CD-ROMs. Players navigate the streets of Omikron from third-person perspective. Information abounds. Although most of the things players need to know are learned by talking to other characters in the game, critical pieces are found just lying around.
The conversations with other characters progress through a standard adventure interface that lists possible responses to various statements. Unlike most other adventure games, though, "Omikron" requires players to think through their choices. An unwise response can end the conversation prematurely and rob players of critical information.
"Omikron: The Nomad Soul" requires a Pentium II 200 with 32mb of RAM and at least 350mb of available hard disk space. But the publisher recommends a Pentium II 266 with 64mb of RAM, 1.6gb of disk space and graphics accelerator with at least 8mb of video memory.
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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
* Platform: Sony PlayStation
* Publisher: GT Interactive
* ESRB* rating: Everyone
* Price: $39.99
* Bottom line: Not sleep-inducing
Omikron: The Nomad Soul
* Platform: PC
* Publisher: Eidos Interactive
* ESRB* rating: Mature
* Price: $39.99
* Bottom line: The future of gaming?
Turok Rage Wars
* Platform: Nintendo 64
* Publisher: Acclaim
* ESRB* rating: Mature
* Price: $59.99
* Bottom line: $60 for a free game
* Entertainment Software Ratings Board
"Amorines: Project Swarm," "International Track & Field 2000," "Psychic Force 2012"