HOLIDAY TOYS & GAMES.

Position::Gift-buying guide - Buyers Guide
 
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DREAM ON

* Sega of America, Inc., San Francisco, Calif., has billed the Sega Dreamcast as "the most advanced videogame console ever developed." From all indications, they are right. For a change, all the hype has been backed up by performance.

The machine's awesome capabilities stem from the pooling of gaming technologies by Sega with NEC, Hitachi, Microsoft, and Yamaha. Their combined talents have resulted in a compact console that is three times more powerful than many or today's full-sized arcade machines. The 128-bit Hitachi central processing unit produces three-dimensional calculations at the rate of 1,400,000,000 operations a second. As a result, it builds graphic images at lightning speed; the onscreen figures move nearly as smoothly as their true-life equivalents; and the built-in artificial intelligence lets characters think, learn, and react to situations as they occur. The NEC PowerVR DC chip allows for graphics that rival high-end arcade machines, while the Yamaha audio engine creates 64 channels of awesome surround sound that grows louder as players move toward a sound-producing element and lets them hear opponents approach from behind or either side. The Visual Memory Unit can be removed from the control pad for portable game playing and swapping information with other users. The Dreamcast is further designed to allow constant upgrading as newer technologies come on-line. It does just about everything but serve soda and nachos ... yet!

We could rave about the mechanical capabilities and spew data about megabytes of RAM, Constant Angular Velocity GD-ROM drives, 48 x 32 dot monochrome LCD display, and the 32-bit ARM 7 RISC CPU until everyone except advanced computer geeks is reeling. However, the real test of a gaming machine lies in the games you can play with it. Here, too, Sega comes away with flying colors. The usual mayhem/destruction/Armegeddon types naturally prevail, with blood and body parts--both human and alien--ultimately strewn about the living room. The titles are almost self-explanatory: "Virtua Fighter 3tb," "The House of the Dead 2," "Mortal Kombat Gold," "Ready 2 Rumble," "Blue Stinger"--the list goes on and on. For the less bloodthirsty--though not much less--the sports-oriented games prove a revelation.

Take, for example, "NFL2K." In its search for realism to accompany excitement, Sega had football playbooks designed by coaches, then built play-calling tendencies of National Football League teams into the artificial intelligence. To avoid the jerky, robotic movements that sports games often suffer from, the designers studied professional players and referees as well as Hollywood stuntmen to re-create more than 1,300 moves. The ensuing play flows fluidly, speeds varying depending on the amount of pressure applied to the controls. For further authenticity, Sega threw in variations in weather and crowd sounds recorded at various NFL games. But who are we kidding? Once you get past the technical marvels and the skilled catches, runs, and tackles, the adrenaline-boosting aspects kick in. As the machine boasts, "real player emotions [are] displayed--e.g., excitement on good plays and frustration on bad ones." This, of course, leads to "bone-crushing hits, player grunts with every move, [and] trash talk after big plays." Welcome to the wonderful world of sports!

No Sega gaming machine would be complete without its signature star--Sonic the Hedgehog. In what the company immodestly calls "the fastest 3D platform ever created," Sonic and his friends take on archenemy Dr. Robotnik, buoyed by their new-found ability to climb, fly, hover, snowboard, shoot, and talk granted by Dreamcast's technology.

For a relatively conservative suggested launch price of $199, the Dreamcast should leap off the shelves of electronics and department stores. Now, the question is whether Sega can keep the machine growing sufficiently to fight off the next challenger to come down the game highway.

MILLENNIUM GAMES

As the millennium nears, Hasbro, Inc., East Longmeadow, Mass., has updated some of the most popular games of the 20th century and packaged them in special commemorative editions.

Monopoly, the granddaddy of modern board games, comes in an embossed tin box, within which is a holographic, silver foil-coated game board, multi-faceted dice, hotels that glow along their edges, and stackable houses, as well as translucent money. In keeping with the futuristic design, new tokens include a computer, cell phone, and in-line skate. Once you get past the various bells and whistles, the game remains the same one that has been entertaining players for more than six decades, a nice blending of tradition and the future.

Clue reaches the millennium with a 50th anniversary edition in a collectible tin box containing a game board of Boddy Mansion that has been enhanced with gold foil and a gold-tone box to store weapons and double as a dice cup. As Colonel Mustard, Miss Scarlett, Professor Plum, Mrs. White, Mr. Green, and Mrs. Peacock gather for an evening of mayhem, a special golden anniversary weapon--a bottle of poison--has joined their arsenal, adding another element to dismay would-be detectives.

Trivial Pursuit has undergone the most extensive makeover, starting with the pie-shaped tin box and continuing through various cosmetic changes, such as translucent plastic pie wedges (each of which signifies completion of a category) and card holder. The most significant are the redesign of the game board, which now unfolds into a circle embellished with historical photographs, and more than 100 question cards with full-color photos on the reverse. In keeping with the game's tradition of constantly upgrading itself, the Millennium Edition comes with 3,600 brand-new questions spanning the past 1,000 years--a true test of just how cluttered with trivia your brain is.

The special editions of Monopoly and Trivial Pursuit are $39.99, while Clue is $34.99. The collectibles market being what it is, shrewd people might want to buy two of each--one to play and one to tuck away for a descendant to sell for mega monetary units at the third millennium.

GAMES FOR ADULTS, GAMES FOR KIDS

The traditional wedding day attire of a bride includes something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue. While this year's crop of games skip the blue, there is considerable dependence on borrowed and old, with a modicum of new.

Under the borrowed category, there are myriad knockoffs of the hallowed Monopoly board game. It is none of our business what the copyright ramifications of these variations are--we'll leave that to the legal department of Hasbro...

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