REVOLUTION: Rhythm game. (Konami for PlayStation, $29.99, $59.99
with dance pad, ESRB rating: Everyone.)
Trashy novels at the beach, mindless blockbusters in theaters --
summer is the season to put the brain in storage. What better time
to brush up on your video-game skills?
Here's a look at some of the coolest games for a long, hot
Dance Dance Revolution, known as DDR to its fans, is not for
someone looking for an hour or two of diversion: It requires long,
sweaty hours of practice. The reward? Showing off what you've
learned in front of admiring crowds at the arcade.
In the PlayStation version of DDR, the player stands in the
center of a mat (sold separately, $20 to $50) that has
pressure-sensitive areas in front, on the sides and behind. As
disco, techno and hip-hop tunes play, arrows move up the screen in
time with the music, indicating where the player must step.
After giving it a try -- and flopping around like a speared fish
-- we turned to DDR expert Cesar Aldea to show us how it's done.
The 29-year-old San Franciscan, who has been playing the game for
about a year, not only manages to hit virtually every arrow, but he
executes his moves in a flashy street-dancing style. No wonder he's
a regional DDR champion.
"I believe in choreographed routines, like a professional dance
competition, " says Aldea. Somehow he is able to hold a conversation
Aldea believes players whose sole aim is to perfect harder songs
(which are rated by the number of feet icons) are missing the point
of the game.
"They think they're good because they can pass an eight-foot or
nine-foot song," says Aldea, who goes by the name DJ 8-Ball when he
spins music at clubs.
"But the difficulty doesn't matter; it's how you look."
In Japan, where DDR has been a hit since the first arcade version
was introduced in 1998, workers reportedly unwind at the end of the
day by playing DDR at the arcades -- suits, ties and all. They
apparently don't care how they look.
The long-awaited U.S. PlayStation version includes 27 songs, some
of them very strange indeed: a disco version of "Have You Never Been
Mellow," a hip- hop version of "Smoke on the Water." The latest
Japanese PlayStation version --
there have been five -- has more than 100 songs, from "Flashdance
(What a Feeling)" to "Shake Your Booty."
Most hard-core DDRers have been practicing at home with the
Japanese version of the game. But before you rush out and buy one
(Network Video in Burlingame is a good source), be aware that U.S.
PlayStations will not play Japanese games; you must either buy a
Japanese PlayStation or solder a "mod chip" to your PlayStation
For beginners, the U.S. version works just fine. The game
features a variety of modes, including a workout mode that keeps
track of calories burned and a training mode, which lets you finish
a song without being berated by the commentator ("Did you have
breakfast this morning?"). The interface could be easier to
navigate, and the psychedelic backgrounds are repetitive -- but
trust us, you won't have time to notice.
All songs can be played in beginner, normal and expert modes, and
if you're willing to pay for a second pad, there's a masochistic
setting in which a single player has to hop between eight buttons on
DDR can be difficult to find; check the Internet or the
PlayStation store at Metreon in San Francisco. For more information
about DDR, including organizations and tournaments, visit http://www.ddrfreak.com/.
games. (Nintendo for Game Boy Color, $34.99 each, ESRB rating:
Everyone.) THE LEGEND OF ZELDA -- ORACLE OF THE AGES/ORACLE OF THE
Nintendo's twin Legend of Zelda games are tiny miracles to behold,
and a fitting swan song for the Game Boy Color console, soon to be
replaced by Game Boy Advance. Fortunately, the new handheld unit
will run games made for Game Boy Color.
Elfin hero Link returns to save the land of Labrynna from
evildoers. In Oracle of the Ages, Link travels back and forth
through time using a magical harp. In Oracle of the Seasons, a
magical rod has the power to change the seasons.
The action is typical Zelda questing: searching for items,
learning skills, battling monsters, talking to characters. But
everything is executed perfectly,
from the pacing of the story to the colorful graphics that make
the most of the Game Boy's small screen and limited resolution. The
worlds are vast and the play engaging and satisfying.
The gimmick here is that the two games (sold separately) can be
connected using a link cable and two Game Boys. Linking allows items
collected in one game to be brought over to the other and extends
It's a clever idea and a stroke of marketing brilliance: If you
play one game, chances are you won't be able to resist getting the
BOARDERS 2001 Snowboarding simulation. (Sony for PlayStation 2,
$49.99, ESRB rating: Everyone.)
Is there room for yet another PlayStation 2 snowboarding game? SSX,
still the best PS2 title available, has broad appeal with its wacky,
arcade-style action. The less-flashy ESPN Winter X Games
Snowboarding takes a more realistic approach to the sport and is
closer to a simulation.
Sony's Cool Boarders 2001 tries to find a balance between the two
and, for the most part, succeeds. One of its strong points is
variety: 27 courses and six events. There's downhill racing,
half-pipe contests, "big air" trick runs, board parks and wild
obstacle courses. Those who have grown tired of SSX's courses will
find plenty to explore here.
Control is intuitive and, in fact, a little too easy when it
comes to performing stunts. While the graphics are sharp and quick,
the character animations, especially during trick moves, aren't
particularly convincing. Sometimes boarders appear to defy gravity
as they execute flips and turns.
ZONE OF THE
ENDERS Action game. (Konami for PlayStation 2, $49.99, ESRB rating:
If it were a little longer and required more strategy, Zone of the
Enders could have been a great game. Instead, it's a good game that
earns another notch for putting the PlayStation 2 graphics
processors to the test.
The Japanese-made game takes place in a war-torn colony on
Jupiter, with the player taking control of a flying robot and
battling enemy invaders. Both the player's character and the enemies
are incredibly detailed, and midair fights are gorgeous light shows.
Piloting the robot is easy, thanks to a well- designed control
The game's weakness is in its battles. Repeated shooting or
up-close slashing pretty much takes care of all enemies. It's
mindlessly enjoyable, but those looking for more strategy might be
If tactics are what you're looking for, Zone of the Enders comes
packaged with a playable demo of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty
-- now that's cool.
3 Party game. (Nintendo for Nintendo 64, $49.99, ESRB rating:
Nintendo has taken to releasing a new version of Mario Party every
year, and the third incarnation is clearly the best, with improved
graphics and better game play. It's basically a turn-based board
game spiced up with minigames -- more than 70 this time around.
The minigames include a Tetris-style arcade game, races in boats
trivia quizzes and reaction tests. They're colorful and cute but
often simply require rapid button mashing that's hard on the hands
Still, the Mario Party titles are among the few true multiplayer
games for more than two players that actually work. There's also a
new two-player version that adds battles and reduces the time spent
waiting for your turn.
Great for parties and sleepovers, but little to offer players
older than 12.
E-mail Roger Yim at email@example.com.