Originally created 04/12/98

New video games let you drink beer and blast Bambi



My daddy was a pacifist. So despite growing up deep in the sticks, I was on my own when it came to tracking God's creatures through the wilderness and putting a bullet in them.

Lucky for me, though, friends' dads let me tag along a few times, so I know firsthand that the PC game "Deer Hunter" is about as close to real deer hunting as you can get at home, in the city, in front of a computer.

Basically, both the game and the real-life "sport" require a lot of sitting and a lot of quiet time with nothing to do except watch, listen and take another swig of beer. Despite its relative lack of action, "Deer Hunter" has quietly sold enough copies to make it one of the most popular computer games in the country.

And once players get beyond the idea that the sole point of the game is to blow away Bambi and mount its head on a wall, they can see why "Deer Hunter" has sold so well. Give up any notion that "Deer Hunter" is a substitute for the real thing. It's not. Anyone who thinks sitting in front of a monitor beats -- or even approximates -- real life needs to get out more.

"Deer Hunter" does, however, provide something so often missing from modern computer and video games: a quietly engaging experience that demands patience and strategic thinking. The payoff lies in the planning, not in some poorly acted full-motion video sequence.

The graphics are nothing special. The interface is simple but clean. The bells and whistles have been stripped to the minimum effects that longtime players remember from the days when playability -- not technical flash -- sold a game. That simplicity keeps the system requirements down and the price under $20. Players need a Pentium 75 and 16 megabytes of RAM.

Play is straightforward. Hunters search a map for telltale signs of a buck -- scrape marks, dung or matted grass. Then they pick a spot and wait. And wait. And get another beer. And wait some more.

Shifting winds carry scents and may frighten bucks. So, too, can moving around too much. Binoculars help hunters scout the terrain, and that first fleeting sight of a buck -- after about 45 minutes of play for me -- is oddly exciting.

Weapons include a compound bow, a shotgun and a rifle. Nice details include a slight shaking in the rifle scope and a bow that gets harder to aim over time, simulating muscle fatigue.

Unlike real deer hunting, digital kills seem pretty sanitary. The buck drops and then -- after a few spins of the CD-ROM -- its head is mounted instantly on a wall.

Let's just say that's not how it happens in the forest.

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SKULLMONKEYS: Parents who want to understand their kids would do well to sit down for a few minutes and play "Skullmonkeys" with them. In this strange little game, players guide a guy made of clay through the planet Idznak and defeat enemies -- the namesake Skullmonkeys -- with a killer butt-bounce.

The second game in DreamWorks Interactive's Neverhood series, "Skullmonkeys" for Sony PlayStation takes players on a graphically exciting and imaginative trip. It's nothing new, standard side-scrolling adventure stuff. But it survives because it wraps competent play in a sense of humor and sweet scenery.

Seems the evil Klogg has taken over the Skullmonkeys' planet -- a place where hobbies are pretty much what they are here on Earth: "Playing with useless gadgets, hitting each other for no reason ..." But a single Skullmonkey who is too smart to be conned summons the heroic Klaymen from his home planet to foil Klogg.

Weapons include, of all things, hamsters and a "universe enema," which is just a fancy name for a move that destroys all enemies on the screen. OK, so maybe it's not high humor and maybe the game treads old ground, but "Skullmonkeys" succeeds by not taking itself too seriously.

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SNOWBOARDING: Fat chance, but "1080 Snowboarding" ought to be the last snowboarding game for a while. Why? Because the odds of matching it any time soon are pretty slim.

Screaming-fast and packed with detail, "1080" shows what Nintendo 64 can do when given the chance. Whether in racing or trick mode, players enjoy tight control and challenging terrain. For instance, powder patches feel and respond differently from packed snow or ice. Duh. But few games have been able to re-create that basic reality of the slopes.

Now, if Nintendo can just get its third-party lineup in shape and maybe even ship a few more winners itself, it can meet the needs of players hungry for more. The 64DD expansion and the promise of games like "Zelda 64" offer hope, but players need more than hope to part with their cash.

E-mail the writer: Aaron.Curtiss@latimes.com



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