Originally created 05/18/98

'Blasto' bombs, but 'Battlezone' hits bull's-eye



Despite the best efforts of teachers to say the word with a straight face, every kid at one time or another figures out the humorous possibilities inherent in the planetary name Uranus.

And even if most kids never accept that the seventh planet is named after the father of the Furies and not a body part, they generally get tired of the joke after a few days.

Sadly, "Blasto" never seems to get tired of it, and all but the most easily amused 7-year-olds will quickly tire of jokes that start bad and get worse. For instance:

"Uranus is in big trouble."

"What did I do now?"

"Uranus is on the line."

"So what else is new?"

Clearly, not much is new in "Blasto." Clean graphics can't overcome tired jokes, a hackneyed story and, worst of all, sluggish play. Blasto is a Space Explorer with a chest size inversely proportional to his IQ. This renegade is, of course, the only hope for Earth as it faces invasion by the "twisted ruler" Bosc, who commands his evil hordes from the 5th Dimension.

So we've all heard the story before. Few people play video games for the drama, and the lack of real plot could easily be dismissed if the play was tight, fast and original.

It isn't.

"Blasto" moves slowly through three-dimensional environments, making everything take longer than it should. Action is standard shoot-and-jump fare with little to distinguish it from a thousand other games. To its credit, "Blasto" allows players to customize their perspective during play -- a critical feature most 3-D games on PlayStation ignore.

Many of "Blasto's" flaws could be excused if the game were not so annoying. Phil Hartman -- the actor who supplies hilarious voices for "The Simpsons" -- gives Blasto a voice, but his script stinks.

Granted, humor in video games is tough to pull off effectively. Few have done it. Some, such as the charming "Oddworld Abe's Oddysee," rely on a gentle premise and then let players discover jokes on their own. Others, such as "Gex," throw out so many quips that a few are bound to hit.

"Blasto" tries for a frontal humor assault and flops. Playing the game, one can't help but think Blasto is modeled at least in part after the old "Flash Bazbo Space Explorer" skits from "The National Lampoon Radio Hour." But he's a poor copy and "Blasto," in the end, is a pain in Uranus.

  • `BATTLEZONE': It seems these days that everything old is new. First, Activision gave "Pitfall" a face lift with a tight new version. Now, the arcade legend "Battlezone" has landed on PCs with an update that's fast, smooth and every bit as addictive as the original.
  • From the opening sequence -- in which the familiar "Battlezone" vector graphics morph into a textured environment -- players know that this is more than just the same old game wrapped in new graphics. There's still plenty of battlefield action, but now players have a choice of tanks and must manage the resources of various bases to fend off attacks from Soviet tanks. Yes, Soviet tanks. Seems the Cold War still rages in outer space.

    And rage it does. "Battlezone" comes on like a panzer division as players scramble to keep pace with mission objectives and the seemingly endless onslaughts of enemy armies. Frankly, "Battlezone" is nearly perfect.

    "Battlezone" requires a Pentium 120 with 16 megabytes of RAM, although it runs poorly at that level. High-resolution graphics require an accelerator card. I played on a Pentium II 333 with 64 mb of RAM, and it screamed.

  • `SHADOW MASTER': Simple works. The goal of "Shadow Master" is simple: Kill everything. Built around that directive, however, is a game that is both elegant and rich in detail.
  • "Shadow Master" excels at setting a mood. Usually, the mood is one of utter chaos and panic as players slip gracefully through lush environments teeming with all manner of nastiness.

    Just when you thought PlayStation could never accommodate another first-person shooter, "Shadow Master" nudges its way in with an off-world romp that pushes players to the limit.

  • `BROKEN SWORD: SHADOW OF THE TEMPLARS': THQ's PlayStation port of the richly animated PC adventure favorite highlights the limits of set-top consoles. Although the game includes all the features of the original, the lower resolution of television screens makes it tough to see what's going on.
  • Plus, PlayStation's joy pad hinders smooth control of the cursor and slows down play. Using the PlayStation mouse solves the problem, but not many people own the peripheral.

    "Broken Sword" should satisfy hard-core adventure gamers as they help an American in Paris solve a murder. But, then, they probably already played it on the PC.

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