Originally created 09/07/98

Video games: WWF War Zone a twisted fantasy



Surely, these are the end times. Doubt it? Fire up "WWF War Zone" and take a trip through a digital world where overgrown men in briefs jump on one another's heads as a bloodthirsty crowd roars its approval with each new atrocity.

If this were simply the twisted fantasy of a demented programmer, "WWF War Zone" could be enjoyed for what it is: a raucous fighter that lets players rumble in the ring with guys whose bellies somehow defy hours in the gym.

But it's real. Programmers didn't make this up. All they did was duplicate real life -- complete with the hecklers in the audience who like nothing more than seeing a clean fight turn dirty.

Worse still, I liked it.

Maybe it was the opportunity to create a wrestler: a furry, obese, goateed bald guy. Maybe it was the chance to whip on a guy in a kilt. Maybe it was just that I am more like the screaming maniacs who pack World Wrestling Federation venues than I care to admit.

Whatever the reason, "War Zone" for Sony PlayStation and Nintendo 64 plops players in the middle of the ring and lets them discover firsthand that it's no fun to get bounced off the ropes by some oddly graceful ox. Yet it's strangely compelling.

Technically, the game is as smooth as they come. Characters move smoothly -- even as they're getting their faces slammed to the mat. Even tricky moves come off without a hitch.

For those who always wondered what the world looked like through the eyeholes of a leather head mask, "WWF War Zone" provides the answer. It's not a pretty scene. But it sure is pretty fun.

POCKET FIGHTER: Pretty is about all "Pocket Fighter" has going for it. The idea is simple. Characters from Capcom's "Street Fighter" and "Darkstalkers" are turned into toddlers and let loose on one another.

Toddlers can do a lot of damage, but nothing like the little freaks in "Pocket Fighter." Despite the cutesy elements, "Pocket Fighter" is not for small kids -- unless parents want their tots to adopt the motto "No Mercy."

Maybe it's just me, but I find it a little disturbing that a fighter named Ken who looks no older than a 4-year-old feels tied down by his wife and goes out in search of another woman. So he goes out and kicks the butt of everyone he meets.

Sadly, "Pocket Fighter" doesn't even measure up where it counts. Because of PlayStation's notorious problems with two-dimensional games, the action is choppy. Although control is typically tight, the colorful backgrounds distract from the action with too much movement.

It's pretty, but a good fighter should offer more.

TURBO PROP RACING: "Turbo Prop Racing" strikes the balance between looks and play and highlights how much juice PlayStation has left. Although not nearly as stunning as Nintendo 64's "Wave Race 64," "Turbo Prop Racing" does a great job of re-creating the feel of river racing.

The physics are dead-on. Players need extra time to turn as they navigate twisting courses. With PlayStation's Dual Shock controller, players feel waves and rapids as they bounce their boats across the surface.

Plenty of tracks in a variety of environments and a wide selection of boats keep "Turbo Prop Racing" fresh even after the initial thrill wears off. Once mastered, racing games are hard to keep playing, but "Turbo Prop Racing" delays that inevitability.

JEREMY MCGRATH SUPERCROSS '98: The curve bottoms out quite a bit faster in "Jeremy McGrath Supercross '98," a clunky motorcycle racer that plods through some blocky courses. Even with an analog controller, "Supercross" doesn't respond as well as it should.

Plus, it's pretty easy to beat. Right out of the chute, I was winning races -- and I'm a fairly average player. Easy victories may be great for the self-esteem of crummy players, but they don't do much for folks who actually want some long-term play out of a game.

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