Originally created 02/21/99

Try winter sports with this snow pack

Three-day weekends always get me thinking -- a dangerous proposition. If a Monday off can be this fun and productive, just imagine what I could do if I didn't have to punch a clock five days a week.

Four recent games gave me a pretty good idea about what to do during the winter months at least. "Cool Boarders 3," "Skiing 1999 Edition," "Snowmobile Racing" and "X Games Pro Boarder" take hard-core winter sports and handily reproduce them on Sony PlayStation and the PC for folks who need a dose of powder but don't particularly feel like loading up the car and heading up into the cold.

Or for those of us who have to work.

"Cool Boarders 3" is the third entry of 989 Studios' snowboarding franchise. And it's the best so far. I took some flak for being so harsh on earlier versions, which were not that accessible for players outside the boarding world.

"Cool Boarders 3" keeps all the tricks that hard-core snowboarders like, but the game feels much more comfortable. Maybe I'm just getting used to it, but "Cool Boarders 3" allows players to start having fun sooner than either of the two others did.

Some of the control was still a little difficult to learn, but I was pulling some pretty cool tricks within a few minutes of firing it up. Six events, 34 courses and 22 types of snowboards give players plenty to keep them busy.

On the whole, "Cool Boarders 3" is better than Electronic Arts' "X Games Pro Boarder," although "X Games" enjoys better graphics and a couple of very fun events. The Mt. Baker Gap, for instance, is three minutes of pure trickery as players try to outdo one another on a pair of jumps.

Terrain in "X Games" moved more smoothly and was much less blocky than in "Cool Boarders 3." Yet moving through it was sometimes more difficult. Even with Sony's analog controller, I had a tough time getting my board to respond with the proper degree of refinement.

One thing the games share is a keen sense of marketing. Just as product placement is big money in the motion picture business, video game designers are waking up to the fact that they can sell space on their disks to companies eager to capture new eyes.

"Cool Boarders 3" is laden with signs for Butterfinger and Swatch. "X Games Pro Boarder" hawks K2 and AirWalk. Unfortunately, the sponsorships don't reduce the price of the games.

GT Interactive's "Snowmobile Racing" is about as mindless as computer games get. There are three controls, all of them variations on "go." Forward. Right. Left.

Even so, it's surprisingly fun. Riders power snowmobiles through such environments as Yellowstone National Park or Iowa farmlands. Some of the ice effects can be beautiful with the right graphics hardware.

But this is not a game for those who appreciate beauty or seek refinement. It's for guys who like the sensation of speed, who like traveling over the river and through the woods with 100 horsepower beneath them.

If your boss allows it, "Snowmobile Racing" is the perfect game to install at work to play in those moments when the day just can't seem to get any worse. A little digital powder can work wonders.

"Snowmobile Racing" has modest system requirements: a Pentium 90 with 16 megabytes of RAM and 30 megabytes of free hard disk space.

With "Skiing 1999 Edition," even on a 14-inch monitor, 55 mph seems pretty fast on a pair of skis. I've never experienced that kind of speed on my own boards, but did as I played "Skiing 1999 Edition," a simple but thoroughly enjoyable trip down some of the best runs at the world's best resorts.

In the space of an afternoon, I skied Vail, Aspen, Whistler and Val d'Isere. The next day, I gave Mount Bachelor and Garmisch a run. Although the game rewards players with quick reflexes, races go to the smart.

Players must choose appropriate skis for the terrain and snow conditions. Along the way, Olympic skier Picabo Street dispenses tips. Players can also save a run in a file to watch later.

Some of the graphics were not up to par, but otherwise it's a hoot -- the best skiing game I've played since I retired my Atari Jaguar.

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


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