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Splurge on that Game System!
A Primer on Playstation, Nintendo 64 and -- gasp -- Sega Saturn

Blast San Francisco Bureau

Remember those arcade and video games people played in the heyday of Chuck E. Cheeses before they became big-time corporate kiddy-fun? Does the name Atari ring a bell? Or Intellivision? Or Colecovision? Maybe you managed to stick around for the glory years of Nintendo. But in the wake of dating, high school graduation, college partying, and the 9-to-5 rat race, you figured it was time to put away such childish things. All because you became an adult.

I know, many of you booted your inner child out as soon as you discovered in college you can get attention by pretentiously extolling the virtues of some long-dead, unknown poet. You've decided to hole up in coffeehouses in a vain attempt to live the bohemian lifestyle. Sure, you grew up, but video games are still around, entertaining millions worldwide and earning grosses comparable to film earnings. They allow the kid in you to have some selfish fun. And last Christmas was the biggest for the video game industry, leaving many inner children undoubtedly happy.

Here now is quick breakdown of the major home video game systems and reasons you may want to shell out cash for them.


Any video game player worth his and her extra life knows the Sony Playstation is a worthy investment; it's the must-have of the video game world. There's a Playstation game for every genre, including games that represent the best of all the industry. You wanna fight? Let's get it on! Like to race? Go grab the racing gloves.

The Playstation, released in September 1995, has always had a hip reputation that challenged its audience, with an ad campaign that told players, "U R NOT (red) E." But let's face it: Anything that advertises itself as "cool" is definitely more uncool than cool. And its target audience (the more affluent 18-34 age group) is bound to abandon the PS quickly in favor of new systems. (Oh yes, we of the emotionally detached, unable-to-commit, "find the next big thing" mentality).

Here's a short list of games to pick up if you possess a PS:

Action/Adventure: Crash Bandicoot 2, Tomb Raider 2, Time Crisis
Fighting: Bushido Blade, Street Fighter EX Plus, Super Street Fighter Collection, Tekken 2
Puzzle: Intelligent Cube, Super Puzzle Fighter 2
Turbo Racing: Cool Boarders 2, Test Drive 4
Role-Playing: Final Fantasy 7 (Duh!)
Sports: NFL GameDay '98

Of special mention is a certain PS game called PaRappa the Rapper, a hip-hop game version of Simon (Extra points for those who remember what Simon is). You may have seen the ads for it on buses and billboards, seen it on TV, and saw on the "Best Picks" lists of various magazines and newspapers. They like it. And heck, even I like it, but I'll give you the honest truth: It's a horrible game not worth more than the price of a rental. It's really cute, and even some of the lyrics and rhythms are fun, but it's repetitious, predictable and if the third-level chicken chef doesn't grate you after the numerous attempts it'll take to defeat her, you must be deaf.


Nintendo has been in business as a video game maker for over a decade. So the chance of any Nintendo-made game being excellent is, well, excellent. Their latest system, the Nintendo 64, is a video game powerhouse. N64 has been targeted at an even younger market, hyping itself as a cutting-edge system. So in many ways, it has become the "cool" system; the console of choice for kids.

The sleek, elegant console design invites a gentle touch when powered on. The innovative analog controller sports an ominous Batarang-shaped design. And the N64's cartridge-based games aren't filled with the memory-eating full-motion video and redbook-quality audio made possible by CD storage capacity. They're games that are pure, simple and fun.

Nintendo's problems stem from their game release strategy and the hungry appetite of video game players with short memories and little appreciation. Compared to the PS, games for the N64 are infrequently released for whatever reason Nintendo claims (its game releases have emphasized quality instead of quantity, hence the shorter list of titles.). Compounding the problem, most N64 games are average or worse. Aside from the handful of third-party companies that design and make N64 titles, only Nintendo has been able to consistently release games that justify purchasing the system.

The one-year-old N64 is at a point where it needs to prove itself. If Nintendo titles continue to be released with less frequency than other systems' games, that's fine, but N64 games had better be good enough with satisfying game length to impress prospective gamers.

On the other hand, if Nintendo releases games more frequently, it will have an even tougher time maintaining game quality, as history has demonstrated in past game systems. Already encountering a publicity backlash from older gamers, Nintendo would reap a huge whirlwind of bad consumer opinion from a glut of expensive mediocre games, and even worse, lower sales per individual game.

Still, when Nintendo does release good games, they surpass other console's games, and are comparable to decent PC games minus the costs. Here are some N64 games to check out:

Action/Adventure: Goldeneye, Super Mario 64, Turok
Fighting: None. They exist, but don't waste your money.
Puzzle: Tetrisphere
Racing: Diddy Kong Racing, Mario Kart 64, WaveRace 64
Role-Playing: They don't exist. Yes, this upsets me too.
Sports: International Superstar Soccer 64, Madden 64


Poor Sega and its two-year-old Saturn system. They built up a loud and loyal following with their previous systems with an image big on attitude and low on substance, but the company imploded with their current 32-Bit CD system. Playing the video game market too much like Sony, Sega wasn't able to keep up with the Playstation in terms of quantity and exclusive titles, and suffered accordingly. Only die-hard, niche genre and sports fanatic game players still believe the Saturn is better than the PS and N64. (Isn't conviction grand?)

Still, if you must have that new Sonic the Hedgehog game, then only the Saturn has it (whenever they decide to release it). The Saturn isn't different enough from the PS to establish its own real market identity and doesn't have the loyalty, mystique, and exclusive games of Nintendo to carry it through impending problems of increasingly infrequent releases and questionable game quality. With Sega in this position, they'll do what any game company with some money left in the bank does: release a new system, the Sega Katana, in late 1998 or early 1999. How's that for company loyalty to its consumers, Sega fans?

The bottom line for Sega: Its system and games make up the smallest pie of market sales; a large portion of the Sega's American work force has been laid off; third-party companies are dropping support for the Saturn like a bad habit; Sega's own U.S. game production has been lowered; and retailers are liquidating Saturn stock. But, hey, it has more games than the N64.


If you have some Christmas money or holiday bonus, I highly recommend you get a system, either for yourself or a loved one. Now is a good time to indulge and spoil yourself and others.

With a Playstation, you get the best game system on the market, and the variety should keep you entertained for a long time. Sure, the other systems have some exclusive games, but the PS has more games and more good games.

With a Nintendo 64, you get a good system with titles high on quality, low on quantity. A game like Goldeneye will give you an entertaining couple of weeks to explore all the levels, then you can move on to Diddy Kong Racing, or Mario 64, or etc. Remember, when cool kids ask for video games, they ask for Nintendo.

And if you already have a Saturn, don't despair. Sega products are undergoing price reductions, with games reportedly selling as low as $5. That'll save you a ton of money when you're ready to dig in and get a real game system. Or if you already have a real game system, there's nothing like a cheap thrill system with a ton of games. After all, variety is the spice of life. (Warning to all: There is a Spice Girls game being made.)

And for the rest of you -- those who love to tell game players to get a life -- lighten up! Life is about fun, and video games are all fun. If you're not playing games, you're missing out on one of America's greatest pastimes, to be mentioned in the same breath as sports, movies, music and art. Instead of buying that car modification or computer upgrade, why not invest in recapturing a lost portion of your youth? What more do you need? Go play now!