The latest video games
Christmas 1991. Lines stretch for miles outside stores stocking the $200 Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Riots presage the release of Zelda III. A $60 million movie adaptation of Super Mario Bros. is in the works, starring Bruce Willis as Luigi.
In your dreams, Nintendo. If the giant Japanese video-game maker expects its new 16-bit Super NES to create the same fire storm as the 8-bit NES did in the late '80s, the company seems to be in for a zonk. More bits (i.e., greater speed and capacity for the unit's central processing chip) mean more detailed graphics, better sound, and more intricate game play, but with most of this new generation of games the advances are merely impressive, not spectacular. Archrival Sega has a two-year head start with its 16-bit Genesis, and the game that comes with Nintendo's system, Super Mario World, will inspire admiration, though probably not awe (see below). Here's a sampling of software currently available for the new, improved Nintendo (none of which is compatible with your old, quaint Nintendo).
Super Mario World
Included with the Super NES system, this fourth installment in the Super Mario series (the fifth if you count Super Mario Land for the Game Boy system) gives you the feeling that Nintendo is beating a dead Koopa. Mario bops his enemies, eats power mushrooms, crawls in and out of drainpipes...all the things he's been doing for the past five years, and in settings not remarkably advanced, graphically, from those of previous eight-bit games. Super Mario World amounts to advertising, a vehicle intended to show off the capabilities of the Super NES as well as goad brand- conscious kids into buying the system in the first place. B
U.N. Squadron is the kind of game cynical journalists had in mind when they derided the gulf conflict as the ''Nintendo war.'' Set in the desert kingdom of ''Aslan,'' it has players flying punitive strikes against air, sea, and ground military targets. The combat scenes are dizzying, the explosions crisp, and the sound effects awesome. In short, U.N. Squadron is a Pentagon planner's fantasy: a high-tech, low-casualty aerial assault that's over as soon as you turn off your TV set. A
This is a standard space shooting game that doesn't seem to take full advantage of Super NES' 16-bit capabilities and that repeats, practically pixel for pixel, some scenarios from the previous, 8-bit Gradius. Sure, Gradius III is competent you'd expect nothing less from Konami but if I'm going to plunk down 50 bucks for a 16-bit game to play on my new $200 system, I want to be the one who's blown away. C
This hovercraft racing game plays like an exhilarating cross between the Indy 500 and the Star Gate sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey. It has everything aficionados could want: twisty, neon-lit tracks, you-are-there sound effects, and streamlined, brightly colored speed machines in place of boring old cars. Well, almost everything. The vertigo- inducing graphics and feather-touch play control apparently didn't leave enough memory to allow two-player, head-to-head competition. A-
The perfect gift for big-city mayors presiding over crumbling infrastructures, Sim City lets you construct your own metropolis from scratch, a task that entails everything from zoning commercial districts to laying down power lines to funding mass-transit systems. Like many municipalities, the game can get a bit complex, but in a crisis (plunging opinion polls, incipient tax revolts, enormous lizards ravaging downtown) you can count on a nerdy bureaucrat to pop up on-screen and offer some helpful advice. B+