There's a great bit at the end of Pee-wee's Big Adventure in which Pee-wee, having rescued his lost bike, becomes the subject of a megabuck Hollywood movie starring, as Pee-wee, a bow-tied James Brolin. Well, the same kind of thing is happening in video games: Now there are handsome and sleek new adaptations of the dweeby, old-fashioned arcade games Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, and Pitfall.
Of course, there's nothing wrong with updating old boomer faves, but some games don't translate as well as others. The original Pac-Man, for instance, was wonderfully algebraic in its simplicity: An animated yellow dot scoots around a maze, gobbling up (or running away from) pursuing ghosts. Pac-Man 2: The New Adventures is a Super Mario-type action game hampered by what Namco calls it's ''character guidance interface.'' Players can't control Pac directly: they influence his actions by calling attention to obstacles. Sound frustrating? It is. I needed a dozen tries just to figure out how to play this game.
Much more successful is Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure, mainly because the original Pitfall a straightforward action game in which a stick-figure hero runs, jumps, and climbs up and down ladders is far more adaptable to today's 16-bit technology. In fact, this version plays like Indiana Jones in fast-forward, as Pitfall Harry Jr. executes his derring-do amid lush jungle backgrounds, stirring music, and pumped-up sound effects. (There's a stage later on where players access the original Atari version of Pitfall, an experience akin to trading in your late-model TV for a 1939 World's Fair prototype.)
The king of arcade resurrections is, without doubt, Donkey Kong Country. Wisely, Nintendo doesn't try to emulate the old Donkey Kong play dynamics. (There is a classic version available for Super Game Boy.) Instead, the Big N builds on recognition of the Donkey Kong name to launch an ultra-advanced, 32-megabit monster featuring textured, three-dimensional characters, CD-quality music, and backgrounds that look like movie matte paintings. Donkey Kong Country is to most 16-bit games what most 16-bit games are to their Atari forebears. Once you've played it, everything else before it seems like a peewee. Pac-Man 2: C- Pitfall: B+ Donkey Kong Country: A+