News Article

The Play Really Is the Thing

New videogames -- ''Monopoly,'' ''Hatris,'' and ''Star Control'' are some of the titles rated

Monopoly
For those who are not enduring a long-term hospital stay or doing 20 to life, the idea of a video-game version of Monopoly sounds promising. The package copy promises to add the ''fast action, hands-on excitement'' of Nintendo to the time-honored — and time-devouring — board game. Unfortunately, video Monopoly fares no better under the principles of freewheeling electronic commerce than the stock market has.

The big problem is that Monopoly really doesn't call for fast action. After all, you're investing in real estate, a deliberate and thoughtful activity, not zapping hostile aliens. It's nice that the Nintendo ''computer'' keeps track of your assets, but it does this so efficiently it eliminates the uncertainty that prompts you to take risks, and it reduces wheeling and dealing to mere number crunching. Playing this game is like spending the afternoon at one of those automatic money machines at the bank.

One asset video Monopoly does offer — for those times when no human players are available or willing — is a slew of computerized opponents. But be forewarned: When I played against the computer, I sat in shock as my three imaginary playmates burned through their moves in about 10 to 15 seconds each. Bankruptcy — when it came, inevitably — was a relief. C-

Hatris
Hats! I scoffed, plugging Hatris into my Game Boy. What of the hard-edged geometry, the cool Soviet precision, of Tetris, also developed by Hatris' Russian inventor, Alexey Pajitnov. So you have to stack these falling hats, and if you're good, you get a fireball that burns up the hats or a helmet that crushes them like Khrushchev crushed Budapest. Hats? Helmets? Fireballs? Sounds childish, and Tetris has always been great because it's for grown-ups.

When I checked my watch 5 minutes later, 40 minutes had actually passed. This game is that absorbing — more engrossing than Tetris, in fact, simply because there's so much more to keep track of than Tetris' single plunging blocks. You have to maneuver pairs of hats, learn when to use your fireballs, and plan ahead for the computer's future moves (though a small preview box does show you the pair of hats that comes along next).

There is, after all, a cure for Tetris addiction. It's Hatris, a habit , that's even harder to kick. (So far, Hatris is available only for Game Boy; a version for the home Nintendo Entertainment System is in the works and is expected to be introduced later this year.) A

Star Control
What the snazzy-looking Star Trek: The Next Generation is to the rudimentary original, Star Control is to the first generation of space-war games (you know, the kind they had in arcades 10 years ago, with lots of blurry blips representing spacecraft). Now you have 14 exotic alien models to choose from, each with its own weapons and varying degrees of maneuverability. This, as any video-game buff will tell you, is progress. More important, it's a lot of fun.

Star Control also has a strategic mode, in which opposing fleets of aliens jockey for position in difficult-to-see, mineral-rich star systems, although the basic incomprehensibility of this option is evidenced by the fact that you can ask the computer to make your moves for you (regaining human control in the combat mode to blow the other player's spaceships to bits). In short, if wreaking havoc in distant galaxies is what you do best, I can think of no better game for you. B

Originally posted May 24, 1991 Published in issue #67 May 24, 1991 Order article reprints
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