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PlayStation stocking stuffers won't disappoint gamers

By ROBB GUIDO

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 21, 1998


While Zelda 64 for N64 is sure to be the No. 1 hit of the holiday season, companies are busy cranking out some pretty great titles for the PlayStation. They may not receive the publicity Zelda has, but they will certainly be unforgettable to players. Parents, if you don't want your child to be disappointed this year or if you're looking for a present for yourself, these games are where it's at.

MediEvil

You may have seen the commercials for MediEvil vowing "You'll be dying to play it." It is more like you've died and gone to video game heaven. Everything about this game will dazzle you: From the gorgeous and highly detailed 3D graphics to the flawless control -- not to mention the brilliant level design and original game play.

The story behind MediEvil is hilarious. Set in a time of knights and magic, MediEvil introduces Sir Daniel Fortesque, the hero of a bygone war that destroyed a traitorous sorcerer and his legion of darkness. The only problem is that Sir Dan actually died on the first shot of the first battle, and the king of Gallowmere, hoping to save face for his top knight, made up the tale of his heroism.

When the sorcerer turns up alive years later and brings the dead back to life, a revitalized Sir Dan gets a chance to redeem himself. The awkward, one-eyed Sir Dan can't talk -- he only grumbles -- and the game, made in England, is packed with British humor, reminiscent of Monty Python.

MediEvil also is filled with pumpkins, zombies, bats and scarecrows, which should make Halloween lovers howl. The game is a perfect blend of action and puzzle solving, never frustrating players with its control and never pushing your brain too far. Sir Dan is armed with an impressive arsenal of weapons, which he builds by defeating enemies and earning passage into a Hall of Heroes. Projectile weapons are heat-seeking so you won't waste valuable time aiming, and the game is light on the jumps so you won't get angry at all the near misses. MediEvil has a style all its own, a slap-stick spooky action-adventure game, that comes close to finally perfecting the 3D genre. Grade: A+

NHL 99

You don't have to be a die-hard lover of the sport to enjoy this exciting EA product.

NHL 99 gets almost everything right, from the speed of the game to the precision skating to the offensive and defensive formations. Players can set up on the power play, fall into a defensive shell and hook a man on a breakaway. The artificial intelligence of this game is amazing, and even annual aficionados of the NHL series will be challenged by All-Star mode.

Graphically, NHL 99 stuns you with player and goalie animations. Gone are the days when goaltenders simply moved in front of the puck. Now they make kick and stick saves and snare pucks with their gloves. Defensemen crunch forwards with bodychecks and slide in the way of shots, while superstars make razzle-dazzle moves down low. Replays are almost scary in their realism, taking players in close to show them their goals or their mistakes.

For hockey fans, this game is a treat, and the closest thing to real hockey -- heck, it may be better than real hockey. There is plenty of fun and options to keep everyone pumped up well into the Stanley Cup Finals. Grade: A

Heart of Darkness

Heart of Darkness continues a long tradition of cinematic 2D platform games dating back to Out of This World for Genesis and culminating most recently with Abe's Oddysee. Interplay, which pioneered the genre, proves it can change with the times, which means adding lush graphics, fluid animation and deeply entertaining game play.

The difference between cinematic platformers and standard ones is that every board of the game offers a new challenge. Players won't be running from left to right, blasting themselves a path. Instead controller-jockeys must deduce a way to get from Point A to Point B, and everything from the background to shadows seems to play an important role.

In HOD, Andy, an earthboy, follows his dog's abductors into a nightmare world, full of evil silhouettes. Andy takes in a trusty plasma gun, which is promptly eaten by a monster, leaving Andy to rely on his wits, which he will need.

That is because HOD is a series of action-heavy puzzles that complement the outlandish game environment. Players will be swinging out of the clutches of snake-like plants, climbing mountains and jumping over shadow dogs. In one puzzle, Andy must release a swarm of fireflies, which in turn occupy the plants, and allow Andy to cross a later screen.

If you're looking for a cerebral game with a funny cast of characters and beautiful visuals, HOD will keep you up many late nights. Grade: B+

Devil Dice

Looking for the next Tetris? While Devil Dice won't provide players with the portable fun of its Russian counterpart, it does bring that Mensa appeal to the PlayStation. If you're a 14-year-old student or a 40-year-old accountant, Devil Dice is just the kind of diabolical puzzler everyone can love.

The premise of Devil Dice is simple: Match up the dice faces -- two twos, three threes, four fours and so on. It sounds easy, but your character, a sprite in a devil suit, must roll the dice along the geometric board, encouraging some serious finagling.

When you make a match the dice disappear, and your devil can either stay on top or hop down onto the board. On the playing surface, the devil is able to push the dice, which react differently depending on their type.

Devil Dice explodes with options, which suit the tastes of just about everyone. For those who prefer a slow-paced experience, Puzzle Mode has you trying to meet a series of preset conditions, such as creating a block of four fours. Trial Mode has players racing against the clock, in an attempt to make matches, while new dice pop up periodically. Battle Mode pits two players against one another, while Wars Mode outdoes itself by putting four devils on an enlarged playing field at the same time.

You'll spend hours upon hours playing this game, which may be the best executed puzzle game ever. Is it better than Tetris? DD certainly makes a strong case. Grade: A+

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