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1997 Gaming Report: The Best of the Bunch

Animation World Magazine's picks for the top animated games of 1997.

Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee. © Oddworld Inhabitants

Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee. © Oddworld Inhabitants

This holiday season, a deluge of new game titles are being released. The Interactive Digital Software Association (IDSA) has compiled data from the NPD Group's Interactive Entertainment Software Service, to report that sales of video game and PC entertainment software this year have topped $1.5 billion (January through September); already a 35 percent increase over 1996. With more than 50 percent of total industry sales usually taking place in the fourth quarter (holiday season), those numbers are expected to increase dramatically by the end of 1997. IDSA President Douglas Lowenstein said, "All signals are now pointing to total entertainment software sales breaking the $5 billion barrier." While this estimate does lean toward the optimistic, there is no question that games are increasing in popularity as more home users purchase personal computers and gaming consoles.

From Screen to Machine

Many titles being released this season hope to cash in on the success of existing animated properties. Fox Interactive is following the tried-and-true Disney formula with their Anastasia tie-in release, a "storybook" style game called Anastasia: Adventures With Pooka and Bartok. THQ's PlayStation action game, Ghost in the Shell is based on the popular Japanese manga comic and anime feature film. Funnybone Interactive is releasing Animaniacs Game Pack, a collection of arcade-style games starring characters from Warner Bros.' animated television series. Broderbund's Living Books division has released Arthur's Birthday, another title in the Arthur line, which started as a collection of children's books and became a hit animated series from Cinar Films and WGBH Boston. Creative Capers' original property, Nightmare Ned was simultaneously developed as a game and an animated series with Disney.

With so many games to choose from, how is an animation fan to make sense of them all? In preparation for our annual gaming issue, Animation World Magazine looked at more than 50 interactive games that have been released throughout the year. One thing we learned is that you can't judge a game by its cover. Actual game graphics often pale in comparison to the pictures on packaging and advertisements. When reviewing all titles, we looked mainly at the quality of the animation within the game, as well as the gameplay and story.

Parappa the Rapper. © Sony Computer Entertainment.

Parappa the Rapper. © Sony Computer Entertainment.

The Best of the Bunch

1. Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee. This outstandingly original adventure, features some of the best graphics and animation we've ever seen in a game. Abe's Oddysee is the first title in "The Oddworld Quintology," a five-part series designed and created by Oddworld Inhabitants, an innovative, young game design firm based in Northern California. With its sophisticated gameplay, this game is meant to be played over a long period of time, so be sure to have a memory card installed. System: PlayStation Publisher: GT Interactive

2. Parappa the Rapper The latest and greatest interactive creation designed by Rodney Greenblat, a New York-based artist who has been creating offbeat computer games, such as Dazzeloids, since the early days of interactive animation. Parappa, which means "paper thin" in Japanese, describes the game's cartoony 2-D characters which move in a 3-D world. In addition to this innovative animation technique, Parappa the Rapper features a funky musical score by Masaya Matsuura. This is a game that's sure to be imitated. System: PlayStation Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment

jacksongames03.jpgjacksongames04.jpgRiven. © Cyan Zero Zero © Nicholson NY.

3. Riven The anticipated sequel to Myst, the best-selling CD-ROM game in history, was well worth the wait. More of a free-form "exploratory experience" than a game, Riven takes users on a journey through a fantasy world of highly realistic 3-D graphics. Animation is used minimally, but to stunning effect, with incredibly smooth movement. System: Windows/Macintosh Publisher: Red Orb Entertainment (a division of Broderbund)

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4. Zero Zero Theresa Duncan, creator of Chop Suey and Smarty Pants, has designed another gem that kids may not even suspect is educational. Described as a "fairy tale for the future," Zero Zero depicts a spunky, young mademoiselle on her adventures in Paris during the turn of the century (1900, hence her name, "Zero Zero"). Limited, but charming 2-D animation by Jeremy Blake brings this lyrical story to life. System: Windows or Macintosh Publisher: Nicholson NY

5. Interstate 76 Quentin Tarantino meets The Dukes of Hazard in this "retro-action" game. 3-D characters and their souped-up cars speed through the desert in search of revenge against outlaws. The entire game, including backgrounds, is rendered in 3-D animation, and can be viewed from multiple angles at any time. System: Windows Publisher: Activision

G-Police. © Psygnosis

G-Police. © Psygnosis

6. Koala Lumpur: Journey to the Edge Developed by San Francisco-based (Colossal) Pictures, from an original concept by director Jamie Baker, this funny mystery game features 2-D character animation that rivals some Saturday morning cartoons. The fact that the animation was created traditionally, with drawings on paper, is a refreshingtestament to doing things the "old fashioned way." System: Windows Publisher: Broderbund

7. G-Police This space flight simulator shoot `em up game is set in a futuristic world inspired by Blade Runner. The intros feature some incredibly realistic 3-D animation of virtual humans, setting the story for the rest of the game. While the gameplay animation is not as finely rendered as the intros, it does feature detailed 3-D graphics in a full 360 degree environment. System: PlayStation or Windows Publisher: Psygnosis

8. Nickelodeon 3D Movie Maker This creative title gives Nicktoons fans a shot at creating their own cartoons, with characters from Ren & Stimpy, Aaahh!!! Real Monsters and Rocko's Modern Life. The difference is that these characters are rendered in 3-D computer graphics, and can do things that even the shows' creators might have never dreamed up. A menu of settings, props, actions and sounds, keep this title interesting long after many other games might have worn out. System: Windows Publisher: Microsoft

Croc. © Fox Interactive

Croc. © Fox Interactive

9. Croc: Legend of the Gobbos A cute fantasy game, with great character design and refreshingly non-violent action. Developed by Argonaut Software, Croc features full 3-D character animation and environments, explored through the eyes of a roly-poly crocodile whose mission is to save the threatened civilization of the Gobbos. System: PlayStation Publisher: Fox Interactive

10. Nightmare Creatures With an NC-17 rating and enough blood to make the average person squeamish, this game is part if the "not for fans of the animated storybook" genre. While the violence may not be for everyone, the game does feature fluid 3-D animation and complex rendered environments. In particular, it is the addition of mood-setting, animated, atmospheric effects such as fog and falling leaves that caught our attention. System: PlayStation Publisher: Activision

Wendy Jackson is Associate Editor of Animation World Magazine.

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