E3: It's An Animated Year

What's new in the gaming world? Joseph Szadkowski gives us the lowdown on the new animation related games from this year's E3.

What may have surprised the more than 41,000 attendees at this year's three day Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Atlanta from May 28-30 was that the primary colors and wackiness of classic animation was as noticeable on the showroom floor as mutant battles, graphic violence and adult themes. Game developers are beginning to see the bright lights of fun animation after spending years within the darkness of surreal environments that have, in the past, been the hallmarks of games designed with a primarily male demographic in mind.

Spyro the Dragon, a one-player action game, will be available for the Sony PlayStation in September 1998. Photo by Joe Szadkowski.

"We did a very violent game before Spyro the Dragon, filled with a lot of destruction, mayhem and darkness. Working on this all-ages title has been a refreshing change for us to do something that is bright and doesn't have overt violence or blood," said Todd Price, president of Insomniac Games. "At the end of the day, we were happier. The morale in our office improved significantly because we can all play the game, look at the characters and laugh even though we have played it a hundred times." Spyro The Dragon, being developed for the Sony PlayStation by Insomniac Games, Inc. and Universal Interactive Studios, takes players on a 3-D action-adventure with a mischievous purple dragon. The game's worlds are graphically stunning as players are immersed into interactive fantasy realms. Spyro the Dragon, a one-player action game, will be available for the Sony PlayStation in September 1998.

Games From the Blockbusters

From Universal Studios and Sound Source Interactive, the rich graphic environments from The Land Before Time and An American Tail have emerged as CD-ROM edutainment products for children, ages three to six. The Land Before Time Kindergarten Adventure and Math Adventure educational CD-ROMs teach through interactive animations and sound components. Completing activities will lead to rewards of full color video clips from the movie. Another favorite animated movie from Universal Studios, An American Tail, continues Fievel the mouse's journey from Russia to America. Combining the appeal of the movie with learning activities, children will enjoy nine, detailed illustrated chapters, 25 story scenes and more than 60 hidden clickable animations. Both Land Before Time and An American Tail titles are available for Macintosh or PC in the fall.

Small Soldiers' Squad Commander, developed by Hasbro Interactive with DreamWorks and Universal Pictures, offers live-action and animation blended with scenes from the new movie. Squad Commander takes children ages nine and older on an adventure that poses a real-time strategy challenge through 20 missions. Puzzles are layered, requiring players to use problem-solving skills as well as computer skills to fend off a constant stream of "enemy" fire. The game, available for Windows, will be on retailers shelves in June.

Disney Interactive continues the magic of the movies through CD-ROMs that teach and entertain within interactive, 3-D worlds. Adding to the already extensive roster of CD-ROM releases being developed is the Mulan Animated Storybook, scheduled to coincide with the movie's theatrical release. The rich detail of the movie has provided the CD-ROM developers with a deep artistic palate upon which to create. Children, aged five to nine, will enjoy multiple story screens featuring the character Mulan's village and home land of China. Story screens are filled with clickable animations, puzzles and multi-leveled educational activities that will help users build critical and creative thinking skills.

Disney Interactive is planning several games based on the upcoming animated feature film, A Bug's Life. Photo by Joe Szadkowski.

More Disney films finding new life as electronic games can be found from THQ, Inc. who is releasing cartridges for the Game Boy based on Disney's Mulan and the Disney/Pixar A Bug's Life. A Bug's Life will be an action/adventure game for the hand-held system featuring dozens of characters from the film and nine levels of game play. It is conveniently scheduled to be released in time for Christmas.

Fans of A Bug's Life will also want to stay alert for the November release of the Disney Interactive CD-ROM based on the movie. An action/adventure game for children ages three to seven, the film's characters are brought to life for interactive activities that promote on-screen and off-screen play.

Mulan for Game Boy lets fans of the film continue the battles being fought by Fa Mulan, a young woman who disguises herself as a soldier in order to regain her family name honor. An action/adventure game, players will enjoy solving puzzles and engaging in battles as they work through ten levels of gameplay. Game Boy fans will find Mulan by THQ, Inc. on retailers' shelves in July.

Onto the Small Screen

Expanding their playing field, THQ, Inc. will also release Rugrats for Nintendo 64, PlayStation and Game Boy beginning in November. A non-linear, third person, action/adventure game, players control their favorite characters of the Emmy Award-winning Nickelodeon animated series. The game provides players with a below-the-knees perspective of fully explorable environments and objects.

American television cartoons, Blue's Clues and South Park were very notable at E3. There was a lot of excitement around Acclaim Entertainment's display of the core South Park characters Cartman, Kyle, Stan and, of course, Kenny. The PC video game allows players to kill the ever-reincarnated Kenny and should be available sometime in 1999.

Part of the Nickelodeon dynasty of children's entertainment includes Blue's Clues, the educational television series featuring the flop-eared Blue and pals. The CD-ROM programs bring the television show to interactive life and allows young players to touch, move and interact with Blue's world. Being released from Humongous Entertainment and Nickelodeon, Blue's Clues will initially include two programs, "Blue's Birthday Adventures" and "Blue's ABC Time Activities." Each program will be filled with activities and learning fun found in the television show. Fans will find the Humongous Entertainment CD-ROMs on retailers' shelves this fall.

Favorite animated shows for children and adults alike are Animaniacs, Pinky & the Brain and Looney Tunes, all from Warner Brothers. SouthPeak Interactive has been awarded the license to create interactive CD-ROM programs featuring the studio's cast of animated characters and clips.

The Looney Tunes Jigsaw Puzzles line includes: The Complete Bugs; Cosmic Capers with Marvin the Martian; Assorted Nuts starring Taz and Wuv; and Marriage highlighting the romantic escapades of Pepe Le' Peu. All present one and two sided puzzles showing scenes from more than 20 Looney Tunes releases. Looney Tunes Jigsaw Puzzles will be released for the PC in fall.

Pinky & The Brain World Conquest challenges players with an arcade-style strategy game. The playing field is a series of mazes where gamers must build, destroy and move walls while claiming territory. For solo-play or as a multi-player game with up to eight participants connected via a modem, Pinky & The Brain will be available this fall for PC play.

Travel the Warner Brothers Studios "back-lot" in the Animaniacs Adventure Game. Players assume the identity of popular characters in order to thwart the evil plan of Thaddeus J. Plot to destroy the old Animaniacs' films. Animaniacs will be on store shelves for PCs this fall.

New From Japan...

Nintendo is ready to fight back against PlayStation's dominance with Pokémon for Game Boy. The animated Pokémon television show, which is the highest-rated children's animated show in Japan, is moving overseas with steamer trunks packed with licensing products, and more than 150 unique little "pocket monsters" (the translation of Pokémon) for Game Boy players to collect, train, swap and capture during this role-playing adventure. Pokémon is coming to the States in September.

Sailor Moon has been one of Japan's most successful animated television programs and has enjoyed a cult following in the U.S. The 3D Adventures of Sailor Moon by 3VR, Inc. can now be found on retailers shelves. The action and adventure includes a 3D Magical Puzzle Room, Fashion Salon and Fitting Room, Galactic Moon Library, Crystal Fighting Area and Moon Castle TV Show enhanced by the Sailor Moon Theme Song. The 3D Adventures of Sailor Moon provides girls with a sophisticated heroine and immersive environment that will have their male counterparts begging for a chance to play.

UBI's New Offerings

UBI Soft Entertainment provides animated family entertainment with Rayman 2, the sequel to the action-adventure classic that debuted in 1995. Rayman 2 blends humor and suspense in a 30-images-per-second 3-D environment. This release has Rayman escaping an intergalactic zoo to release his caged friends and find the source to the Great Power. Find it on the shelves for Nintendo 64 and PC in time for Christmas. Rayman 2 for PlayStation will be released the first quarter of 1999.

Expanding their animated character library, UBI Soft also announced Buck Bumble is scheduled to buzz in during the late summer and might be one of the year's most popular games. Buck Bumble is a Cyborg Bee who battles mutant insectoids that are enslaving the Earth's native insect population. The bug eye view of a 3-D world encompasses over 20 eerie environments to walk through or fly over during full arcade action and driving gameplay. Buck Bumble will be a multi-player game released for Nintendo 64.

Joseph Szadkowski writes on various aspects of popular culture and is a columnist for The Washington Times.

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