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     " Great for kids, sucks for gamers. "

   Title: Animaniacs Splat Ball

   Format: Win 95/98 PC

   Reviewing Monkey: The Goodyear Chimp

   The Hype: "Who will be named the Sultan of Splat Ball and who will just get dirty? Get ready for a fast-paced, splat 'em up free-for-all pitting 'toon against 'toon in Animaniacs Splat Ball." The box boasts 3 enormous playing fields and 72 action-packed levels. Translation: 3 distinct level schemes but the same level layout over and over and over.... What slays me is how hard these guys are begging for the PC (politically correct) gamers' vote: "Non-violent, fast-paced action." Does it seem odd to anyone else that video games based on sports that are based on armed conflict don't count as war games? It does to me but that's probably why South Peak didn't ask me to write their box blurb. Still, I'd rather have a kid playing this than Rifle Sniper Head Splat War: The Extreme Gore Missions.

      What This Monkey Thought...

   Graphics: If only everything could be as good as the opening cinema. You'll watch that video three or four times before it gets old. Sadly, the graphics are less than neat-o, my friends. The avatars appear to be three-dimensional but never get to show off anything more than sprite-like characteristics since they can only face eight directions. (Wait till I grumble about this in game play.) Even though my inner-child appreciates the cartoonish use of solid colours, I was quickly bored by the overall appearance. 3 out of 5

   Sound: I wish that I could pretend sound and music were separate categories. The music out and out bites. It's bad elevator music. There's none of the swirling orchestral cartoon suites you'd expect to hear, just three, simple, repetitive themes. If only the composer could have taken a cue from the sound effects department. All seven characters utter a few dozen phrases. Fans of Animaniacs will thrill to each distinctive holler of "Hello, Nurse!" (my favourite is Dot's unenthusiastic variation), as well as the voices of Thaddeus J Plotz and Dr. Scratchansniff. Still, even fans will grow weary of that music after they've hammered through twelve or so levels. 2 out of 5

   Game Play: The game play in Splat Ball is the worst part. The animation of the characters is a bit choppy and they seem to flicker and bounce across the screen rather than running. In addition, when roaming through the levels, your character can only shoot paintballs in eight directions. If you stand still, you have a few more angles to aim but any player will scream that this mouse-driven game doesn't give you a 360-degree range of fire. You miss so many shots because of this limitation that it doesn't contribute to the challenge of the game, it stands out as a major shortcoming. Now, the game play in Splat Ball is also the best part. The interface for controlling your teammates is well developed allowing you to set them to patrol certain areas or even go get the opponents balloon (flag). When a character is covered in paint (or before that happens), there's a nifty wash-off feature back at your base. All the powerups are well conceived (even if you spend most of your time focused on picking up mid-level cleaning agents instead). What's amazing is how many different control methods are offered. All use the mouse for aiming and they range from a simple "press space bar to move in the direction of the cursor" to a full on strafing and dodging key configuration. It's too bad the general motion and aiming, the fundamentals of the game, hinder these great features. 3 out of 5

   Level and Environment Designs: My cat could have done a better job than this. There are three basic levels. If you play a cowboy themed level, it will have the same layout as every one before it. Play a space themed level and you'll notice the same thing. What's different in each area is the number and position of powerups and obstacles. "72 action-packed levels" my ass. 1 out of 5

   Multiplayer: Well, it's the same as the single player only you can play against other people. That's the size of it. Exciting, no? 2 out of 5

   Replayability: What is the cool reward that's waiting for the Sultan of Splat Ball who clears each tier of tournament? There's a brief FMV, natch. Then? You can replay any level in the game using the bosses instead of the Warners. Is that fun? Let me put it this way: the bosses don't control any differently, have a better armor rating (thereby making levels easier), don't feature any sounds you didn't hear them utter when you played against them before, and don't offer any new game play options. If you're like me, you'll have no desire to blow two hours and beat it again. 2 out of 5

   Story/Dramatics: The aforementioned opening movie sets up the story quite nicely. There are also FMVs you win by passing each tier of the tournament. Still, there's not a lot of story behind a game of paintball. 2 out of 5

   Instructions and Learning Curve: Because of the three different control methods, anyone can play this game. It will take you five minutes to get the hang of and then you're off and running. What can I say; I'm soft on games with small learning curves. 4 out of 5

   Installation and Real System Requirements: Nice installation. Relatively quick and painless (even installing the full game). The load screens are mercifully brief. What more do you want? (1-6 Players over TCP/IP, IPX, and MSN Gaming Zone, asks for: Pentium 166, 32Mb RAM, 45Mb free hard drive, 4XCD, 2Mb video, mouse, 28.8kbs modem, Windows 95/98, should have: 4MB video [for FMV], 56kbs modem) 4 out of 5

   The Verdict:

       Great for kids, sucks for gamers.

   The Good: Nearly innovative control (big game companies, take note), nice videos, and hey, it's the Animaniacs.

   The Bad: Game play bites dead bears and the replay value is zilch.

   The Overall Ugly: If you're ten, you may like this. If you're twenty, you may have found a new coaster.

   What it's Worth: $20 (to parents)

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