- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 6, 2003

Here's a look at some hardware and software that's available:
Panzer Dragoon Orta, by Sega for Xbox, rated T: content suitable for ages 13 and older, $49.99. The saga of a dragon-riding hero fighting an evil empire continues in the fourth installment of the Dragoon legend as another completely captivating fantasy adventure.
The series made its debut on the 32-bit Sega Saturn system in 1995 to gushing praise for its 3-D landscapes and 360-degree battle action.
It is defined as an on-rail shooter in video-game circles. The camera resides behind the player's character as the software moves the player forward on predetermined paths think Disney World's Haunted Mansion ride.
In the latest title, the hero is a fair maiden broken out of prison by the most powerful dragon in the world. She and the beast must combine their might to destroy bioengineered creatures that have been born from the forces of the Empire, which hopes to regain its hold of the wondrous civilization created by the Ancients.
Through 10 stages confined to four episodes, the game has the player soar through and above breathtaking river valleys, barren wastelands and underground sewers as he takes on the Empire's deadliest Dragonmares and bosses using homing lasers, a blaster and a lethal berserker attack to cause as much destruction as possible.
I strongly suggest in anticipation of the addictive quality of this shooter that the player start out on the "easy" setting (although it really is not), exercise extremities liberally to avoid cramping and work through the excellent tutorial to learn how to use the weapons (the lasers can lock on multiple enemies by holding the X button and sweeping over targets) and to understand gliding and positioning in a 360-degree landscape.
Suffice to report, the designers take full advantage of the Xbox's powerful graphics capabilities. Many times, I felt as if I had been thrown into a Frank Herbert novel as I battled giant caterpillarlike creatures plunging in and out of water, nipping at the dragon as I maneuvered through a narrow cavern.
Concentration on the tasks at hand became even more difficult while I was flying past translucent waterfalls or trying to terminate an airborne Venus' flytrap that spewed colorful spores as I attempted to stay out of its line of fire. With its art, level of detail and back story, the game easily rivals a Hollywood production.
The unlockable, encyclopedic text-based history should be welcome relief for players seeking to slow down the sensory overload from the constant barrage of opponents and graphic distractions.
Did I mention that the dragon can morph into three forms including the massive heavy wing to engage particularly lethal foes or that those who are proficient at the game can unlock missions using other characters and that those who beat the game are richly rewarded by playing the entire, original Panzer Dragoon?
Clearly one of the best Xbox titles of the new year, Panzer Dragoon Orta will consume players in the mood for dazzling aerial combat.

Rygar by Tecmo, for PlayStation 2, rated T: content suitable for ages 13 and older, $49.99. A burly warrior wielding a spiked yo-yo may not sound like the best of video-game characters to resurrect, but those who remember the side-scrolling arcade epic from 1986 will be very satisfied with the latest chapter of his struggle.
Offering one of the most gorgeous computer-animated opening sequences I have seen in some time and an excellent orchestral score, the game takes one player back to a time when men and gods walked the Earth. Forced to defend his home, Argus, and save the Princess Harmonia, Rygar explores Cecil B. De Mille-like landscapes while slaying Greco-Roman monstrosities to defeat the dark lord Cronus.
The third-person, 3-D roaming title uses sweeping camera angles to focus on the fights with necessities such as collecting icons, upgrading weaponry and smashing tons of museum-quality artifacts to successfully move through underground passages of a coliseum, foliage-surrounded shrines, watery temples and a mountain.
Because I have a low frustration threshold, I always look for the easiest setting possible before jumping into battle. Alas, this game starts all players on "normal," but with a helpful twist. During the encounter with the first boss, a giant living statue called a Hekatonchieres, I had a bit of trouble. After the third failure, a screen popped up asking me if I wanted to use an easy setting. This offer will either assist new players before the blisters pop or mock those who think they are experts.
Of course, one of the highlights of the title revolves around Rygar's prowess with his yo-yo, referred to as Diskarmor. With it and a player's penchant for collecting the right power-ups and pressing the correct combination of buttons on the controller, he can slay pesky biting centipedes or knock off a Cyclops, summon creatures such as the guard dog of Hades, Cerberus, to burn enemies or pulley across a chasm.
Although not as visually seamless as Electronic Arts' Lord of the Rings challenge, Rygar still will attract gamers looking for a classic adventure and a good fight.
Write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002; or send e-mail (jszadkowski
@washingtontimes.com).

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