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Wednesday, January 10, 2001

Muppet RaceMania

Posted By on Wed, Jan 10, 2001 at 12:00 AM

Midway sent out one immensely appetizing, extremely surprising holiday hors d’oeuvre this season, yet it wasn’t wrapped in Christmas tinsel and fruitful bows. In fact, a uniformed FedEx man delivered the package, protected in sturdy plastic foam and a bulletproof envelope stow.

Being a childhood friend of Jim Henson’s felt creatures, “Muppet Monster Adventure” was at least worth a PlayStation feature. But with 18 levels of pure rollicking fun, time consumption soon became my only worry. See, Kermit’s nephew Robin is the headlining star, destined to save his older Muppet buddies — and, of course, defeat evil fiends in quite a scurry. Yet, many grotesque obstacles hold stance to block his route, like creepy witches, ghoulish penguins and other things furry — furry, no doubt.

To add extra allure to an already delicious game, the Midway crew supplies original voice fame (putting third-rate anime to blistering shame). So Miss Piggy, Gonzo and the rest of the gang play a pivotal role in Robin’s noble quest, keeping hungry gamers under perfect, virtual arrest.

Even Pepe (from that Space movie) is digitized too, aiding Robin on his pursuit with opines and other clues. “Don’t fall in the goo, OK?” the King Prawn counsels, as if he were Yoda and Robin were that dorky Jedi, Luke.

Unfortunately, big surprises only come but once a year, and “Muppet RaceMania” is far from superior. To expect “Mario Kart” caliber is setting high hopes, because when the Muppets drive, they drive with no ropes. Sharp curves, confusing visuals and sensitive controls might cause some gamers to catch a pixilated fever — no less, the videogame mopes.

While even the load screens in “Monster Adventure” are soup de jour, RaceMania still has a pocketful of wrinkles to obscure.

So bravo to Robin and his ghoul-busting guts; and nay to those adolescent kart-racers and their preposterous, tire-rearing dust.

And thanks FedEx man, John Doe, for such an unrivaled show.

Jon M. Gibson investigates the triumphs — and pitfalls — of games and other technological poundcakes. E-mail him at letters@metrotimes.com.

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