screenshot from "Myst IV: Revelation"
Ubi.com
If you like the sort of game that demands thought over reflex, you'll enjoy "Myst IV: Revelation."
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updated 6/1/2005 6:14:23 PM ET 2005-06-01T22:14:23

With a trio of new consoles on the way in the next year and a half, many gamers are already pinching pennies. But the expense of moving into the next generation may involve more than just springing for the hardware. There's a good chance games will get more expensive too, with some rumblings about $70 software for the PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360.

Some games will be worth it. ("Halo 3," anyone?) Most games won't. (If you waste $70 on another Tony Hawk game, you have only yourself to blame.) But of course the same is true now, when games generally cost $40-$50. For 100-plus hours of fun, "Gran Turismo 4" is a steal at $50. You'd pay the same price for "Dragon Ball Z: Sagas," which maybe offers 100 seconds of fun.

It's refreshing, then, that you can still walk into a store and pick up a decent game for $20 or less. It may be used or it may be two or three years old. (If you haven't played "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time" yet, you're in for a treat.) To be honest, some $20 games — like the loathsome "Narc" — are dogs.

But sometimes a manufacturer realizes it has a niche item on its hands, a low-profile gem that can't command a $50 purchase like the new "Legend of Zelda." They're the sort of cult items that might find a larger audience with a $20 price tag. Here are a few hidden treasures on your game store's bargain shelf:

"Myst IV: Revelation" (Ubisoft, for the Xbox): "Myst" blew a lot of people's minds back in 1995, thanks to its breathtaking graphics and bewildering challenges. The series hasn't evolved much, though, and what was dazzling 10 years ago seems kind of stodgy today. The images, while gorgeous, are still mostly static, and the core of the game remains the same: devilish mechanical puzzles. Still, if you like the sort of game that demands thought over reflex, you'll enjoy "Revelation."

It begins in the land of Tomahna, where Atrus — a familiar face from the previous games — gives you your initial tasks. Then it's on to other, more dangerous worlds, where Atrus has exiled his treacherous sons, Sirrus and Achenar. They've disappeared, though, and you need to sort through the clues they've left behind to figure out what they're up to. "Myst IV" is a good old-fashioned adventure, where the pleasure comes from opening up new worlds rather than destroying them.

"Phantom Dust" (Majesco, for the Xbox): "Phantom Dust" mixes a 3D fighting game with a role-playing game with a collectible card game — which sounds like a potential disaster, but turns out to be pretty amusing. A mysterious dust has settled across the planet and most of humanity has been driven underground. Your mission is to return to the surface, fight off mutants and rescue the remaining humans.

Each battlefield is dotted with floating spheres, which contain skills you can assign to different controller buttons. After you win battles, you return underground to collect your rewards and buy new skills. The story and the fighting are intriguing enough, but "Phantom Dust" will appeal most to players who haven't outgrown the "collect-'em-all" urge they developed from "Pokemon." With 300 skills available, it can take a while to complete the set. Once you've filled out your arsenal, you can take it online to see how you match up against other humans.

"Raze's Hell" (Majesco, for the Xbox): The land of Kewtopia is a pastel-colored paradise, and its leader has decided to spread the joy to its neighbors. Unfortunately for them, anyone who resists the criminally adorable Kewletts will have to be destroyed.

screenshot fro "Raze's Hell"
Majescoentertainment.com
For a shoot-em-up, "Raze's Hell" boasts a deliciously twisted sense of humor.
Raze, a hideously deformed monster, is the only creature who can stand in the way of the relentless cutification plan. For a shoot-em-up, "Raze's Hell" boasts a deliciously twisted sense of humor, even taking a few shots at the Iraq war. (When Raze returns to his devastated homeland, he feels "shock and awe.")

Your weapons — which are really bugs that Raze eats and then spits out — range from spikers, which behave like machine gun ammo, to bloaters, which turn enemies into balloons that float helplessly into the heavens. While "Raze's Hell" is a fairly straightforward shooter that could have used a bit more polish, it's filled with gags that will make you laugh out loud.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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