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"Gaia,' "Bubsy' rate as two of fall's best games

Games are dropping in our laps faster than leaves from trees _ time for a round-up of the best fall has to offer:

Illusion of Gaia, for Super NES _ This is a Zelda-like action/role player that'll keep you glued to the tube for hours. You're Will, a young explorer who's ready to adventure around the world in search of excitement and mystery.

The graphics here are crystal-clear and the action's just a hair below Zelda's hair-raising level. In fact, our only complaint about this game is it's a little too easy to avoid bad guys, and the battling gets a bit repetitious. But don't worry about that _ you'll be too busy solving puzzles and searching for clues to notice. Ratings: Violence factor 2; kid (under 7) 6; mid-kid (7-12) 9; teen (13-18) 9; big kid (over 18) 8

Bubsy 2, for Genesis and Super NES _ He's ba-aaack. America's punniest furrball returns for a second adventure that's twice as much fun as the first. There are more levels to explore, more secrets, bonus rounds (like a hilarious frog toss) and more awful puns _ like a level, set in Egypt, called King of De-Nile _ get it? VF 1; K 9; MK 9; T 9; BK 9

Urban Strike, for Genesis and Super NES _ This is the third installment in one of our favorite series. The Madman from the first two games is gone, but he's been replaced by a political renegade with a legion of followers. He has enough dough to raise his own super-equipped army, and he's threatening American cities with terrorist actions.

All you gotta do to stop him is hop in your chopper and take on this nut's entire army. Good luck _ and good hunting. VF 4; K 4; MK 9; T 9; BK 9

Shaq-Fu, for Genesis and Super NES _ Wait a minute, isn't Shaq a basketball player? Oh well _ guess he's versatile. This one's a martial arts brawler featuring America's biggest basketball player. Where he got the hand-to-hand skills we don't know (must have been on those drives to the basket), but it doesn't really matter. This one's fun for Shaq fans or fight fans. VF 5; K 6; MK 9; T 9; BK 7

Blackthorne, for Super NES _ Shades of Flashback! This is one hot game. As if you couldn't tell, it plays a lot like Flashback, one of our all-time faves. The character movement and action is as smooth and real as it gets in videoland. This one's not as tricky as Flashback, but there's more action.

You're Kyle Blackthorne, exiled to Earth and now ready to return home and save your once-peaceful planet. Grab your gun and blast and think your way through level after tricky level. VF 4; K 3; MK 9; T 9; BK 9.

Inside tips

Don't ignore bad guys in Illusion of Gaia, even though it's easy to do. Some of them hold secrets to the next level, so off 'em all.

In Bubsy II, any time you see water, look nearby for a deep sea diving suit. Find it and you can explore the uncharted depths for power-ups.

In Urban Strike, use these passwords: CNHLGBR4NBF; ZLGBWD3PFZD; 9BWDR6MJYNM; NDR63P7VZLT; H63PMJT4SYL. Those'll get you halfway through the game, and we'll give you more later.

In Shaq-Fu, to make Shaq throw a shuriken, press forward, backward, forward and A on Genesis, and forward, backward, forward and X or Y on Super NES. For Shaq's inferno kick, press down, forward, then C for Genesis, and down, forward then A or B for Super NES.

In Blackthorne, use these level codes: QP7R; RRYB; XJSN; CGDM; TJ1F; GSG3.

Got a question, an inside tip you'd like to share? Write to Chip and Jonathan Carter in care of X-Press, the Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.