SPIDER-MAN: THE MOVIE, Activision/Treyarch
Software tie-in to movie tie-in to comic-book original.
Don't worry; this game isn't the typical movie-based video-game debacle. Activision's Spider-Man has enough substance to interest people who haven't seen the flick, let alone bought any of the comic books. Simulating Parker doing whatever a spider can isn't the easiest thing in a fully three-dimensional game, but this game gets it right with fluid animations and easy, quick controls for web slinging and wall crawling.
Players are given an arsenal of weapons to take out the Green Goblin and his minions across a living, breathing Manhattan. The scenery includes buildings with real-time reflections, moving vehicles, pedestrians, and even recognizable vistas of New Jersey, Connecticut and Long Island. (The Xbox version, by far the best, takes things beyond the movie with two additional game levels and a new villain, Kraven the Hunter.)
The game's directional audio (you can hear things differently, depending on where you are) is nicely enhanced by voice-over work from movie actors Tobey Maguire, Willem Dafoe and Bruce Campbell. If you get close enough to the street, you can even overhear comments from random New Yorkers about your exploits.
Bottom line: It can leave your spider sense tingling.
Details: Win 95 or newer, $40; GameCube, PlayStation 2, Xbox, $50
SESAME STREET TODDLER, Encore/Sesame Workshop
TV show in a box.
This two-disc program lets toddlers play 25 interactive activities cut and pasted from "Sesame Street" scripts. They can count with Cookie Monster, make animal sounds with Elmo and design art with Big Bird. Dozens of other CDs on the market teach similar skills, but this one has the advantage of those lovable Muppets, and when it comes to attracting kids, familiarity is very important. "Sesame Street" has the added advantage of being there every morning from the time kids are conscious.
Even mom and dad may burst into song when familiar tunes, such as "One of These Things (Is Not Like the Other)" and "The People in Your Neighborhood," pop up on the screen, accompanied by clips from the TV show. Sesame Street Toddler's first disc also comes with a database of nearly 30,000 names. Load it, have your kid type in his or her name and birthday, and throughout the second game disc Big Bird will offer words of encouragement by addressing your child personally. The smiles this alone brings are worth the bargain price.
Bottom line: Characters that pass the test of time.
Details: Win 95 or newer/Win 2000 or newer, $20, ages 2 to 4.
ELDER SCROLLS 3: MORROWIND, Bethesda Softworks
Grand-scale role-playing game.
This is not the game to buy if you're trying to cut down on your CRT time. You could spend weeks just trying to find the 300-plus dungeons hidden throughout Morrowind's vast landscapes. Exploring the dungeons themselves would take still longer.
When you wander into the game's cities and towns, you'll find more than 3,200 non-player characters wandering around for you to meet. And all of the towns -- from dismal swamp villages to magnificent capital cities -- have enough personality and distinctive architecture to fill a Fodor's guide.
But this role-playing game, rendered in a first-person, 3D interface, also stands out for its freedom of action. If your character has the right skills and a good sense of direction, you can pretty much go anywhere. That's not necessarily good; casual gamers won't enjoy this game. Just delving into the sometimes murderous plots hatched by the game's various factions requires the patience and cleverness of old-fashioned, pen-and-paper role-playing titles.
Scratching the surface of Morrowind is generally unsatisfying, but digging deeply into the game reveals its true treasure: a highly realistic world that no other computer game has come close to matching. The game also includes a full construction kit, so gamers with even more patience can build their own world, using the same tools as Bethesda's designers.
Bottom line: Hard work for huge rewards.
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