X2: WOLVERINE'S REVENGE, Activision/Gene Pool

This 3-D action game shares some elements with the new "X2" film -- including the voice (but not likeness) of Patrick Stewart as Professor Xavier -- and has marketing tie-ins such as a free movie pass in the box, but it's based on an original story by "X-Men" comic scribe Larry Hama. It begins by exploring the origins of Wolverine (as voiced by Mark Hamill instead of Hugh Jackman), beginning in 1968, just after he had his adamantium claws and skeleton implants inserted as part of the mysterious "Weapon X" project. But the core game play occurs in the present day, in which Wolverine has 48 hours to infiltrate the Weapon X facility and find a cure for the lethal virus set to go off inside him. The game blends traditional hack-and-slash action with a lot of sneaking around, aided by Wolverine's hyper senses. With his thermal vision and ability to follow smells and sounds, he can creep up on enemies undetected. When his rage meter maxes out, however, stealth goes out the window as Wolverine goes berserk and tears through everything in his way. Throughout the game's 24 levels, allies such as Beast, Colossus and Rogue will help you face the likes of Juggernaut, Omega Red, Sabretooth, Lady Deathstrike, Wendigo and Magneto. The mix of action and suspense will draw in a wide audience, longtime comic fans will find plenty of hidden treasures, and console gamers get a decent combo-move fighting system to toy with. -- John Gaudiosi

GameCube, PlayStation 2, Xbox, $50

POSTAL 2, Whiptail Interactive/Running With Scissors

As the sequel to one of the most controversial games of all time, Postal 2 includes all the over-the-top violence one might expect. But it also has the ingredients of a well-made game. Instead of using the original's weak 2-D interface, Postal 2 treats players to a fully 3-D world, with an effective shooting interface. This Mature-rated game's setup is simple: You have missions to accomplish -- say, getting a quart of milk -- and you get to decide how much violence is necessary. It mixes in a lot of humor, both blatant and subtle (the butterfly ballot glimpsed at a polling place, or your chance to meet and, if desired, off Gary Coleman), but there's no getting around the fact that this game will offend a great many people. How? Let us count the ways: You can use living cats as silencers by holding them in front of your rifle, there are multiple ways to burn people alive, the local Catholic church is attacked by Arab terrorists, and the priests fight back with shotguns and grenades. You recover health by smoking a thinly disguised crack pipe, and your character uses the F-word as a comma. The game even takes the time to slam Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman, an opponent of video-game violence. It is all good, escapist fun, but you might want to wash yourself afterward. -- John Breeden II

Win 98 or newer/Win 2000 or newer, $50

TAO FENG: FIST OF THE LOTUS, Microsoft/Studio Gigante

This game must have seemed a sure thing -- its developers include one of the co-creators of the seminal fighting game Mortal Kombat. What could go wrong? Everything that did. Tao Feng lacks both innovation and compelling game play, with only some briefly impressive graphics in its favor. Most of the time goes by in its Quest Mode (there's no traditional let's-just-fight arcade mode here), in which players pick from a cast of 12 fighters and go on a journey to recover pieces of ancient artifacts that, when joined, grant immortality. The plot actually works here, thanks to the back story the game provides on each character. The game can also look top-notch; characters' appearances change to reflect the beating they're taking in a fight, and environments can be used as a weapon -- you can toss an opponent through a wall or swing around a tree to add force to a kick. Unfortunately, these graphics don't look so attractive once the characters start to move. Fighting games need animations and combo moves that seamlessly blend into one another for smooth game play, things that never happen in Tao Feng. Transition animations never sync up with attacks, combo moves go by too fast or too slow, and the fighters' disjointed, jerky movements during a match just look ridiculous. -- Tom Ham

Xbox, $50

BILL COSBY'S PICTUREPAGES: EARLY LEARNING READINESS SERIES, PicturePages Partnership

Based on Bill Cosby's cartoon series "Picture Pages," which ran as a segment on Captain Kangaroo and then as its own show on Nickelodeon from 1978 to 1992, this CD aims to take preschoolers from their first meeting with a mouse to reasonably advanced reasoning and problem-solving games. Cosby pops up to teach and guide players through 28 games: Youngsters match animals to their sounds, learn left from right, and practice dressing appropriately for the weather. This program isn't as slick as the latest from Knowledge Adventure or Disney; the Baltimore company behind this CD delivers simple but entertaining games and softly drawn characters reminiscent of those on "Sesame Street." But my 3-year-old, Dylan, couldn't get enough of it. Some deeper-than-usual thought went into this software, which borrows from the work of developmental psychologist Jean Piaget (he held that children develop key mental abilities at specific stages, and that timing lessons accordingly yields positive results). An "evaluation engine" tracks auditory discrimination, visual perception and concept formation, among other factors, and prints a progress report at the session's end. This explicitly scholastic focus is unusual in most "educational" software; fortunately, it doesn't get in the way of PicturePages' useful, playful games. -- Hope Katz Gibbs

Win 95 or newer/Win 2000 or newer/Mac OS 8 or newer, $30, ages 3 to 5

X2: Released to go with the movie, but written for fans of the comics. Postal 2 can be fun, but will you respect yourself in the morning? Tao Feng looks good only until its characters start to move. PicturePages: Serious fun for preschoolers.