WWE DAY OF RECKONING, THQ/Yuke's
A professional-wrestling game with a "story" mode seems somehow appropriate, but in Day of Reckoning, this option has nothing to do with staged fights. It's just another name for the usual career mode, in which you start out at the bottom and try to work your way up. This mode puts you on a fairly straightforward path from beginner to champ while offering a quick tutorial on wrestling that lets you add new moves to your repertoire.
This lesson is essential to beginners who might otherwise be perplexed by Day of Reckoning's complicated system of grapple and counter moves, including reversals and counter-reversals. Seasoned wrestling fans, however, will have no problem diving into any of the game's six modes (we weren't exactly surprised to see that in one, female wrestlers can rip off some of each other's clothes in a match). It features 40 World Wrestling Entertainment stars animated in close-up detail -- you can see sweat fly off their bodies as they get hit -- but who sometimes move too stiffly.
The in-game camera automatically zooms in on the action and pans around to give players a TV-like presentation. Superb sound effects help you feel every punch and kick, and a great multiplayer option adds to the challenge. Yes, it's professional wrestling, but sometimes you just have to put on the cheesy costume and get into the ring. -- Tom Ham
DOG'S LIFE, Hip Games/Frontier Developments
Video games have featured such critters as hedgehogs, bandicoots and Tasmanian tigers, but this is the first one to have you play as a canine. You star as Jake, a farm dog on a quest to find recently dog-napped girlfriend Daisy.
Since everything takes place from a dog's-eye view, you hear Jake communicate in words instead of barks -- when a human asks if you want a bone, he'll reply with something like, "Does a dog poop in the woods?" (Speaking of which, the inclusion of that perennially popular dog pastime somehow earned this game a may-not-be-suitable-for-under-13 "Teen" rating, a profoundly silly notion.) Jake can run around a landscape filled with farms and country roads and fields, meeting an assortment of other breeds of dogs as well as those humans.
The developers paid a lot of attention to making dogs look and move realistically, but they seem to have spent less effort on people and scenery. The humans' lip-syncing is especially bad, and Jake's canned responses to their commands grow old quickly. The same goes for the game's basic challenges; Dog's Life's simple puzzles and uncomplicated action are unlikely to keep even young players occupied for long, and there's little to suggest replaying the game.
-- John Gaudiosi
PlayStation 2, $20
This free, open-source program turns Internet radio streams into MP3 files you can listen to on a Mac or an iPod anytime and anywhere -- while you work out, commute or serve on a nuclear sub below the arctic ice. Radio Recorder is as simple to use as iTunes itself; type in a favorite station's Web address or drag a station's link from iTunes into Radio Recorder's window. Then click a "now" button to save it or enter a date, time and duration for a future recording.
The program can capture multiple streams at once, bandwidth permitting, and adds the results to a new playlist in iTunes, ready for a quick sync to an iPod. (You can set it to clean out old recordings.) Radio Recorder's one ironclad requirement is that the station transmit its webcast in streaming MP3 format; RealAudio or Windows Media streams won't work. This is less of an obstacle than you might think, as many stations offer multiple formats. But for the same reason, typing a station's address may not work as well as dragging and dropping its link from iTunes.
Note that if the station doesn't provide artist and title information -- to check, look for that info scrolling by at the top of iTunes' window -- Radio Recorder won't be able to split its stream into individual tracks, instead saving it as one big file. -- Bob Massey
Mac OS X, free at http://u1.netgate.net/~snowcat/RadioRecorder.html
Pencil-thin Barbie won't be confused with a Nobel laureate in this title, but it almost makes her into an entrepreneur. In Fashion Show, big-name designer Cookie McFarland challenges Barbie to create three outfits for an upcoming show; kids then get to design outfits that fit the theme of "School Spirit." As in such art programs as Crayola's Make a Masterpiece, kids start by choosing from a set of basic designs.
Here, they include such items as halter tops, tight capri pants, cheerleading dresses and flirty skirts, all of which can be dressed up with colors, patterns and pictures (for instance, dolphins, megaphones or soccer balls). This Britney-esque wardrobe may not thrill parents, even if it's more modest than what you can see at the mall most days.
When the design is complete, it's off to the fashion show, where Barbie's trademarked buddies Teresa, Christie and Kayla take over. Pick a model, choose her hairstyle, add shoes, and choreograph her trip down the catwalk (kids can pick from a series of 15 poses for the models to perform, including a wink, wiggle and even a yawn). The stage can also be dressed up with props, lights and music. It all seems slightly silly, and at $30 this game is slightly expensive to boot. And yet this program -- which offers multiple levels of play that eventually send kids off to shows in New York and Paris -- did inspire my 9-year-old Anna to buy a sketchbook and start drawing designs of her own.
-- Hope Katz Gibbs
Win 98 or newer, $30,
ages 5 and older