MORTAL KOMBAT SHAOLIN MONKS, Midway
Just by the title, it's easy to think that Mortal Kombat Shaolin Monks is just another Mortal Kombat game -- but it's so much more than that.
Shaolin Monks is an action adventure game set in the Mortal Kombat universe. Unlike Mythologies: Sub-Zero, which was just miserable, Shaolin Monks implements a robust fighting system, beautiful graphics and a co-op mechanic that is simply brilliant.
The story of Shaolin Monks takes place right after the events in the original Mortal Kombat. After losing in the tournament, the evil Shang Tsung escapes Earthrealm into Outworld. Our heroes, Liu Kang and Kung Lao, venture off to find him and destroy his evil minions in the process. Sure, the setting is a bit of a stretch for a game series that traditionally hasn't offered much in story lines, but this one works.
At its heart, Shaolin Monks is a fighting game. If you've played any Mortal Kombat game in the past, you'll feel right at home.
The game can be played two ways -- as a single player or with a friend. After picking either Liu Kang or Kung Lao, players then set off on the adventure. Single-player mode is pretty straightforward -- players use their basic, special and fatality moves against the plethora of enemies in Earthrealm and Outworld. Shaolin Monks implements a cool fighting engine that allows players to attack in any direction at any given time. In addition, there are puzzles to solve, some platforming elements with plenty of jumping, weapons combat and Boss battles.
But to fully experience Shaolin Monks, play it with a friend -- a grown-up friend.
Co-op mode is reason enough to buy this game. Just watching battles with two warriors throwing around numerous bad guys on screen will make you smile. Throw in special moves such as fireballs, flying kicks and decapitating spinning hats and you have the makings of a pretty cool and fun experience.
The game even has partner combos, where you work with your buddy to execute devastating attacks and throws. As you progress through the game, your characters will learn fatalities and new combination moves. And each character has 10 different fatalities, which is one of the reasons you'll want to keep the game away from small children.
But what we liked most about Shaolin Monks was the vibe and environments of the game. Since the game takes place between MK1 and MK2, players will be able to see areas that were just painted backgrounds in previous games. Players can even knock enemies into spiked ceilings or hurl an enemy onto a swinging hook.
Visually, Shaolin Monks doesn't disappoint. Players are treated to detail-rich environments, smooth player animations and plenty of blood and gore. Although the Xbox version shows off cleaner textures and deeper colors, the PS2 version is no slouch either.
Our only complaint about the game is that it finishes too quickly. We were able to complete it with a friend in two days. However, with hidden objects scattered throughout the game, players will find themselves playing it repeatedly to try to find them all.
-- Tom Ham
PlayStation2, Xbox, $50
WEBRADIO RECORDER, Magix
Listening to streaming radio feeds over the Internet is a great way to catch up on talk shows or music programs from stations around the globe -- especially if you can hear programs that air when you're working hard at the office or sound asleep at home.
Magix's Webradio Recorder makes it possible to record tunes or other programming from online radio stations -- either live or on a schedule -- and transfer those recordings to a portable audio player or blank CD.
The software, which works with a variety of music streams and can even capture multiple streams simultaneously, comes with basic editing functionality -- nothing near what specialty editing software titles offer, but good enough to handle basic trims.
Users can capture long, multi-hour MP3 recordings or have the software automatically save each song as a separate file -- on stations that broadcast track information. But if the tracks are separated, listeners run the risk that the song and track information ill be out of synchronization -- which means that the first few seconds of your recording will be missing, most likely stuck on the tail end of the previous track.
To help users fix this, Webradio Recorder includes a tool to manually adjust the beginnings and ends of songs before saving them as separate files.
In addition, users can set a recording filter to keep music by artists they want or eliminate artists they'd rather not hear. A time shift mode will record in the background so you can "rewind" the radio station, much like what TiVo does for television.
The software includes direct links to more than 2,000 Internet radio stations. Advanced users who know how to find the Web addresses for the stream feeds can also add new stations to the already large list.
Look out for the bizarre station groupings, though. U.S.-based folk stations are classified under the Country category, even though there is a Folk category -- where you'll find World Folk music only.
Overall, Webradio Recorder is a good way to record your favorite programming -- maybe a late-night dedication music show or an early-morning sports chat show -- and listen on the way to the office, either by sliding a homemade CD into the car stereo or playing through the headset of your portable music player.
-- Daniel Greenberg
Windows 98 or newer, $29.95