CRASH TEAM RACING,
What: Arcade-style, character-driven racing. Details: Nintendo first popularized arcade racing with its Mario Kart Racing, which employed a clever formula: Cast all the characters kids know and love in one game, then them in a competitive situation. Crash Team Racing is the same thing, but for the PlayStation and featuring a dozen or so characters from the Crash Bandicoot series, along with more than 25 tracks to race on. (The developer says this will be Crash's last appearance; we'll miss that spike-haired fellow.) Of the game's five challenging race modes--adventure, versus, time trial, arcade and battle--battle mode may be the most entertaining. In it, players race in arena settings while using various goofy weapons (for instance, a "bowling bomb") spread out across the level to slow the other racers down. Versus mode is also quite impressive; it pits two to four players against each other in split-screen races, in which players not only vie for top position but for the top time. Control is a standout feature here; you can power slide, pull wheelies and spin with the best of them. But in general, Crash Team Racing's gameplay, as entertaining as it gets, is virtually identical to Mario Kart: Players go around tracks and pick up various power-ups or weapons and use them against their fellow racers. Bottom line: One top-notch clone.
-- Tom Ham
WU-TANG CLAN: SHAOLIN STYLE,
What: Fighting game. Details: In one of the odder titles to come around lately, Wu-Tang Clan: Shaolin Style lets players assume the role of any of the nine members of Wu-Tang Clan, the kung-fu flick-loving hip-hop collective from Staten Island. That's right, your chance to crack skulls as RZA or Ol' Dirty Bastard has finally arrived. As a fighting game, this isn't bad stuff, despite a lineup of consistently dreary backdrops. It offers different ways to play; for instance, versus mode, or story mode, requires you to try to rescue the Wu-Tang Clan's master from a rival gang. For fight-game aficionados, the main draw here is having four players fight it out in 3-D at once, but--possibly because of the logistics of fitting four players into the onscreen arena--there are no cool jumping moves here. In addition, the mix of martial arts movies and hip-hop culture make for a more interesting experience that the usual button mashers in the fight genre, and the Wu-Tang soundtrack is way cool. But parents should be warned that this title is plenty bloody; much of the code for this game was recycled from Thrill Kill, a title actually deemed too gory for release. Bottom line: A new definition of beats per minute.
-- Mike Musgrove
PHOTODELUXE HOME EDITION 4.0,
What: Home image editor. Details: As digital cameras and scanners become common, lots of people need to crop, trim, and improve their computer graphics. Adobe, the leader in professional graphics software, has put together a solid introductory package in PhotoDeluxe 4. It can do all the basic image enhancements, like improve contrast or sharpness automatically and fix scratches or red eyes. There's a wealth of clip art and special effects like emboss, drop shadow, perspective, motion blur and a lot more (though it only has one level of undo--very bad if you make two mistakes in a row). You can use your images in calendars, greeting cards, puzzles and other projects, like multimedia slideshows. There's even a simple 3-D feature: You can wrap photos onto three-dimensional objects, then make simple movies with the 3-D shapes. And you can create digital photo albums to organize your pictures, then share them on Adobe's free, private ActiveShare Web site (http://www.activeshare.com). The best part in PhotoDeluxe, however, is its generous portion of handholding, from the gentle learning curve of its simple user interface to templates and guided activities. (The program also offers an advanced-menus option for those who have figured out the basics.) It's one of the few art programs I can recommend to complete computer novices. Bottom line: An easy-to-use palette for digital picture-taking.
-- Daniel Greenberg
Win 95-98, $39
CAPTION: Crash Team Racing: In hot pursuit of Mario Kart 64.