NBA 2K, Visual
What: Basketball simulation. Details: Forget about any other basketball games you've played; once you've tried NBA 2K, you'll chuck them aside. NBA 2K has all the features and options you'd want from a basketball game including all the players, teams and arenas, and visually it's as remarkable as Sega's NFL 2K. These guys simply look real, from the player animations down to the eye movements. In addition to the graphics, NBA 2K has incredible sound. You'll hear everything you'd expect from a real basketball game: the play-by-play announcing, the color commentary, the crowd chants, the music and even trash talking from other players. There is an extensive Create-a-Player feature as well, where players can create their own player and stick him in the game. Aside from the typical face, height and skill level creation, players can alter weight, arm length, body type and facial hair. You can even give your players tattoos if you want to throw your own Dennis Rodman knockoff into the game. The only weakness I noticed was that control in this game isn't as refined as it is in NFL 2K--passing can get confusing at times, for example--but it still gets the job done better than other titles out there. Bottom line: This one makes the competition look like the Washington Wizards in comparison.
$50, Sega Dreamcast
What: Online jukebox. Details: The music site MP3.com has developed a new, innovative, Web-based jukebox--and attracted a legal attack from the recording industry. The idea here is that music lovers can now use this password-protected online music library space to listen to their music wherever they log on to the Internet. One way to build your music-collection stash is to buy an album from one of MP3.com's three partner music sites. You'll still get the CD in the mail, but if MP3.com's database contains the album, you'll be able to listen to it online within minutes after your purchase. (MP3.com has around 40,000 albums stored in its online database, but we still found a hole or two in the collection.) My.MP3.com also offers a service called Beam-it, which checks if an album is in the My.MP3.com database when you pop it into your CD-ROM drive at home. If it is, you'll be able to store this album as part of your online collection. However, this was the worst part of the service when we tried it; the Beam-it software failed to install itself on initial attempts. That failure may be moot, however, if the Recording Industry Association of America has its way. The RIAA alleges that MP3.com's database constitutes "unauthorized" copies of copyrighted material and issued a lawsuit against the Web site last week. Bottom line: This product is more interesting than useful at this point--and whether it survives the courts is another question.
-- Rob Thomason
free at http://My.MP3.com
TYPING TUTOR, Simon & Schuster,
What: Typing program. Details: It's sort of odd typing out a passage from "All the President's Men" to wacky game-show music, but that's one of the exercises offered in this program for the typist-in-training. In addition to various arrays of finger workouts, there are eight games designed to make learning how to type a more painless process. In one, an evident attempt to lure the day trading crowd, you type a stock ticker's numbers as they click across the screen; type fast, kids--your financial future depends on it! Other diversions include a game show where students win by firing out words and a version of Space Invaders where typing the right words quickly can save the world. Thanks to the magic of computers, you can even view graphs between exercises to rate your accuracy for each and every letter on the keyboard. Bottom line: Diverting enough, but between the activities are the same drills anyone who's ever learned to type correctly has probably had to go through.
Win95-98, PowerMac, $30
CAPTION: Typecast? Typing Tutor strives to make keyboarding fun.
CAPTION: Hoop dream: NBA 2K sets the standard for basketball realism.