The holiday season is here, and that means people are looking for entertainment software.
Computer games are great gift values because they're relatively inexpensive, and the good ones will provide weeks, months and even years of pleasure.
Last week we dealt with sports and flight games. Today we'll talk about arcade games, adventures, fantasies and other goodies. While many of today's games are designed for adults or teen-agers, there are still a handful that will appeal to kids of all ages.
Disney's Hare Raising Havoc defines an entirely new genre -- the interactive cartoon. Your job is to help Roger Rabbit track down Baby Herman in a hilarious series of misadventures. Superb animation and the delightful, slapstick solutions to Roger's problems make this game a unique experience.
Hint: Think like a cartoon character, not a human.
If you've ever wondered why you can't get your $2,000 PC to work like your kids' $100 Nintendo, wonder no more. The Commander Keen and Duke Nukem series from Apogee Software give Mario & Company a race for the money.
Colorful graphics and lightning-fast, multilevel action will make these games favorites with the kids. They'll identify particularly well with the Commander Keen series, whose hero is is an 8-year-old who saves the galaxy in a spaceship made up of spare parts. And can anyone resist an episode called "Aliens Ate My Babysitter?"
Unlike games sold through stores, Apogee's offerings are distributed as shareware. The first game in each series is available free or for a nominal charge on electronic bulletin boards, on-line services such as Compuserve, and through shareware companies that sell software for a couple of bucks a disk. To get the remaining episodes, you have to register your software directly with Apogee for $30. These games are well done and a real value.
My kids also loved Dick Tracy, a Disney action-adventure that puts you in control of the famous cartoon detective as he roams the streets of the city in search of the strip's famous rogue's gallery of criminals. Super voice and sound effects (if you have a sound board) make this one a standout.
There's nothing that turns grown men into pimple-faced adolescents quicker than the prospect of getting behind the wheel of a fast car.
If you want to do it legally, try Mario Andretti's Racing Challenge (Electronic Arts), which gives you the chance to build a career on six different pro racing circuits in everything ranging from sprint cars to Indy 500 beasts. Each step up the ladder means a new car and new skills, which makes this game a challenge to the reflexes.
For yuppie juvenile delinquents, Accolade's Test Drive III remains a favorite. The idea is take the wheel of the world's most exotic street cars and drive from one point to another as fast as you can without getting a ticket or killing anyone. Detailed graphics and a wide choice of add-on car and scenery disks will keep your interest.
If you long for the days of muscle cars and greasy garages, Street Rod 2 from Electronic Arts takes you back to the heavenly drag-racing days of 1969. Tune up your Shelby GT, buzz the drive-in, pick up an opponent, and race for money or pink slips on the streets of Los Angeles.
When you get enough money, you can buy better parts or a new car and build your reputation till you're ready to challenge the King for the street championship of the city. No redeeming social value, just fun.
For adults and older kids who take their entertainment seriously, the shelves this season are crammed with simulations and role-playing games that can keep players absorbed for months.
The most striking and original of these are Sim Earth, Sim City and the newest release, Sim Ant, all from Maxis Software.
These simulations allow you to build your own little corner of civilization from scratch and manage it over periods that range from days to millennia.
Requiring constant decision making, with real-life consequences, these are fascinating, instructive and addictive programs that stretch the mind. Don't buy them if you like to sleep at night.
Likewise, Sid Meier's Civilization and Railroad Tycoon from MicroProse are designed to test your imagination, organizational skills and determination.
We've spent more than a little time with Railroad Tycoon, which takes you back to the 19th century, when the country's transportation networks were being built.
If you're talented enough at buying land, laying track, setting up schedules, floating bond issues and beating the competition, you can become a robber baron without ever leaving your desk.
Fantasy adventures have been a staple of entertainment software since the dawn of computing. These games have come a long way from the days when you typed in a few crude commands such as "Get Sword" or "Kill Troll" and hoped the program understood what you meant.
Advances in graphics, animation and artificial intelligence programming have turned these adventures into multimedia epics.