fun and more – games short list for Xmas (1999)

by Roger Frost, TES

Lego Racers (age 8+ £39.99) is a racing game plus. You can expect all the thrills of a very good racing theme: great model cars, Lego themed tracks and the now essential ‘3D’ graphics where you view the race from all sorts of angles. The fresh dimension in this high adrenalin game, is that you not only choose a car and a driver you can actually construct them yourself. Doing well means learning the vagaries of each track while winning means picking up ‘power bricks’ to gain a turbo boost, or drop an oil slick on the track. Winning earns the good bits from the other player’s cars including the great Joan of Cart’s. Thoroughly good fun in a humorous world of bricks
· Though it’s one of few ‘girls’ games, Lego Friends (age 5-12 £24.99) easily beats all the boy’s. This creative title mixes song making, choreography and a storyline as you join a band preparing for a big gig at school. You use a music track sequencer to arrange voice, drum, guitar and other sounds along a timeline. Then with the sounds moved around until it sounds fine, you use a dance sequencer and drop jazzy twists, turns and head twirls to suit the tune. All this takes place against a backdrop of chat, rehearsals, sleep-overs and telephone calls between your cartoon friends on screen. There are places to write about your adventures, take pictures for a scrapbook and a place to store your secrets! If you like music and dancin’, this has it in a wonderfully original package.

Cosmopolitan Fashion Makeover is in an entirely different vein. Enter your measurements and see virtual ‘you’ onscreen. It’s not just vanity either – there’s figure-specific advice on the fashions that suit and lots about dressing for different occasions. And then it’s time to try on clothing ranges actually in the shops. You can also go to the Internet and rummage for new clothes – and in the US edition you can actually buy them. For added realism, this ‘Fashion’ title lets you import your face from Cosmopolitan Virtual Makeover 2 where you can similarly experiment with hairstyles and makeup. Due out early next year, this latter title is expected to come bundled with a digital camera, all for an estimated £70. At any price, this is another original.

For an enjoyable mix of story, fantasy and science Masters of the Elements (age 8+ £19.99) is a must see. It is an adventure dealing with time, gravity, light and electricity with a story that unfolds as you wander through a castle. Much depends on working out puzzles, experimenting, wiring up things and even juggling. It is challenging, really canny and my favourite home title with a science theme. It comes from Tivola, a brand noted for its distinctive hand drawn, hand coloured graphics to match a child’s book. For something closer to school see Millie Metre’s Adventures in the Giant’s Belly (age 8+, £19.99). Complete with classroom materials, this all-narrated, cartoon tour of the digestive system and conveyor belts of the intestine is wacky and memorable.

And not forgetting the pre-schoolers, see these from this years best, prices £20-£25

Bananas in Pyjamas – It’s Party Time (Dorling Kindersley, age 2-6). Fun and games with the two crazy banana shaped characters from Channel 4 TV and featuring unusually crisp and credible animation.

Thomas and Friends – Festival adventure (Hasbro, age 3-5) Tour the island of Sodor with Thomas the tank engine. You can sponge him over in the engine shed, oil his wheels, and help him prepare for a festival day. Neat, interactive play with a band you can control, printing out and colouring.

Noddy – Let’s Get Ready For School (BBC, age 3-6) is the best from the BBC in a long while, truly great large animated graphics with activities on numbers, sequencing and more, set at different levels for more mileage.

Microsoft Football 2000 – so lifelike it’s lifelike. Not only can you change teams, you can change players bodies, the stadium and even the weather. Great action on the pitch with atmospheric stereo sound and cleverly, interactive match commentary.

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