Say you're a busy working mother with little time to find those ideal holiday gifts for your sports-minded, technologically enlightened family. Your needs are specific. When your husband isn't fishing for sports programs on cable, he's gleefully playing with his new multimedia computer. And when your kids aren't programming the VCR for Dad, they're mastering every known video game. So you must find the perfect sports video game/CD-ROM/accessory this Christmas, or you'll hear endless moaning and whining. And the kids will be disappointed too.
Fear not. Here is a guide to the best new electronic sports titles—great gifts for the techno-hip sports fan.
FIFA International Soccer (Electronic Arts, $59.95). This outstanding soccer simulation is available for a number of different formats, including Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis and PC CD-ROM, but it is the 3DO version that will have you lifting your jaw off the floor. This is simply the best sports video game ever made. Forget that you couldn't tell the difference between a sweeper and a broom if your Beckenbauer depended on it. The stunningly realistic 3-D graphics, the flawlessly engineered Dolby "surround sound" and the fast-paced game play will have you yelling Gooooo-al!
Slam City with Scottie Pippen (Digital Pictures, $59.95). A playground basketball game for the Sega CD and PC CD-ROM, Slam City is a cleverly stitched-together interactive movie. Instead of playing against animated characters, you make your moves with video footage of real players. By timing your responses to what is taking place on-screen, you can force a number of filmed outcomes: a basket, a slam, a rejection, etc. The real fun lies in the, uh, colorful and witty exchanges between players, which give this game a gritty urban feel.
Front Page Sports: Baseball '94 (Sierra On-Line, $59.95). For you poor, deprived baseball fans, here is a realistic and highly flexible game for the IBM PC, one that will never quit on you in the middle of an exciting season. Baseball '94 is a statistically sophisticated and graphically detailed simulation. You will be busy for hours as you figure out how low Greg Maddux's ERA might have been or how the Cleveland Indians really would have finished the season.
Batter Up (Sports Sciences, $69.99). For you poor, deprived baseball fans, here's a way to act out some childhood fantasies. Batter Up is an interactive baseball bat. That's right, this 24-inch foam-covered plastic bat hooks up to your Sega Genesis or Super Nintendo system and lets you take cuts against the teams of your choice. O.K., so this isn't true virtual reality: The bat doesn't sense swing speed or location, only timing. But you would be surprised at how well real-life batting principles hold true: You'll do better if you keep your eye on the ball and your head steady, and if you play in hitter-friendly parks with short rightfield porches.
NHL '95 (Electronic Arts, $64.95). For you poor, deprived hockey fans, here's the best imitation of NHL action since the Hartford Whalers first took the ice more than 20 years ago. NHL '95, available for the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo stems, re-creates every detail of :he NHL: players, teams, logos, even rink organ music. The game's controls are satisfyingly precise. You feel as though you are skating on the ice and taking part in the action, which is more than can be said for NHL players his season.
Live Action Football (Accolade, $69.95). This PC CD-ROM game is perfect for all you armchair Don Shulas. You send in plays from the sidelines and then watch a filmed outcome. Real players (on loan from the Arena Football League's Orlando Predators) were filmed as they ran dozens of plays for the game. These clips, along with play-by-play commentary from Al Michaels and Pat Haden, give this program the authentic look and sound of a network telecast. All it lacks are beer and car commercials.
Virtua Racing Deluxe (Sega, $69.99). Racing simulations are a dime a dozen. What separates this Sega Genesis game 'from the pack are outstanding graphics, accelerated play and an adjustable driving perspective that allows you to manuever as you watch from either inside, behind or above your car. Note: To play you need Sega's new 32X hardware attachment for the Genesis, and that will set you back an additional $159.99. Air bags optional.
Fingertip for Golf and Fingertip for STATS (Starcore, $129 and $99, respectively). These aren't really games, but they are two compelling reasons to purchase an Apple Newton. The Newton is Apple's "personal digital assistant," a handheld computer that relies on a stylus for input rather than a keyboard. The Fingertip programs are special sports software designed exclusively for the Newton.
Fingertip for Golf is a golf scoring program that's meant to be taken to a golf course and used in place of a scorecard. At the end of a round, the program lets you know not only your score but also such stats as putts per round, total penalty strokes and the number of times you use a particular club. Over several rounds, it will calculate your handicap and reveal playing tendencies. It's even programmed with more than 100 common golfing wagers, so it can keep track of your bets. No, it won't cheat for you.
Fingertip for STATS is an electronic baseball scorecard that you can take to the ballpark and use to score a game. It also gives you instant access to a full array of player and team statistics. Using the Newton's built-in modem, you can download daily box scores, team standings, schedules, injury reports and just about everything but Tommy Lasorda's pasta recipes.
Complete NBA Basketball (Microsoft, $49.95). Last year Microsoft released Complete Baseball, the essential building block in any sports fan's CD-ROM library. Now comes the next piece. Complete NBA Basketball uses the same excellent interface as its predecessor, giving you stats on every player and team in history, detailed profiles and articles written by NBA staffers or taken from The New York Times, video highlights, audio clips of famous play-by-play calls and a daily on-line update. If Dr. James Naismith could only see how far his peach basket and soccer ball have come....
The IntelliPlay Sports Line (Intellimedia Sports, $34.95 to $59.95). One of the great promises of multimedia software is its potential as an instructional tool. CD-ROMs make videos as accessible as books; if you're having trouble with your lag putting, a multimedia golf program will immediately let you see an appropriate lesson. Traditional videotapes must be watched in the usual fashion or scanned clumsily for the right material.
Intellimedia Sports has developed an excellent line of multimedia instructional titles that allow you to receive in-depth lessons from some of the top names in several sports. Learn from Tom Kite how to lower your golf score, have Tracy Austin improve your tennis game or listen to Ozzie Smith talk about baseball fundamentals. There are also soccer, beach-volleyball and aerobics titles, and in the works are basketball and fly-fishing programs.
Mayo Clinic Sports Health and Fitness (IVI Publishing, $59.95). This fitness guide, prepared by the Mayo Clinic in collaboration with ESPN, offers articles and videos on anatomy, nutrition, injuries and equipment. But what makes this program unique is its "personal trainer" component. Start the disc, and ESPN's Jimmy Roberts questions you about your lifestyle and health goals. He guides you through a "physical exam," after which the program generates a personalized exercise regimen and tracks your progress daily. It's not exactly like having fitness guerrilla Susan Powter screaming in your ear, but it's a start.
The Playboy Interview (IBM Multimedia Publishing, $59.95). Not a sports title per se, this CD-ROM is a compilation of all 352 "Playboy interviews" the magazine published from 1962 to '92. Still, the CD merits space on a sports fan's hard drive because of the 30 or so sports subjects it includes. The disc offers only a small amount of video footage and a sampling of audio clips, but the interviews themselves will engross you for hours. Two highlights are Alex Haley's 1964 interview with Cassius Clay, and the astounding irony of O.J. Simpson's words: "I never really thought about being a husband. That's hard for a free spirit like me."
Pippen talks trash in "Slam City," but hoop history is pretty clean in "Complete NBA Basketball."
[See caption above.]
"FIFA International Soccer" is a real keeper. "Live Action Football" makes any day Sunday.
[See caption above.]
Albert Kim is a staff writer for Entertainment Weekly magazine.