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Original Issue


In the quarter century since the introduction of Pong, sports
video games have come of age. Now you can buy computer
simulations of everything from fishing (Trophy Bass 2 by Sierra,
CD-ROM for PC, $54.95) to snooker (Virtual Snooker by Interplay,
CD-ROM for PC, $39.95). The real New York Jets may be hapless,
but who cares when you can turn them into virtual winners on a
video screen? For this holiday season, there is an excellent
selection that will impress even the most techno-hip fans.

The best of the bunch is NBA Live '97 (Electronic Arts, CD-ROM
for PC, Sony PlayStation and Sega Saturn and Genesis, $59.95).
Crisply animated and attentive to the tiniest detail, this
engrossing hoops simulation is astounding. The image of every
player in the NBA (except for Michael Jordan and Charles
Barkley, who have licensing deals separate from the league's)
has been faithfully reproduced, right down to Dennis Rodman's
Day-Glo hair. The game's playbook has more than 50 options and
uses seven offensive and five defensive sets, allowing you
enormous coaching flexibility. (You can even get whistled for
illegal defense.) To animate the players, programmers asked
Sacramento Kings guards Mitch Richmond and Tyus Edney to run
through a series of basketball moves while wearing special
sensors on their bodies. Their motions were converted into
digital information and programmed into the movements of the
video characters. The result: smoothly flowing on-court action
that's almost as enjoyable to watch as it is to direct.

Since its debut in September, Nintendo's powerful new video-game
machine, the Nintendo 64, has probably set as many records for
hype as for sales. Luckily, Wayne Gretzky's 3D Hockey (Midway
Home Entertainment, for Nintendo 64, $74.95), so far the only
sports game available for the N64, shows off the system at its
best. Taking advantage of the machine's cutting-edge technology,
Gretzky's 3D spins hockey action at a breakneck pace, capturing
the speed and power of the sport. Gretzky's 3D keeps the action
lively and distinct with crystal-clear graphics and some Fox
Television broadcast innovations, such as a glowing puck and the
rocket trail that illuminates a shot on goal.

MLB Pennant Race (Sony, for Sony PlayStation, $50) is designed
for the obsessive-compulsive baseball fan. This superior
simulation features all 28 major league teams, along with more
than 700 players, complete with their statistical profiles. You
can play a season's worth of games, and the program will track
player and team statistics. Every major league stadium has been
faithfully re-created, as have every team's home and road
uniforms. Pennant Race is so believable that you half expect
your computerized players to go on strike in midseason.

For football devotees there is Madden NFL '97 (Electronic Arts,
CD-ROM for PC, Sony PlayStation, Super Nintendo and Sega Saturn
and Genesis, $59.95), with more than 100 past and present NFL
teams, 500 offensive and defensive plays and all 30 NFL
stadiums. Fluid three-dimensional animation makes the players
run, tackle, pass and celebrate like their real-life
counterparts. The playbook offers a vast array of strategic
options. And the look and feel of the game are almost
indistinguishable from an NFL broadcast: James Brown introduces
each contest, and John Madden and Pat Summerall do color and
play-by-play. Finally, there is a general-manager function that
lets you create your own teams and even customize players.

Imagine a sports-themed Jeopardy! staged by MTV, with questions
written by Jerry Seinfeld, and you'll have an idea of what You
Don't Know Jack Sports (Berkeley Systems, CD-ROM for PC and
Macintosh, $30) is like. This trivia game has the same witty
style and pop sensibility as its nonsports predecessor, You
Don't Know Jack. A typical question: "At Woodstock, Jefferson
Airplane challenges the Grateful Dead to a volleyball game. What
does it mean if the referee flashes a peace sign?" (Answer:
Grace Slick touched the ball twice.) The best thing about Jack
Sports is that it transforms video-gaming from an isolating
experience into a social activity. What more could you ask from
a video game--or, for that matter, from sports?

Albert Kim is a staff editor at Entertainment Weekly, for which
he covers multimedia.

ELECTRONIC ARTS The makers of NBA Live '97 used sensors to record Richmond in action and then digitized the images. [Mitch Richmond doing lay-up in sensor-equipped suit]