Multimedia's Latest Hits

GAMES NOW AVAILABLE FOR 3DO'S Multiplayer are part of a virtual tidal wave of interactive games that have come out in the last year for both videogame players and personal computers. Some are just for fun, but many belong to the fast-growing ""edutainment'' category -- they're meant to have some educational value. The array of choices can be dizzying, starting with the hardware. In terms of price, the Multiplayer ($499) falls between most videogame players (generally under $200) and multimedia personal computers (more than $1,000). If you just want to have a little fun zapping bad guys, the game boxes are fine. Some game developers have also come out with children's programs that have a little more content. Many of these are in fact video-game versions of popular computer games, such as the Carmen Sandiego series, a geography game.

Although these games are a good alternative for parents who want their kids to get a little more out of the machine, they're generally not as high quality as the personal-computer versions. Despite the higher price of the hardware, the computer may be the best bet for many families, especially those with school-age children, because the PC is the most versatile machine and has the widest range of software.

Aside from worrying about the entertainment quality, parents are also concerned about the violence quotient in games. LeeAnne McDermott, editor in chief of PlayRight, a new magazine aimed at ""parents of video game players,'' suggests checking boxes for ratings (both 3DO and Sega have their own rating systems). You can also preview videogames by renting them before buying. Few computer-software retailers allow customers to pretest programs before buying so word of mouth is probably still the most accurate way to find out if a program is suitable for a particular age.

Here's a quick guide to some of the best new stuff:

The most attractive programs for the Multiplayer combine imaginative game content with a level of video and sound usually found only in personal-computer software. The best of the lot may be John Madden Football (Electronic Arts, $59.95), which boasts the sportscaster in his accustomed role. Users get to play coach and can even pit championship teams from the past against each other. Another imaginative program is The Horde (Crystal Dynamics, $59.99). It's a descendant of fantasy-oriented videogames, but with a live-action twist. In the opening sequence, Kirk (""Growing Pains'') Cameron stars as Chauncey, a medieval serving boy who saves the king's life and embarks on a quest to thwart the evil High Chancellor. Twisted, a bizarre game show (Electronic Arts, $59.95), is good for parties. Up to four players are contestants. The host, Twink Fizzdale, is the sanest character; the others act like rejects from a genetic-engineering experiment. Weird, but very entertaining.

For personal-computer games with a higher educational content, a good bet is the 3-D product line from this California software developer. Users don 3-D glasses (just like in the 1950s movies) to view images that seem to pop out of the monitor. It's a gimmick, but an appealing one to kids who have grown up on special effects. Bug Adventure (PC disc, $49.95; PC CD-ROM, $69.95) capitalizes on kids' fascination with creepy, crawly things. Along with games that teach about the insect world, there are movies of bugs and a bug lab (viewed with the 3-D glasses). It's labeled for 3- to 8-year-olds, but it's easy enough for parents to use as well. Two other science-oriented programs appeal to older children. 3-D Body Adventure is a tour of the human body (PC disc, $49.95; PC CD-ROM, $69.95) and Science Adventure II (PC CD-ROM, $79.95) includes movies, games and simulated experiments. The rollercoaster ride, for example, is really a demonstration of acceleration and speed.

A colorful beach-oriented game for summer is Odell Down Under (MECC PC and Mac, $59.95). Players can choose from more than four dozen exotic fish (such as the Neon Damsel or the Pygmy Parrotfish) or design their own fish with special attributes for surviving in the deep waters surrounding Australia's Great Barrier Reef, including the ability to squirt ink and produce electric shocks. It's marked for age 9 to adult, but probably would be a little too hard for most children under 10.

History games have always been a staple of edutainment software, es-pecially for teenagers and adults. Interplay's Castles II: Siege & Conquest (Interplay Productions, PC and Mac, $59.95) puts the player in the role of a medieval baron fighting for the throne of France. Gamers will like devising the strategy, but there's also BBC documentary footage on the history of castles and build-your-own-castle components (sort of like playing in the sand without the mess and the sunburn).

When Broderbund's Kid Pix came out in 1991, it immediately became a favorite of every children's software critic. It's basically a drawing program with a creative array of on-screen tools (all with accompanying sound). Broderbund later added two auxiliary products, Kid Pix Companion and Kid Cuts. Now, Kid Pix 2 includes an updated version of the original program plus Kid Pix Companion in one package. At $40 for Mac, DOS and Windows versions, it's still an excellent first buy for families new to personal computers. Kid Pix keeps most youngsters busy for months. Parents will like playing with it, too, if they ever get their own turn at the computer.