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3-D Ultra NASCAR Pinball

Company: Sierra Attractions

Suggested Price: $29.95

System Requirements: Pentium 90 MHz or faster (Pentium 166 preferred); Windows 95/98; 16 MB RAM; 50 MB hard drive space (plus 50 MB of free SWAP space); 4X CD-ROM; SVGA with 256 colors; sound card, mouse and keyboard.

I spent more time than I care to remember in college playing pinball at a small restaurant near campus.

Hours of fun for a quarter or so (one pinball machine was particularly easy to beat). Gripping the flipper buttons, giving the machine just enough of a jolt to save the silver ball without tilting, the noise, the flashing lights. Ah, the thrills.

Today, we have pinball on a computer, and most games I've tried fail to match those college experiences. You really don't want to jolt a computer playing a game, after all.

Now I've spent more time than I care to admit playing a computer pinball game _ and really enjoying it.

NASCAR pinball from Sierra had me gripping the mouse as in the old days. The noise is substantial. The premise is a lot of fun.

First, you choose to be one of four drivers: Dale Earnhardt, Bill Elliott, Terry Labonte or Bobby Labonte. You start in the garage, winning points as you "prepare" your car for the race. Then you go to the main track for a qualifying round of a minute and then the race, where you also can go to a pit stop area for another chance to earn points.

In the race, the challenge is not only to keep the ball in play, but also beat the clock. Races last 10 laps, with each lap about 30 seconds. During the race, you can face accidents, oil drums, tires, steering wheels and other assorted obstacles, all with announcers giving a play by play. If you keep going, the score is cumulative, giving you a chance at the championship leader board.

The game includes video footage of each driver, as well as video of racetracks featured on the game, and up to four players can compete in a game.

All in all, it was a good and addictive diversion from Solitaire.

_ Dave Gussow, Times technology editor