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The Goods | CYBURBIA

It Won't Strain a Kid's Brain

March 11, 1997|DAVID COLKER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

What do you get when a hard-core gaming company ventures into children's educational software?

The answer is the Dr. Brain CD-ROM series from Sierra-On-Line that claims--on the front cover of its newest title, the Time Warp of Dr. Brain--to be "brain-building." That's a claim that's about as substantiated as those made on late-night infomercials.

But if you can get past this pretentiousness, you will find that the Time Warp of Dr. Brain has one major thing going for it. It's a heck of a lot of fun. And not incidentally, this multi-puzzle CD-ROM is also beautifully designed, witty and addicting.

The opening screen is a clever throwback to vintage video games. You move a stiffly animated Dr. Brain back and forth across the bottom of the screen to avoid dropping bombs while at the same time shooting upward. But instead of aliens, you are aiming for spaceships that will allow you to start a new game, continue a game in progress or change the language in which the game is played from English to French or German.

Once past that, you enter one of 10 puzzles, which range in setting from the Precambrian Era to the far future when humans communicate with brain waves.

The first is Primordial Soup. You play the role of a "good" cell, fighting for survival in molten prehistoric ooze. The game rules and goals are read to you by Dr. Brain, who explains that you must attack enemy cells, eat food to undergo mitosis (cell division), avoid viruses, get around protozoa, beat bacteria to the food sources, etc. It was a lot to take in, but probably nothing too exotic for the experienced gamer (Dr. Brain is aimed at the 12-years-and-older set that seems to have absorbed electronic games along with their first language).

I started to play, but my cells kept getting attacked and eaten before I could build a defense. I decided to move my "skill level" down a notch to make the game easier, and found to my embarrassment I was already at the novice level.

But after a while, even I got to the point where I could rule over my Precambrian world.

In the instruction booklet, it says that while playing Primordial Soup, you'll be "learning about the behavior of primitive forms of life." Right, and my abs will become massive stud muffin material in about a week.

Some of the other puzzles had even less educational value, but I particularly enjoyed Caveman Rock, which calls upon players to re-create a musical selection by putting together, in the right order, mixed-up little fragments of music sounds. It's kind of like an audio jigsaw puzzle.

The last puzzle is Brain Waves, which is a logic game that asks you to match up characters and situations after getting a series of clues in the style of the "Jim is older than Debbie but taller than Bill and doesn't own a dog" postulates popular on SAT exams.

This puzzle surely does, as the booklet says, call upon the player to use "deductive reasoning."

And at the least these puzzles will probably do no harm, except to parents' pocketbooks--the CD-ROM, which works in both Macintosh and Windows formats, costs about $35.

* Cyburbia's e-mail address is david.colker@latimes.com.

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