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2 Cool Software Titles for 'Tweeners'

Games Tuned In to the 9-to-12 Bunch

November 16, 2000|JINNY GUDMUNDSEN | jinny@choosechildrensoftware.com

"Tweeners" describes children in that sensitive period between 9 and 12 years old when they are neither little children nor teenagers. They are somewhere in between.

Creating software for tweeners is a tricky business. They do not want titles they perceive as too young. They want to be cool and hip, so the software needs to satisfy this desire. That said, the software's game play cannot be too sophisticated or it will pass them by. Also, it is very important to tweeners that their software be fun.

Two titles that do a great job of addressing the needs and desires of tweeners differ widely in their approach, but both create environments that are hip to explore, fun to play and a challenge to the intellect.

In "Cluefinders Search & Solve Adventures," kids investigate an abandoned amusement park, and in the Code Head series, children participate in a wild and wacky quiz show.

"Cluefinders Search & Solve Adventures"

Four children intercept an SOS signal coming from inside an abandoned amusement park and decide to investigate. So starts the latest mystery software starring the Cluefinders, a group of youngsters who help kids develop critical thinking skills through puzzles and other challenges.

Players join this group of brainy and hip investigators as they enter the amusement park and find the curator of the local art museum locked in a seat of a dilapidated ride. Promising to rescue him, the Cluefinders explore the spooky park in search of the electricity source.

To power up the park and rescue the curator, the Cluefinders need the player's help in tackling four logic games. As players win the games, they are awarded keys that unlock the park's generator.

The logic games include:

* Deducing patterns inside a vending machine using colors and shapes.

* Throwing paint balls at objects that don't fit a pattern.

* Filling a 3-by-3 grid with bumper cars that follow specific rules regarding attributes of those cars.

* Stacking crates so that the word written on the bottom crate is one letter different from the word written on the crate placed above it.

After they power up the park, the plot thickens as two members of the Cluefinders team mysteriously disappear. Players explore more logic games in appealing places such as the Haunted House or the Log Ride to rescue the missing detectives.

"Cluefinders" deserves praise because it combines the best elements of good tweener software. It blends high-level thinking skills with an engaging story line. The game's mysteries contain just the right amount of suspense and scariness to keep children interested. The nine logic activities are fun and adapt to a child's ability so that they remain challenging but doable.

In addition to the CD containing the mystery, the box contains an additional CD called "The Real World Adventure Kit," which extends play by providing several fun detective activities such as code-making, sound transforming and map-making.

The shortcoming of this title is that it has a static story line. When you play the mystery a second time, the story stays the same--only the activities change. However, since there are nine activities with four levels of difficulty each, there is still plenty of replay value.

Code Head Series

Knowledge Adventure has just released two titles in its Code Head series. Riding the quiz show craze started by "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire," Code Head games present academic quiz shows with an attitude. "Code Head: X-Treme Culture" focuses on history, geography and language arts questions, and "Code Head: Calculated Risk" explores math, technology and science.

The format of each title is the same. Children play three rounds of five questions each. There are nine types of questions that randomly appear. Players can compete against the computer, a friend on the same computer or over the Internet. The host provides explanations for answers to most questions.

This series works well with tweeners because it is edgy. Players get to create their own avatar from several goofy options. The interlude graphics are fascinating to watch and downright weird. The pace is fast--"Stress?" asks the game's host. "We live for it!"--and zany. The question categories are funny and clever, and the constant banter is very amusing. There is even a way to "hex" opponents and steal some of their points. This is in-your-face academics that makes children want to learn.

On the downside, because this software is so fast-paced and wired, it is not right for all children. There is no pause button for thinking time, and the questions are always timed. Choose this title for children who thrive on competition.

*

Jinny Gudmundsen is the editor of Choosing Children's Software magazine.

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The Skinny

"Cluefinders Search & Solve Adventures"

* Ages: 9 to 12

* Price: $25

* Publisher: The Learning Company

* Platform: PC/Mac

* System requirements: On the PC, a Pentium 166 with 32 MB of RAM and 26 MB of available hard disk space. On the Mac, a PowerPC running System 7.5 or higher with 32 MB of RAM and 26 MB of available hard disk space.

* The good: Engaging mystery

* The bad: Static story line

* Bottom line: Terrific logical thinking adventure

*

"Code Head: X-Treme Culture" and "Code Head: Calculated Risk"

* Ages: 10 and up

* Price: $30

* Publisher: Knowledge Adventure

* Platform: PC/Mac

* System requirements: On the PC, a Pentium 166 with 32 MB of RAM and 50 MB of available hard disk space. On the Mac, an iMac, G3 or better running System 8.1 or higher with 32 MB of RAM and 50 MB of available hard disk space.

* The good: In-your-face academics

* The bad: Always timed

* Bottom line: Zany quiz show

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