Although many children's adventure games excel in presenting an engaging plot, most fall short of being great titles because they offer unchanging story lines. The beauty of digital adventures is that they can change every time a child plays. But if the story remains static from game to game, children might not return for another go.
Two new adventure titles, "Oz--The Magical Adventure" and "Barbie Pet Rescue," fall into this static story line trap.
'Oz--The Magical Adventure'
Released in conjunction with the 100th anniversary of the publishing of L. Frank Baum's "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz," "Oz--The Magical Adventure" takes children on an adventure through the Emerald City and beyond. With the help of spectacular three-dimensional graphics, children enter a glistening world filled with enticing activities.
Early on, Dorothy is captured by the Wicked Witch's winged monkey. To rescue Dorothy, the Tin Woodsman, Scarecrow and Cowardly Lion must find nine jewels hidden throughout the Land of Oz. Players win the jewels by playing logic games.
Each of these activities is fun, educational and fresh. The Water Maze game drew kid-testers because they liked organizing pipes so water can flow through. At the Toadstool Maze, kids help frogs across a mushroom path by matching patterns and colors.
"Magical Adventure" presents a captivating adventure the first time through--an experience that lasted only a couple of hours for some. Children can choose to play the adventure on one of three difficulty levels, but those levels affect only the activities, not the story line. To access a different level, players must start the adventure again.
Because the story stays the same, some children will enjoy "Magical Adventure" the first time through, then click their heels three times, say, "There's no place like home," and never return.
'Barbie Pet Rescue'
In "Barbie Pet Rescue," children join teen Barbie as she works at a pet rescue center. This Barbie isn't fashion crazy and is dedicated to helping others in need. Children join Barbie on missions to find and rescue adorable virtual animals.
There are 15 baby animals needing help. Players help Barbie search for the animals and then use logic and creativity to figure out how to rescue them. For example, in one mission, a kitten is trapped in a tree. By sounding some wind chimes, players are able to entice the kitten to come part of the way down the tree to be scooped up.
Rescued animals are taken back to the rescue center for a checkup.
The rescue center has rooms where children can play with rescued animals. There are five activities, the strongest being arranging a series of tubes to make a trail for a hamster and encouraging a turtle through a maze by feeding it grapes.
The graphics are great. Barbie does a nice job of showing how to care for pets. And two of the activities require logic. But once children have rescued the 15 animals, will they return to play again?
More animal information and activities regarding how to take care of pets would have given this software more depth.
Jinny Gudmundsen is the editor of Choosing Children's Software magazine.
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"Oz--The Magical Adventure"
Ages: 5 to 8
Publisher: DK Interactive
System requirements: On the PC, a Pentium 166 with 32 MB of RAM and 20 MB of available hard disk space. On the Mac, a PowerPC 120 running System 8.1 or higher with 32 MB of RAM and 20 MB of available hard disk space.
The good: Engaging adventure with strong thinking activities
The bad: Unchanging story line
Bottom line: Wonderful the first time through
"Barbie Pet Rescue"
Ages: 5 to 8
Publisher: Mattel Interactive
System requirements: Pentium 166 with 32 MB of RAM, 95 MB of available hard disk space and 2 MB of video RAM
The good: Darling graphics and good examples of caring for animals
The bad: Limited number of missions, light on education
Bottom line: Cute and fun, but not much depth