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THE COOLEST STUFF IN THE UNIVERSE / Family Tech

Adventures From Circus to Olympus

November 30, 2000|JINNY GUDMUNDSEN | jinny@choosechildrensoftware.com

Most children are thrilled to receive new software as a present. Unfortunately, not all children's software is worth buying.

To help you give a software gift that is truly special, here are five top-notch children's software games that are super fun to play.

When choosing software for children, pay attention to the recommended age categories. Also, remember to look at the system platform. You'll look like the Grinch if you give a PC-only game to a child with a Mac. System requirements are also important. Some of the newer games will run only on newer systems.

Here's a special tip: If you have access to the child's computer, load the software before you wrap it. That way, if you hit an installation problem, you have time to fix it or call technical support.

(a) "Putt-Putt Joins the Circus"

Price: $30

Ages: 3 to 8

Putt-Putt is an animated car that happens upon a circus that was put up incorrectly and is in such disarray that it cannot perform. In this PC and Mac game, children help Putt-Putt explore more than 40 hand-painted scenes to sort through the circus acts and straighten out the mix-ups. While exploring, players encounter many unique characters, each with something to share. Only by seizing every opportunity to acquire information or objects can kids eventually set the circus straight. With Putt-Putt, children learn by example how to help others. However, the real strength of this program is its ability to teach young children how to solve simple multi-step problems.

(b) "Pajama Sam 3: You Are What You Eat From Your Head to Your Feet!"

Price: $25

Ages: 5 to 9

In this adventure for PC and Mac, children join superhero Pajama Sam on a quest to settle a dispute among the six major food groups. Pajama Sam is transported to the magical land of Mop Top Island--a place that closely resembles the inside of a human body. While traveling with Pajama Sam, kids meet interesting characters such as the bulky Muffin Trio of Bran, Corn and Wheat or Granny Smythe, the elderly green apple who represents the fruit group. Playing this adventure, which looks like a Saturday morning cartoon, children learn several important things. They solve complicated logic problems, use their memory, learn about the importance of eating a balanced diet and work at settling differences among diverse groups.

(c) "Return of the Incredible Machine: Contraptions"

Price: $15

Ages: 8 and older

What kid doesn't like to fiddle with doohickeys and thingamajigs? In this unique puzzle game for PC and Mac, kids get to do just that and a whole lot more as they complete Rube Goldberg-type contraptions to solve a series of puzzles. Here's the setup: A nutty professor has accidentally made himself radioactive and needs an assistant. To qualify for the position, children must finish a series of contraptions. Players can tinker with more than 250 machines. Not only do the contraptions allow children to utilize traditional science stuff such as pulleys and conveyor belts, but they also provide for the inane, such as gravity-defying balls and delayed-reaction punching gloves. This program is extremely well done. It encourages creativity by allowing for more than one correct answer, has a great hint system, provides four levels of difficulty, allows for two-person play and even has an area to create your own puzzles.

(d) "Roller Coaster Tycoon/Roller Coaster Tycoon: Loopy Landscapes Expansion Pack"

Price: $30

Age: 10 and older

In this amusement park PC simulation, children design their own entertainment venue. By properly placing food stalls, amenities, rides and roller coasters, kids make money and attract guests to their park. The original game, "Roller Coaster Tycoon," was released more than a year ago; it contains 19 scenarios to explore. Prosperity is measured in attendance, cash or the ever-mysterious "park rating," which judges a park's success at layout, cleanliness, value, efficiency and ride design. This economic simulation will keep children entertained for weeks, if not months. If the child on your list already owns the original, then "Roller Coaster Tycoon: Loopy Landscapes" is the perfect way to infuse new interest in this older game. To use this expansion pack, players must already have the original game.

(e) "Zeus: Master of Olympus"

Price: $40

Ages: 11 and older

Imagine living in ancient Greek times with actual Olympian gods. You can do just that with this new city-building simulation for the PC. Unlike others in this genre, this city-building game has relatively little micro-management. Zeus teaches city builders how to play through a series of 16 tutorials. Once through the tutorials, players explore 10 adventures. Within each adventure are a series of episodes with specific goals. An episode may be as easy as attracting 1,000 people to your city or as difficult as killing the Hydra. This game is perfect for preteens and teens because it is rich in depth, graphics, critical thinking and mythology. It has a refreshing lack of violence.

*

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

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