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They're Zooming Back

The Zoombinis return for more logical tasks, this time with TouchSense technology.

November 01, 2001|JINNY GUDMUNDSEN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Zoombinis are oval-shaped characters that first appeared in "Logical Journey of the Zoombinis," the top critical thinking software for children since 1996. They now star in two titles worth checking out: "Zoombinis Logical Journey" and "Zoombinis Mountain Rescue."

All Zoombinis are blue, oval and exceedingly cute, but each has distinctive eyes, nose, hair and feet. These attributes make them perfect playmates to explore logic puzzles. In both titles, players navigate puzzles that rely on logical thinking, organizational skills and hypothesis testing.

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"Zoombinis Logical Journey": A retooling of the original "Logical Journey of the Zoombinis," this new version retains the old content but adds a new help function, more sound and printable puzzles. It also showcases new technology known as TouchSense, created by Immersion Corp.

With the use of a force-feedback mouse--Logitech's iFeel Mouse, for instance--children can feel actions as they happen on the screen. "Logical Journey" features 38 tactile effects. For example, in one puzzle, the Zoombinis run into a tree troll, who swaggers back and forth on root-type limbs. Children can feel the swagger as their mouse vibrates.

The story follows Zoombinis kicked out of their homes by the evil Bloats. As they journey to a new land in search of a place to rebuild their society, the Zoombinis encounter 12 fantastic logic puzzles. Children sort Zoombinis by characteristics to get by the Allergic Cliffs and the Stone Cold Cave. They organize Zoombinis by attributes so they can float in a ferryboat or cross in front of a lion's lair. They test their hypotheses by flinging mud balls at a wall and making pizzas with various toppings for tree trolls.

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"Zoombinis Mountain Rescue": In "Zoombinis Mountain Rescue," some of the Zoombinis become trapped in mountain caves near their home. Players lead a search party of intrepid Zoombinis who run into numerous puzzles that can be solved only by the player's use of logic.

Players arrange Zoombinis by certain attributes such as matching eyes or feet so that they can travel within water pipes. They select which Zoombinis can successfully travel over a constantly changing grid. And they explore binary math by playing pinball and snowboarding down slopes.

There are nine puzzles in "Zoombinis Mountain Rescue" with three levels of difficulty.

Both Zoombini games are fun to explore. Children love playing with the adorable creatures, and each story is narrated by a booming voice that loves to exaggerate. The games utilize the strengths of the computer to create situations that would be difficult to duplicate offline. As the puzzles lead children through challenging scenarios, they build on what the child has learned in previous puzzles.

The titles feature a practice mode allowing children to skip the adventure and go straight to the puzzles. In this mode, players can control the level of difficulty. Consequently, these titles work well in schools for children 8 and older.

However, if used in the home, the programs have a quirk that pushes their appropriate age category up to at least 10 years or even higher. If children choose the adventure mode, they are required to lead bands of Zoombinis across the puzzle-ridden terrains.

As children work through the puzzles repeatedly, they automatically increase in difficulty, and the upper levels are devilishly hard. Some children will reach a point at which the puzzles are too hard. These programs are great but would have been much more user-friendly if they had had an option to control the difficulty of the puzzles in the adventure mode.

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Jinny Gudmundsen is editor of Choosing Children's Software magazine. She can be reached at jinny@choosingchildrenssoftware.com.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

The Skinny "Zoombinis Logical Journey"

* Price: $25

* Ages: 10 and older

* Platform: PC/Mac

* System requirements: On a PC, a Pentium 200 with 32 MB of RAM and 40 MB of available hard disk space. On a Mac, a PowerPC 180 with 32 MB of RAM and 40 MB of available hard disk space.

* Publisher: Learning Co.

* The good: TouchSense technology

* The bad: No control over difficulty in adventure mode

* Bottom line: Fantastic logic puzzles

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"Zoombinis Mountain Rescue"

* Price: $25

* Ages: 10 and older

* Platform: PC

* System requirements: A Pentium 200 with 32 MB of RAM and 50 MB of available hard disk space

* Publisher: Learning Co.

* The good: Inventive logic puzzles

* The bad: No control over difficulty in adventure mode

* Bottom line: Puzzle-packed adventure

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