YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Kids' Software

Spells, Sea Monsters and Sleuths

Players can learn potions in "Harry Potter," investigate mysterious sightings in "Freddi Fish 5" or track down Carmen Sandiego, among other adventures.


This is a great year to give software to children. The children's software industry has done a bang-up job of making available some great titles for the holidays.

If giving a software gift, consider loading the software onto the PC before wrapping it. That way, any technical problems can be dealt with before the big gift-giving day. Ever tried to reach tech support on Christmas Day? It isn't pretty.

Another tip is to pay attention to whether the software will run on the system used by the child. Don't make the mistake of buying a great PC title for a Mac user.

"Freddi Fish 5: The Case of the Creature of Coral Cove": Youngsters ages 4 to 8 join perky sleuth Freddi Fish in this $20 PC and Mac adventure as she investigates the mysterious sightings of a sea monster in the newly opened Coral Cove Park.

Children direct Freddi's investigation by deciding where she goes and with whom she speaks. There are more than 35 beautifully drawn underwater scenes, and each contains fascinating characters. Players encounter 15 unique characters, including Marty the Evil Real Estate Developer, who is as oily as he is slick; Rollo the Clownfish, who sells jokes to players; and Kipper, the taffy candy store owner.

As children manage Freddi's collection of information and clues, they use logic because most characters need help before they can or will cooperate. Kids have to remember where objects are located and puzzle out which character needs what object. The game cleverly intertwines the needs of these underwater inhabitants; kids love having to unravel the complexities.

The graphics are so phenomenal that children feel as if they are hanging out inside a Saturday morning cartoon. The desire to solve the mystery drives children to puzzle through complex logic problems. They are frequently required to "think outside of the box" to solve a problem.

"Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone": This is a magical $30 gift for children 8 to 14 who love Harry Potter. This PC software transforms players into Harry Potter and plops them in Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Once there, they meet headmaster Albus Dumbledore, attend classes to learn spells and potions and then use those magical abilities to solve puzzles.

True to the J.K. Rowling book, players face a troll, battle classmate Draco Malfoy on broomsticks, play Quidditch, meet a baby dragon and put a fierce three-headed dog to sleep. The adventures within the game are numerous and exciting, and they culminate with a face-off with evil wizard Lord Voldemort.

This adventure is linear, and players must accomplish specific goals to move forward. Each time players accomplish a goal, a new area of the game opens. For example, at one point, Hagrid, the gamekeeper of Hogwarts, asks for Harry's help in gathering fire seeds needed to hatch a baby dragon. Once Harry finds the seeds, he can participate in a Quidditch match.

Kid testers were mesmerized by this game. The 3-D rendering of the castle and the complexity of the game play create a wonderful experience.

"Backyard Basketball": The $20 "Backyard Basketball" is a slam dunk PC and Mac title for any sports enthusiast age 7 to 13. Kids can take it to the hoop with kid versions of basketball pros Kevin Garnett and Lisa Leslie.

Players become managers of a basketball team that plays three athletes at a time. As a sports simulation, this title is particularly easy to use. Its simple point-and-click interface makes even the youngest players virtual basketball stars. Because kids direct only three people at a time, controlling the players is easy.

Kids draft their own team from a group of typical backyard kids. They can even create their own talented rookie. Once selected, a team can simply play a pick-up game or decide to participate in a league.

Kids love being in charge of a team. They enjoy figuring out which team members play best together. Since each computer character has his or her own artificial intelligence, it takes a lot of trial and error to find the right chemistry among players that will produce a winning team.

"Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? Treasures of Knowledge": Sticky-fingered Carmen Sandiego is back, stealing treasures of the world and leading players on a grand chase around the world in this $25 PC and Mac adventure for kids 8 to 12.

Players join the famous ACME detective agency and track Carmen through eight missions. Each mission leads kids to several foreign countries where they look for clues, talk to natives and learn something about culture and geography.

The mystery part of each mission is complicated and fun. New to this version is a secondary theme that reveals Carmen's past. Players discover that Carmen may not be as evil as once thought, and her motives may be different from what they first perceived.

Los Angeles Times Articles