Do it again and again By Jane HuthIf one is good, more is better. Right? In the case of software for kids, more is usually what children want. New titles in the same series can compliment each other. I don't mind similar software with a new story: Hey, who reads just one Harry Potter book? If it's good, there's room for more.
RESCUE HEROES: MISSION SELECT, LAVA LANDSLIDE and TREMOR TROUBLE, $19.99 each, www.knowledgeadventure.com, (800) 545-7677; ages 4-7.
Yikes! A triple emergency! A volcano erupts, a river overflows and a huge fire endangers the city in Mission Select, the latest Rescue Heroes CD-ROM. Billy Blazes, Gil Griper and Hal E. Copter come to the rescue. Mission Select is a fast action game, it's fun and my children love it. My 7-year-old whipped through both levels, so the software had a short shelf life for him, but he enjoyed the ride. Kids put out fires, rescue stranded people and fix broken water pipes, downed electric lines and other hazards in three locations. The CD-ROM is entertaining, and it asks kids to think fast, a skill they'll use in many circumstances, dangerous or not.
Tremor Trouble and Lava Landslide are similar adventures with more emphasis on learning activities. In Tremor Trouble, the Rescue Heroes use the Ultimate Robotic Vehicle (a huge robot) to rescue people in amusement park rides halted by an earthquake. It's partly a mad dash against time to blast water at fires; players must match shapes under the broken roller coaster, put gears back in the correct places and copy patterns to hook up broken cables. In Lava Landslide, players rescue people and animals from a volcano that's about to erupt, drive a dune buggy along an obstacle course, use Radar the Rescue Bat's echolocation to maneuver through a maze to locate lost cave explorers and rescue animals in the rain forest by flying a helicopter through a maze. I like the Rescue Heroes because they emphasize safety and teamwork, even though they glamorize the often sad and dirty work of rescuing people from disasters. One criticism: They feature mostly muscular men in rescue and leadership roles. I'd like my daughter ho enjoys these games) to know that women are rescue heroes too.
STAR FLYERS: ROYAL JEWEL RESCUE and ALIEN SPACE CHASE, $19.99 each, www.learningcompany.com, (800) 223-6925; ages 5-8. Take off for the Popcorn Nebula in search of the Royal Jewels for Princess Popcorn's coronation in Royal Jewel Rescue, or search the universe for lost alien pets in Alien Space Chase. My children love both these CD-ROMs, which offer arcade-style games in a story format. There's little in the way of education, unless you count learning to think through a problem, but they are entertaining. In the case of Star Flyers, one CD-ROM certainly isn't enough. In each program, kids travel through space to three destinations, collecting jewels or pets scattered through the galaxy. But watch out for Vexar, the bully/thief who's hiding the final jewel and pet. In Alien Space Chase, the Star Flyers round up wayward pets, such as Cmdr. Ann Chovy (a fish) and Capt. Cracker (a parrot). In Royal Jewel Rescue, the jewels are hidden on various planets. The two programs are variations on a theme, but my children don't mind or seem to notice. There's just enough help so players don't get frustrated. For example, they pick up objects, such as a marshmallow, on one planet to be used on another as a landing pad for the space ship. I can't say I was thrilled by the action games (a lot of shooting, jumping or chasing), but they are relatively short, then kids take off for another mission. I find action games repetitive and boring, but my children think they are fun and exciting.
CURIOUS GEORGE: READING AND PHONICS and DOWNTOWN ADVENTURE, $19.99 each, www.knowledgeadventure.com, (800) 545-7677; ages 3-6. George, that mischievous monkey, is back solving word and phonics problems in Curious George: Reading and Phonics. George prowls the city in search of the parts of a note from The Man in the Yellow Hat telling George where to find a present. George plays phonics games at each stop and is rewarded with a part of the note. The game is well designed, but tedious. I don't know how to make phonics fascinating, but if your child has a long attention span and loves Curious George, this is a good game that will help him learn basic skills. My children liked it initially, but the rhyming, spelling and sound matching games did not spark their enthusiasm. I don't know any 3-year-old who could solve the tricky construction puzzles in Curious George: Downtown Adventure. I had to hit the help button most of the time to figure out where to place objects such as a ladder, trampoline, bowling ball and kite that would propel George to a particular destination. During a trip to the city, George, as usual, has made a mess of things, so he's told he has to fix everything he's broken. My children were frustrated because it is difficult to figure out where to place boxes and conveyor belts, and hard to predict how each will propel George. Will he bounce off the tree, or fall to the ground? It's too bad because the puzzles are fun and interesting once you get the hang of it.
JAY JAY THE JET PLANE: JAY JAY EARNS HIS WINGS and SKY HEROES TO THE RESCUE, $19.99 each, www.learningcompany.com, (800) 223-6925; ages 3-7. Jay Jay and his friends are a cute bunch of flying machines. In these two CD-ROMs, games that teach math and language skills are subtly woven into gentle, age-appropriate stories. In Jay Jay Earns His Wings, the little plane must run his first solo route, picking up packages at each of six stops. To retrieve each package, Jay Jay must play a math-oriented game, such as sorting apples by color, matching the light and sound patterns of fireflies or measuring relative heights. The tree-hugger in me liked Sky Heroes to the Rescue, in which Jay Jay and company bring light, water, soil, clean air, love and care to make the Sparkleberry tree shine again. The games emphasize reading skills, but they also explain what plants (and humans, by extension) need for life. My 4-year-old plays with these programs over and over because they are right at her level and lots of fun.
Jane Huth lives in the north suburbs with her husband, a first-grader and a preschooler.