By Jane HuthI always have mixed feelings when August rolls around. Sure, I've got a month of summer left, but it's only a month. Summer camp is over, yet we've got weeks to fill until our glorious vacation back East. In between trips to the beach, museums and the park, my children start getting antsy. Fortunately, we've found great new programs that offer fun and a bit of education too. Here are some of our favorites:
BACKYARD SOCCER: 2004, $19.99, http://funkidsgames.com/; ages 5 and up. Kids itching to play soccer during the summer doldrums can practice playing with the pros (or at least kid-sized versions of professional soccer players) in this program. Players jump right in and play pick up games or play in a league in such atmospheric locales as the very urban Cement Gardens or rural Fappy's Farm. Soccer fans fill their team roster with Major League Soccer players, such as Chris Aramis of Chicago Fire, and female soccer stars such as Brandi Chastain. Kids can play against the computer or against a friend. The three levels of games are fun and fast. At the easy level, the program helps kids figure out which player to pass the ball to or when to kick. Kids will enjoy the color commentary by Sunny Day and her British sidekick Earl Gray and the instant replays on the scoreboard. Children unfamiliar with soccer may need a little help from adults setting up their teams, but once they start playing, it may be tough to get them to stop.
SCOOBY-DOO CASE FILE NO. 1: THE GLOWING BUG MAN, $24.99, www.broderbund.com, (800) 395-0277; ages 5-10. Scooby-Doo and the groovy gang are back solving mysteries again in this delightful CD-ROM. This time, Scooby-Doo, Shaggy, Velma, Daphne and Fred try to find out who is dressing up like a giant fluorescent bug to scare patrons away from the Museum of Natural History. Players solve puzzles in six areas of the museum, and are rewarded with clues to the identity of the culprit-one of six suspects. The puzzles involve matching patterns and solving mazes that are challenging but not so difficult to frustrate kids either. For example, in the cafeteria, kids sharpen their memory while making double-dip ice cream cones out of flavors such as Banana Bone Crunch and Vanilla Blue Cheese. The humor is silly and predictable, but still fun. If your kids are like mine, they won't stop playing until they solve the mystery, then they'll play again just for the fun of it.
PIGLET'S BIG GAME, $19.99, www.disneyinteractive.com, (818) 553-5000, ages 3-6. For little ones just learning to use the computer, Piglet's Big Game is a sweet, gentle CD-ROM that will challenge them at just the right level. Piglet wanders through the Hundred Acre Wood visiting his friends, Pooh, Owl, Eeyore, Roo and Tigger to find ingredients for the Very Large Soup Rabbit is making for a special lunch. Piglet orders spices for Owl, puts together a broken honey pot for Pooh, colors pictures for Eeyore and picks up acorns in the woods. As he hunts for ingredients, Piglet must retrace his steps from time to time to find the objects-such as a large plank-he needs to retrieve the ingredients. My 4-year-old had no trouble playing this game, but my 6-year-old pronounced it for babies. Piglet's Big Game is just right for preschoolers, especially those enamored of Piglet's Big Movie and of all the inhabitants of the Hundred Acre Wood.
FINDING NEMO: NEMO'S UNDERWATER WORLD OF FUN, $19.99, www.thq.com; ages 4 and up. I deemed the movie Finding Nemo too scary for my children, but this CD-ROM, which features the same characters and clips from the film, contains nothing that will worry or frighten kids. It's full of fast action and clever games that have a modicum of educational value, but mostly are entertaining. Nemo and his friends play games to collect prizes that allow them to race in a Super Swim Challenge. The games include Shell Game, where players must keep an eye on Blenny who is hiding under a fast-moving shell, and Feeding Frenzy, where Nemo lobs kelp balls to Bruce the vegetarian shark. Kids can sharpen their memories in Moonfish, where a school of fish forms shapes players must remember in order, and Rock Roll, a matching game. Once players collect enough prizes, they can compete in one of five Super Swim Challenges. These races are obstacle courses where speed counts. Parts of this program move so quickly they made me dizzy, so sensitive kids may want to steer clear of it. But my children enjoyed the games immensely and were amused by the funny voices of the sea creatures.Jane Huth lives, writes and plays with computers in the northern suburbs with her husband, her kindergartner and her preschooler.