New games for the older computer By Jane Huth

My 4-year-old computer works great for e-mail, the Internet and word processing. But it is a rusty old clunker when it comes to games. Fortunately, kids' games are just catching up with my soon-to-be-junked machine, so my kids can still play all the old ones and quite a few exciting new games. But time is ticking away. The snazzy graphics and greedy memory of the newest kids' games should soon overwhelm my trusty machine.

Fortunately, for all of you still running Windows 98, some new games will run quite nicely on your computer. And you need not sacrifice quality. Here are a few of the best that my kids love, and my computer handles just fine.

HAMTARO: WAKE UP SNOOZER!, $19.99,, (800) 223-6925; ages 4-7.

The cute little Ham-Hams have lost their friend, Penelope, somewhere in the new hamster tunnels. But-Oh No!-the sleepy Snoozer has fallen into a deep slumber at the entrance to the tunnels, so no one can search for poor Penelope. The Ham-Hams have lots of ideas for waking Snoozer, including collecting butterflies, which are very strong, to lift him, building a structure to go over him and digging a tunnel under him. Players match shapes to catch butterflies, spell words to collect ribbons, solve simple addition problems to collect lumber and match animal characteristics with the animals to map out tunnels. My 5-year-old enjoyed this gentle game, which is very sweet and easy, but my 7-year-old declared it was for babies. It's fun for young ones, but older kids may quickly become bored. I thought the tunnel mapping was entertaining and fairly difficult, but catching butterflies and collecting ribbons grew monotonous. Once kids have played all the games, they can design a flower garden with the flowers they've lected and then print it out.

DISNEY PRINCESS: ROYAL HORSE SHOW, $19.99,, (818) 553-5000; ages 5 and up.

Put together horses, princesses and little girls, and you're pretty much assured a winning combination. In the case of Disney Princess: Royal Horse Show, the combination is winning as long as yours is a very girly little girl. My 5-year-old fits the bill perfectly, so she was entranced by this program, which allows players to decorate and ride horses in a fantasy horse show. It's fun to ride the horses through a jumping course that gets progressively more difficult (but not very) each time players “ride.” I found the frou-frou decorations (lots of ribbons, drapings, flowers and bows) a bit much, but my daughter thought it was all very pretty. The Disney princesses Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Belle appear from time to time to give instructions. (Most were fine, but the program could stand to lose the nauseatingly saccharin Snow White.) Even though it's designed for 5-year-olds, I think most 4-year-old girls who thrill to princesses and horses would also enjoy this program.

MIA'S LANGUAGE ADVENTURE: THE KIDNAP CAPER, $19.99,, (514) 849-4800; ages 6-10.

Romaine the Rat, that nefarious rodent, has kidnapped Grandma Mimi during the art show, at which Grandma Mimi just won the grand prize. It's up to that intrepid mouse, Mia, to rescue Grandma Mimi from the evil Rat's clutches. The fourth in the relentlessly inventive Mia series, The Kidnap Caper uses a wonderful story line laced with educational games to help kids learn French or Spanish.

Mia wanders through her house picking up clues and “sparklies,” as well as parts to machines and other gizmos she'll need to rescue Grandma Mimi. The contraptions that carry Mia and her pals around the house and out into the garden are delightfully clever. The unique animation adds to the fun. However, kids will need more than a passing acquaintance with each language to win the games. I studied Spanish at the college level for a year, yet had to guess at a number of the words in the “beginner” level. Both my children and I are enamored with the Mia games, which combine fabulous graphics, great characters, humorous story lines and learning games that are fun to play. The Kidnap Caper is up to the very high standards of the Mia series, and that's saying a lot.

BATMAN: TOXIC CHILL and BATMAN: JUSTICE UNBALANCED, $24.99 each,, (800) 223-6925; ages 7-10.

In Batman: Toxic Chill, Victor Fries (a.k.a. Mr. Freeze) has escaped from the asylum for the criminally insane and is planning to ice all of Gotham City. But wait, the evil Riddler has invaded all of the toxic chemical plants and is releasing a lethal brew into the city's harbor. Whew! Thank goodness for Batman and Robin, whose job it is to save Gotham and put these bad guys behind bars.

(The similar Batman: Justice Unbalanced pits the Dynamic Duo against the evil masterminds Penguin and Two Face, who plan to kill Police Commissioner Gordon and destroy the city's Statue of Justice.)

Batman and Robin race around the city in the Batmobile, de-icing buildings by decoding frost patterns on high rises, climbing through sewer tunnels and stopping chemical vats from overflowing by directing the flow properly. Back home in the Batcave, they decode secret messages from the Riddler using the Bat computer.

These programs are very entertaining (too entertaining for my son, who had to be dragged away from the computer) but a little low on educational content for my taste. The games and decoding messages require thinking and a bit of spelling, but the underground chases are just that, and the six movies are pure fun. I like these programs, but I wish their creators had squeezed a little more education into the entertainment.



Jane Huth is a writer who lives in the north suburbs with her husband, a first-grader and a preschooler.


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