Software programs that focus on developing kids' critical thinking skills are becoming more and more available recently. Software developers are recognizing the fact that these skills are crucial to success in many different academic subjects. This one is excellent. The ClueFinders series introduced a few years ago has been consistently fun and engaging and fills a need for quality educational preteen programs. Children join the 4 members of the ClueFinders club, each of whom has a distinct personality and special talents, on mysteries that require academic thinking. In Search and Solve Adventures, kids embark on an adventure to solve a mystery of a seemingly haunted and abandoned amusement park. In order to help power-up the amusement park and rescue a mysterious art curator, players need to earn items through a series of problem-solving games.
Shooting paintballs, loading bumper cars into a car wash, and dislodging items in a mega vending machine sounds like pure fun, but in fact, every activity requires distinguishing patterns, following instructions, or other mind-bending exercises. In all, there are 9 interactive activities, each with 4 skill levels. Children collect clues and parts of keys, power up the park, and are drawn through a Haunted House maze.
This title features enhanced 16-bit graphics in recognition of the fact that pre-teens tend to demand more from their programs. Testers did notice and were pleased.
A second CD-ROM entitled the Real World Adventure Kit is included and is a toolbox for creating fun club activities for away-from-the-computer times. This fun extension program includes an encoder-decoder, sound transformer, map maker, logbook, money tracker, and club kit. This bonus program is now being shipped with all the ClueFinders titles.
Strengths & Weaknesses:
Some of the activities were rather challenging for a 9 year-old tester, and a 12 year-old tester found the activities a bit repetitive, though entertaining. He found the kids' dialogue unrealistic, but all in all, he enjoyed the program.
The addictive and fun vending machine activity is reminiscent of Mudball Wall in The Logical Journey of the Zoombinis (a personal favorite) in which children must recognize patterns with a limited number of steps to do so. In fact, all the activities provide an excellent work-out for the brain.
The second CD-ROM is a nice addition to an already decent software package. These extra-curricular activities, if kids use them, are really quite fun, especially when a group of kids are involved. Through them, kids can find tools to create their very own "club", send and decode messages, record and playback sounds, map our their neighborhood, and more.
Minimum requirements are Win 95/98, Pentium 166 MHz, 32 MB RAM, 4X CD-ROM. Minimum 40 MB of free hard drive space is required. Mac users require a Power PC 120 MHz+, System 7.5 or better, 32 MB RAM (10 MB free disk space), and 4X CD-ROM.
problem solving with numbers, words, letters, and patterns; critical thinking, pattern recognition, pattern completion, classification, order and sequence, cause and effect, planning and strategy, hypothesis testing, spatial relationships, deductive reasoning, logical analysis, problem solving, data collection, drawing conclusions, making analogies
The challenging activities are mentally stimulating, forcing kids to stretch their brains in different ways. Players need to recognize patterns, plan ahead, strategize, and solve all sorts of problems skills crucial to success in many academic subjects.
Though much of the program's problem-solving focus is on the activities themselves, the underlying mystery story provides a lot of motivation for kids to work through to the surprising conclusion. The graphics are extra special in order to please notoriously more technologically aware tweeners, and while the story line couldn't quite be called gripping, it does keep kids interested.
With a choice between auto-leveling or manually adjusted difficulty levels, this program is very customizable. A smooth design with thoughtful features ensures that focus is on the problem-solving process instead of the ins and outs of navigation.
Four difficulty levels mean a variety of players can enjoy the program. Players can also choose to re-play the program on a different level, but more often than not, when children finish a mystery program such as this, the software's life ends. This is not a real problem because the program has enough content and interest the first time through to be worth the investment.
Suggested retail price is $24.95 US. Most will find this an invaluable program.
Reviewed: September 2000