This latest adventure starring the ClueFinders a group of clue-hunting, inquisitive preteens is set in the Ultimate Toy Store in San Francisco, where an experiment-gone-wrong has left two members of the group only three inches tall. Each pair of ClueFinders needs to hunt for and earn items to build an "un-shrinking" machine. The shrunken team faces all sorts of perils and comical characters along the way, while the regular-sized pair deal with the human world, gradually uncovering clues and stumbling upon parts for the machine.
The activities offered cover a nice range of academic skills in school subjects like reading, math, science, and geography. Naturally, problem-solving skills are emphasized throughout the program. Skill-building games feature four levels of difficulty that automatically adjust according to a player's performance. These levels can be set manually, as needed.
Most activities are dead-on in terms of age-appropriateness for fourth-graders, as well as advanced third-graders. A money activity, however, was considered too challenging for our testers who fall into the suggested age range. Another game Escape from Alcatraz was pretty to look at and educationally solid, but was a little clunky and even buggy. In this game, children needed to complete sentences with punctuation, verbs, nouns, pronouns, conjunctions, and other parts of speech, then rearrange the sentences into a logical paragraph.
Other activities include one in which kids lead a singing Taxi boat through water, collecting correctly spelled words along the way. Here, sets of words focus on specific spelling rules, such as "i before e", plurals, and adding suffixes to words ending in y. Another challenge is found in the elevator. Before players can ascend to the next floor, they must select solutions to math equations on a number grid and complete a line. A geography activity involves reading a map, identifying geographical landmarks, and following directions in order to plot a route for a toy car. Even when all the parts to the machine have been collected, kids must use their heads in order to build the Unshrinking Device.
A second CD-ROM is included in the package and is a full-fledged adventure previously released as ClueFinders Reading Adventure Ages 9-12. This title provides players with plenty of practice with language arts topics and is particularly strong for developing vocabulary. It combines think-fast activities with problem-solving challenges.
Like many ClueFinders titles, The Incredible Toy Store Adventure is not only intriguing and graphically pleasing; it's also a wonderful tool for learning and practicing school skills. This program is educationally valuable and rather appealing, with only one significant caveat: It sometimes grows rather tedious and, thus, might exhaust the interest of kids who prefer action games.
Minimum system requirements are Windows 95/98/ME/2000/XP, Pentium 166, 32 MB RAM, 8X CD-ROM. Mac users require 180 MHz Power PC, System 8.6-OSX, 32 MB RAM, and 8X CD-ROM. It requires 32 MB of hard drive space, and Internet access and a printer are recommended but not necessary.
Kids develop skills in a range of subjects: Language Arts grammar, punctuation, capitalization, spelling, sequencing, following directions, building sentences; Math addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, decimals and money, extending patterns, pre-algebra, estimation; Social Studies mapping, recognizing geographic features; Science experimentation, physics, ecology; Problem Solving visualizing spatial relationships, and logical thinking.
While kids accustomed to high-energy programs may lose interest, most children will enjoy the story line of this program. Those that persevere to the end will come away from the game having exercised their brains in a variety of ways and subjects. Educational challenges range from solving mathematical equations to experimenting with a catapult.
Once again, the characters and adventure format found in the ClueFinders series succeeded at drawing in this somewhat difficult to please age group. Children will definitely be aware that they are learning as they play, but the setting and mystery behind the game is sufficiently entertaining to keep kids playing all the way to the enjoyable conclusion.
The attention to detail and thoughtful features that ClueFinders fans have come to expect are found here, including multiple difficulty levels, hints and tips, and two modes adventure and practice of play. New to this ClueFinders title is closed captioning. A printable user's guide is on the disc, but the game plays intuitively enough without it.
The adventure mode of the program requires players to work through each of its many skill-building activities and is appealing enough for most children to be completed at least once. The learning exercises are shuffled so that subsequent sessions with the game feel new.
This CD-ROM carries a suggested retail price of only $24.95 US.
Reviewed: September 2001