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Review CornerSoftware
Disney Learning Adventure: Search for the Secret Keys
Rating: four and a half stars
The Bottom Line
"Ghost tutorials" and gorgeous animation are some of the strengths of this learning adventure starring Mickey Mouse and his friends. Kids exercise critical thinking and academic skills in a haunted house adventure that is more fun and educational than spooky.
Award
Ages: 5-8  Subject: Curriculum  Publisher: Disney Interactive
Review Sections:  Product Overview  Technically Speaking  Skills Covered  Educational Value  Entertainment Value  Design  Replayability  Dollar Value
 
 
image Product Overview
The story behind this learning adventure isn't particularly original, but it's plenty of fun: Mickey and friends have stumbled upon an old, haunted mansion. Once inside, they find themselves locked in. They'll need to find six keys in order to escape, and these can only be earned after playing six learning activities found throughout the mansion.

Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Minnie Mouse, and Goofy cannot see the three ghosts that live in the mansion, but players (and Pluto) can! This fun twist adds spice to the adventure. There's nothing scary about these playful--and even helpful--ghosts, however. In fact, they narrate the activities, provide encouraging feedback, and help struggling kids with "Ghost Tutorials".

The games cover a number of early learning skills. Most have automatically adjusting difficulty levels (which can also be changed manually). The learning challenges move forward rather quickly, but the system helps keep children at a comfortable level.

In one activity, kids re-assemble armor by paying attention to a code. Each knight is labeled with a number, and kids need to find parts that either match the number directly, or use addition, subtraction, and counting skills to find equivalents. In another activity, children make "boo-tiful" music on an organ by following color-coded notes in a music book.

After Goofy knocks down the portraits in the mansion, children are required to fix the nameplates. On the first level, they simply label pictures (such as a train or a cat) with beginning letters. Later, they fill in missing letters in a word. If they succeed at this medium challenge level, they move on to adding missing words to sentences.

Fixing a clock's gears in the Haunted Gears activity requires paying attention to rhyming and opposite words; and the books in the library need to be arranged in alphabetic order. Finally, a Leaky Pipes activity involves adding different pipes to a series in a logical fashion. Children are given one pipe at a time, and they must make the decision to either trash or use it!

The Ghost Tutorials pop up when children are struggling with a particular learning topic. One of the ghosts demonstrates the concept on a "haunted chalkboard". Some of these tutorials are quite clever. For example, in a lesson about opposites, the ghost suggests children imagine the word "not" in front of the word they are trying to find an opposite for (example, "not dry").

Amusing sequences involving interactions between the characters liven up the learning. Each friend behaves true to character--most notable are the performances of the easily-frustrated Donald Duck and the clumsy Goofy.

Technically Speaking
Minimum system requirements are Windows 95/98/Me/XP, Pentium 233 MHz, 64 MB RAM, 8X CD-ROM, and 80 MB free hard disk space. Mac users require a G3 processor, 350 MHz or faster, OS 8.6 through OS X Classic Mode, 96 MB RAM, 8X CD-ROM, and 80 MB hard drive space.

Skills Covered
letter association, number properties, attribute discrimination, logic, building word associations, problem solving, planning ahead, counting, rhymes, opposites, addition, subtraction, critical thinking, sorting, alphabetical order, musical notes and sounds, word building, spelling, reading for context, spatial relationships, and visual planning.

Educational Value
The program's learning component is well-integrated into the story line. The difficulty levels present a wide range of challenge, and sometimes the learning skips ahead quickly. However, adaptive learning technology helps to keep children at a comfortable level. Thinking skills are the program's educational highlight, and its "ghost tutorials" are clever.

Entertainment Value
Children will find the program engaging for its fantastic graphics, smooth performance, amusing sequences, and a simple but engaging story line.

Design
We were very pleased with the overall design of this program. Navigation is intuitive and sequences can be bypassed by pressing the Escape key on the keyboard, if desired. The challenge levels advance automatically, but children are free to adjust them manually as well.

Replayability
Not every child will play the game after they've earned all six keys. However, repeat plays offer new content, and the length of the program is satisfying.

Dollar Value
This CD-ROM retails for approximately $20 US.

Released: 2002 
Reviewed: August 2002