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Review CornerSoftware
Hungry Red Planet
Rating: Rating
The Bottom Line
Children learn valuable nutritional facts painlessly as they play this original and creative simulation software. With this game, nutrition comes alive in meaningful ways for children as young as nine. At the same time, kids develop analytical and mathematical skills.
Ages: 9-up   Subject: Science   Brand: Health Media Lab
Review Sections: Product Overview  Technically Speaking  Skills Covered  Educational Value  Entertainment Value  Design  Replayability  Dollar Value
image Product Overview
This simulation software is a unique offering that motivates children to actively learn nutrition concepts as they take part in a challenging and fun adventure.

Hungry Red Planet is a fantasy adventure set in the distant future, at a time when Earth is experiencing serious food shortages due to overpopulation. At the same time, the planet Mars has become more livable as the result of a comet strike. Players are set on an expedition to Mars, where they attempt to build successful settlements and send food back to Earth.

Players take on the important role of planetary governor, and their first step is to create healthy menu plans for the settlers! After carefully designing a menu plan, they need to build farms, factories, laboratories, and ranches that will help support their plan. Once children have designed a menu plan, explored the terrain, and built their settlement, they can select "Next Turn", which brings them to a screen filled with reports and advice messages (such as, "build more homes"). If they are satisfied, players end their first year on Mars and receive briefings on events that occurred during the past year before they begin a new year. New years bring different varieties of food to choose from and new challenges.

The menu planning portion of the game sets up unique opportunities to explore nutritional concepts in creative ways. Children are presented with a selection of food items, organized into categories. Players pick and choose different foods for their meal plan and see how each item affects the Food Guide Pyramid—which is designed as a guide to optimum health and weight. The statistics change as different food items are selected, and the program determines the health of meals based on standards set forth by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Colored bars indicate whether the meal plans fall into optimal ranges, or if they stray from ideal totals. Children can analyze individual food items with the program's Nutrition Facts Label tool—something that children see often enough on real food labels!

As children play the game, they actively learn about food's nutritional value in terms of how the food items contribute to the food pyramid serving recommendations, the percentage of total and saturated fats in relation to calories, cholesterol levels, and sodium intake. The program even considers variety of food in the diet as an important factor in its calculations.

The exploration portion of the game adds more strategy elements to the program. Players send an exploration team to explore the terrain on the surface of Mars, and build each settlement by constructing labs, farms, ranches, and factories using their available resources (money and population). In attempts to make the best use of the land, they need to plan carefully and pay attention to a number of different variables.

There are three levels of difficulty to the game. On the lowest level, children attempt to work through 15 years and come out ahead in the end. Mutant creature attacks happen now and again. Players need to use the right food to cure the mutants. Although they are able to appease them with "cinnabombs", this is only a temporary measure. Players learn that curing the mutants is for the best (the mutants can then transform into helpful human workers for their settlement) and they learn the story behind these creatures as they progress further into the game.

Although they won't find explicit math instruction in the game, children need to use mathematical thinking in order to succeed at Hungry Red Planet. Children work with numbers and percentages as they consider the financial balances, surplus and deficit statistics, and measurements (calories, food portions, and so forth). Players analyze statistics that are presented in both graph and chart formats.

Both home and school versions of the program are available.

Technically Speaking
Minimum system requirements are Windows 95/98/XP/2000, Pentium 300 MHz (Pentium 600 recommended), 64 MB RAM (128 MB recommended), and 12X CD-ROM. The program requires 450 MB of hard drive space.

Skills Covered
Strategy, nutritional terminology, nutritional value, statistical analysis.

Educational Value
This unique simulation requires children to analyze statistics, plan ahead, and manage resources. At the same time, they learn how to read Nutrition Facts Labels, learn about the Food Guide Pyramid, and consider the impact of certain foods on their overall health. The learning is unforced and natural as children take part in the fun challenges of the game.

Entertainment Value
Hungry Red Planet is engrossing for any child who enjoys simulation software. The nutritional analysis component of the game is surprisingly enjoyable, perhaps in part because it isn't offered in other software titles, but also because children can easily apply their newfound knowledge in real life.

Comprehensive tutorials are included, although most children in the target age group are able to figure out how to play the game without them. Three levels of difficulty are offered.

The game's challenges are never too great that they overwhelm children. Rather, they are motivating enough to keep children coming back for more. The multiple difficulty levels build added replay value into the game.

Dollar Value
The program carries a suggested retail price of approximately $29.99 US.

Released: 2003
Reviewed: May 2003