Bugs, bugs, and more bugs! Hoards of them are taking over the Omega Supercomputer, and Dr. Zero is behind all the madness. It's up to the Blaster Pals and your third-grader to debug the computer by taking part in math activities that require some fast thinking as well as logic skills to solve.
This all-new Blaster title has a high-tech theme many third-graders will love. Some of the bugs are really quite cute, and they have different properties that kids need to learn in order to understand them better. This will satisfy the collector in every child of this age.

Plenty of motivation to complete the activities and save the day is provided, though it will take kids some time to do so. They choose from a nice variety of activities in order to collect bugs, then blast them into their "cache". Freeing up space in the cache requires kids to answer a timed math quiz. Re-programming the bugs involves work with math word problems. There are math problems to solve every step of the way!

Domino Bridge requires third-graders to build a bridge from one tower to the next with dominoes that are labeled with math equations, numerals, and Roman Numerals. Re-programming bugs to work for their cause involves solving word problems, then setting a trap for Doctor Zero using the special properties of different bugs. The problem is, Doctor Zero always manages to break out of the trap! Of course, kids can keep on trying.

In Bug Hunt, children direct G.C. with keyboard arrows, finding bugs labeled with math equations that fit into a range, such as 8 to 14. Musical Math is a wonderful activity in which players must answer geometry questions along a path. When the path is complete, kids wait to hear a song played, and if their answers are correct, the song plays out without a hitch. An off-key note means they must go back and correct their mistakes.

Circuit Quest is an excellent exercise for logical thinking skills. Helping the Blaster pals get through a maze-like area to collect floating chips requires planning ahead, and once they get through, kids must add operators to form equations.

Click on the Blaster Watch and kids can do a creative activity with stamps, find some printable math puzzles, and try their hand at some rather complicated Tangram puzzles. This last activity is a nice idea, but testers found it confusing to use.

This title contains SmartPoints rewards. Note that you'll have to sign up through an Internet connection in order to start earning points and collecting "prizes", and it takes some effort to do so. Also included is a 4-month free trial of Virtual Classroom.

Technically Speaking

Minimum requirements are Windows 95/98, a Pentium 133 processor, 32 Mb RAM, and 12X CD ROM. Mac users require a 120 MHz Power PC with 12 Mb RAM free, System 7.6.1, and at least 4X CD ROM.

Pros & Cons

For children who generally know their third-grade math facts, this title provides fantastic practice. However, a child just entering, or in the midst of, third grade will find it extremely challenging. Pick this up for kids who need to review their third-grade math facts, not learn them from scratch.

The technical theme of this program is really quite fun. Children are encouraged to "use your hard drive" to figure out problems, and lots of basic computer lingo is used throughout. A 9 year-old tester who will be entering fourth grade this year found the game totally absorbing.

Math help is available during each of the activities. Kids will need to read in order to benefit from these little lessons, and unfortunately, most children would rather not do the research.

We found a glaring problem in the timed activity in which children must race against the clock in a math drill in order to free up more space for their captured bugs. Math drills are generally incorporated into third grade curriculum and it can be helpful for kids to practice completing math equations as quickly as they can. However, when kids are too slow in this activity, Dr. Zero makes some rather disparaging remarks about his Grandma and dog being faster than the player. One 9 year-old tester just shrugged off those comments as he accepted that it was an evil character making them; but not all children, especially those struggling in math, will respond so indifferently. This is an unfortunate flaw in the game, because though it is challenging, the activities and design of the program are excellent.

Skills Covered

addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, complex addition & subtraction, fractions, decimals, percentages, estimation, rounding off numbers, identifying equivalents, measurement, graphs & tables, geometric figures, congruency, symmetry, problem solving, logic

Educational Value

Plenty of opportunities for practicing math facts and using mathematical reasoning are provided in this program's generally excellent activities. This title never misses an opportunity to reinforce math concepts.

Entertainment Value

Kids who enjoy a challenge will find a lot of fun gameplay with an exciting mission.

Design

A very easy-to-use program with an intelligent design. Players are moved forward as they display mastery skills at each level.

Replayability

The content here is enormous, and the motivation to play is strong. This title will challenge kids over a good stretch of time, as long as they aren't intimidated by the sometimes difficult math problems.

Dollar Value

This CD-ROM retails for $30 US.

Released: 2000

Reviewed: August 2000