A spectacular adventure with a special learning focus on literacy skills, Mia: The Search for Grandma's Remedy is the first in a planned series starring an adorable little mouse named Mia. The program starts as a feature-film quality musical opening with Scary the Spider as he sings into a microphone, swinging on his web string, and guiding the player into the beautiful house, up to the attic where we meet Mia for the first time. Players view the house from a mouse-sized perspective as kids guide Mia on window ledges, into mouse holes, past gigantic brooms, and lots more.
After viewing the stunning introduction for the first time, I expected the excellent 3D graphics to end when it was time to play the game (we see this fairly often in other games) they never did! The graphics remain gorgeous throughout the adventure and the learning games.
The story is as follows: Mia's grandmother is ill and she needs ingredients for a remedy. Mia needs to take a bag including "sparklies" to buy the remaining ingredients, but on her way through the darkened mouse hole, somebody takes the sparklies and leaves Mia crying. Happily, though, Mia's new friend your child will help, and she bravely goes on her way.
Mia speaks directly to kids, making them feel even more a part of the story. There are many obstacles that Mia must face in her journey from the attic, through the house, and outside the mansion. She will need to be resourceful and pick up various objects along the way. These will come in very handy. Her backpack can store practically anything (and kids need only press the F1 button on the keyboard to view its contents). This program features the M2 real-time engine that allows real-time control over Mia. This means kids simply place their cursor where they want Mia to go.
The options screen can be accessed anytime during the game simply by pressing F2. Here you can set the sound level, turn background music on or off, choose to play the activities independent of the adventure, load a saved game, start off fresh, replay the instructions or the introduction, or see the credits.
Pressing the spacebar will skip through the musical video intro, although you probably won't want to after viewing it a number of times, I thought I'd test to see if the spacebar did indeed work, but my kids were quite displeased with me for doing so! The opening number features a delightfully catchy song and plays like a little video that children will love to watch over and over again.
There are 9 learning activities in all which generally act as gateway activities that need to be completed in order to progress, with 4 difficulty levels to choose from:
Before playing, kids can click on the "Instructions" button to launch a short video explaining how to play the game. For example, Scary the Spider mentions the basic rule that "the mouse follows the mouse" with a chuckle. Here, players are offered the advice to keep their eyes open and to discover things, and are reminded that although players have to guide Mia, she has a mind of her own as well.
- Play a game on a game-board-come-to-life. Roll the dice and when you land on a picture, find its written word counterpart from the words in the middle of the board. On level 1 for example, the words include "cat" and "pin", and on level 3, there are words like "camera" and "stapler".
- The ink well personality hosts a game which requires listening to a question, then clicking on the answer that makes the most sense from a number of possible choices. For example, the question may be "Why did you do that?" and the possible answers can be "6 o'clock, my mother, because I was hungry, over there".
- At the elevator, build coherent sentences with the Spanish-speaking mouse.
- Spike the Spider hosts an activity on the porch make 5 words from the given letters.
- In the jeep, listen to instructions and click on the correct word. For example, on level 1, "Find a word that means something you can ride in" from words like "bed", "tub", "hat", and "bus".
- The frog in the pond needs help with his homework, and the problems appear on his lily pad. They involve following directions that are often multi-step and can include listening to key clues like "left", "right", "above", and "behind", as well as logic words like "not", "and", etc. On level 4, the directions are not read aloud.
- A rhyme-talking Dragon bookend with a French accent hosts another activity that involves matching rhyming words.
- Use a slingshot to aim at the correct letters to complete words (for example, shoot "oo" to make "noodle").
- Use wooden letter tiles to build real words with a funny monkey.
The problem-solving is superb, and kids need to think logically in order to progress. For example, Mia needs to find a way across a hole in the porch. When children discover that they can use the magnet they've collected to pull the metal tape measure across the hole and use it as a bridge for Mia, they will feel very clever indeed.
Every aspect of Mia is beautifully done. The learning games are innovative and excellent, the music and graphics make the program a multimedia extravaganza, and the details and care that went into the game are evident throughout.
Minimum requirements are Windows 95/98, a Pentium 100 MHz, 32 Mb RAM, 4X CD ROM. Mac users require a Power PC 100 MHz with 32Mb RAM, System 7.6 or higher, and at least 4X CD ROM. Both require 30 Mb of available hard drive space.
(Reviewed on a Pentium II 266, 64 Mb RAM; and an IBM Aptiva 350 MHz, 64 Mb, it ran smoothly on both machines.)
As noted above, the 3D graphics are spectacular. The whole adventure is contained on 2 CD-ROMs, and kids are asked to change the CDs about midway through the game.
memory, patience, persistence, resourcefulness, attention to detail, reading, spelling, word-building, vocabulary, sight words, phonics, rhyming, sentence building, phonological awareness, listening, following audio directions, following written directions (on the higher levels), directional words (behind, above, etc.), logic (and, if, or, etc.), words dealing with time (before, after, etc.)
The adventure itself develops memory and logic skills and involves some planning and thinking ahead. Additionally, the 9 learning activities embedded in the program (that can also be accessed directly) are high quality, engaging, and offer multiple levels.
There's nothing quite like seeing a child so utterly taken by a program, and so proud of the obstacles he/she has overcome. The characters are endearing, and the "bad guys" create just the right suspense to keep kids interested. In fact, kids see short clips of Romaine the Rat peeking from behind the scenes, unbeknownst to Mia.
The program is wonderfully designed. All activities have multiple skill levels (4 in all), and can be changed easily and readily by pressing the F2 button at any time during the game. Kids are allowed to play the adventure along with the activities, or the activities alone. The spacebar allows kids to cut through the introduction and instructions (although most won't want to). At times, Mia has a long way to walk and her little legs take some time to go places, but in most areas kids can speed things up by allowing Mia to ride her skateboard.
The charming storyline, multi-level activities, and engaging scenes will bring kids back often.
Mia: The Search for Grandma's Remedy retails for $34.95. Its originality and quality make this an excellent purchase. The look on a child's face when they wrap themselves up in the adventure and proudly solve a problem is priceless.