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Review CornerSoftware
M&M's The Lost Formulas
Rating: four and a half stars
The Bottom Line
All sorts of sweet and sticky messes are in store for kids as they race to restore order to the M&Ms factory. Though the arcade action is fun and the math challenges are adequate, this game is not easy to play. Buy this title for your 8-10 year old, but not for an arcade-challenged child of any age.
 
Ages: 5-10   Subject: Math/Logic  Brand: Simon & Schuster Interactive
Review Sections: Product Overview  Entertainment Value  Technically Speaking  Design  Skills Covered  Replayability  Educational Value  Dollar Value
 
 
M&M's The Lost Formulas Product Overview
Based on the M&M characters from the popular advertising campaign, this 3D-action educational CD-ROM is designed to help kids drill their math facts as they embark on a mission to find The Lost Formulas and restore the order that the mischievous M&M MINIs have compromised.

The story is as follows: Yellow has mistakenly left the candy factory with the MINIs in charge, and now he is going (pea)nuts over his error. Luckily, he has your child to help him out. In a mad-dash race to capture MINIs and pieces of the lost formulas, kids guide Yellow through a number of fast-paced levels. Each level begins and ends with a little 3D-animated movie, which can be interrupted by pressing the spacebar or escape key on the keyboard.

There are apparently 8 levels altogether, plus 4 bonus levels (in which players can only stand to gain lives, not lose them). However, most kids can expect to spend lots of time on the first one in which they guide Yellow in a car through the city and suburb in a mad dash to the candy factory. As they do, they must try to steer their car toward crates of MINIs in order to break them open (collecting 100 MINIs earns them a free "life"), over ramps – all the while swerving to avoid oncoming vehicles, road blocks, and assorted obstacles. Whenever they crash, they lose a life and are bumped back to the beginning or the nearest checkpoint. Once at the factory, they guide Yellow through the chocolate-splashed factory on foot. It’s all very fast-paced, and each level is quite lengthy.

The math content presented here is of the "think-fast" genre. Players can select the math challenges, which include numerical recognition, addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. The numerical recognition zone is designed for preschool and kindergarten-age children, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a child of this age who can get very far in the game -- not because the math challenges are too great, but because the arcade action is difficult even for children twice their age.

The program cleverly adjusts levels of difficulty automatically according to a player’s performance in the math zone, and players can manually adjust these as well. M&Ms The Lost Formulas can be set up to present only "math zones" instead of the default mode in which math challenges only occur in the middle zone of each 3-zone level.

Though the arcade action is challenging, it is also surprisingly fun and as addictive as the candies on which it is based. This is a family-friendly title -- while there is a little comic mischief, this program is non-violent.

Technically Speaking
Minimum requirements are Windows 95/98, Pentium 233, DirectX 7.0 or higher (included on disc), 64 MB RAM, 3D Graphics Accelerator Card (8 MB or higher) with Glide, Direct 3D or Open GL drivers, 4X CD-ROM. Mac users require an iMac/Power Macintosh G3 266 MHz, 64 MB RAM, System 8.5 or higher, 3D Graphics Accelerator Card (6 MB or higher) with Open GL or QuickDraw 3D drivers. A gamepad is optional.

Skills Covered
alphabet recognition, letter-object association, creativity, counting, numbers, shapes, colors, music

Educational Value
Think-fast math drill is featured – but many kids will be too caught up in trying to maneuver Yellow to have much time to think. Children approximately 8 and up who already possess gaming skills will get the most out of the educational component of the game. A Math Only mode is an option for parents who prefer to allow their kids to concentrate on math drill.

Entertainment Value
The racing action on the first level is maddeningly fast, fun, and addictive. A variety of challenges are encountered in later levels. Our 10 year-old tester found the graphics, challenges, and overall theme very appealing.

Design
We wish there were some audio (or even written) instructions at the beginning of each level that explained exactly what children are required to do. However, kids did get the idea rather quickly. The automatically-adjusting difficulty levels work well in the math zones. For slower computers, an option to adjust the picture quality in order to maximize performance is available.

Replayability
For children up to the challenge, this program is surprisingly addictive, and it's certainly not one kids will "beat" after a few days of playing.

Dollar Value
This title is reasonably priced at a suggested retail price of $19.95 US.

Released: 2000
Reviewed: January 2001