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Review CornerSoftware
The Magic School Bus Lands on Mars Activity Center
Rating: four stars
The Bottom Line
Though this title is easy to use and very informative, many of its activities lack depth and won't maintain their appeal in the long term. However, children with a sincere interest in the solar system will enjoy the abundant mini-lessons found in this encouraging and colorful title.
Ages: 6-10   Subject: Adventure  Brand: Microsoft
Review Sections: Product Overview  Entertainment Value  Technically Speaking  Design  Skills Covered  Replayability  Educational Value  Dollar Value
The Magic School Bus Lands on Mars Activity Center Product Overview
With Ms. Frizzle as a teacher, the gang from the television series The Magic School Bus is being whisked off on yet another not-so-normal field trip, this time to Mars for some out-of-this-world exploration and discovery.

This activity-based program is unlike the traditional MSB software titles you may be used to, with its focus on activities instead of missions. Once kids watch the opening sequence complete with the MSB theme song and select a funky picture ID, they are brought inside the famous bus where many surprises await. Ms. Frizzle is there as their guide, along with a host of "clickables" that either offer interesting information tidbits, or lead to one of the many activities, all revolving around Mars and outer space.

Activities range from creating a "postcard from Mars" with rather limited options to a more involving quiz show game that can be played by 1 or 2 players. A simple jigsaw activity provides another opportunity for the program to dispel its "information bites" as kids rebuild photographic images and listen to facts about each photo. Players leave the bus to learn more facts and to engage in an arcade-style game that involves trying to bring a lander to the landing pad safely before running out of fuel.

A favorite activity allows children to place four food items — a marshmallow, egg, watermelon, and bottle of water — in the Pressure-O-Meter that simulates the different pressure conditions found on Mars, on a cold mountaintop, at sea level, and underwater. Kids can watch, for example, a marshmallow explode on Mars and puff up on a mountaintop.

Though characters from the show are always around to lend a helping hand, in terms of selecting activities to play, children are basically on their own with open-ended activities. Where appropriate, the program uses easily adjustable difficulty levels.

An important key to the television show's success is its ability to present what might normally be considered "boring" science concepts in a manner that engages children as they are drawn into an exciting story line. Unfortunately, this title's activity-center format takes away some of that magic. While Ms. Frizzle's comments and jokes are true to form, the lack of a program objective lessens this title's overall impact. Nonetheless, children might absorb plenty of facts while they do play the program, especially if they are curious about the solar system in the first place.

Technically Speaking
Minimum requirements are Windows 95/98/2000/NT 4.0, a Pentium 133 processor, 16 Mb RAM for Win 95/98, 32 Mb RAM for Win NT/2000, and 4X CD ROM. It requires 15 MB of hard drive space.

Skills Covered
facts about Mars and the solar system: Mars' moons, geography, weather, and more

Educational Value
Everywhere kids click, there is something to be discovered about Mars or the solar system! For children with a sincere interest in the topic, this program will provide them with loads of interesting facts. This title is positive and encourages experimentation, in keeping with Ms. Frizzle's motto, "take chances, make mistakes..."

Entertainment Value
Though the activities may not hold appeal in the long term, the first few times through the program should be fun. Screens are bright and Ms. Frizzle's humorous comments help keep kids interested for awhile.

This title is very well-designed with adjustable difficulty levels where appropriate and easy navigation. There is an option to turn on closed captioning for the deaf and hard of hearing.

Though the first couple times children play the games in this program will be enjoyable, this title has questionable replay value.

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

Released: 2000
Reviewed: October 2000