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.