Baby Kermit and the Muppet Babies have finally made their debut on the computer screen! Toyland Train provides a bright and colorful introduction to the computer for babies through toddlers (yes, the box says ages 2-5, but the content here is much more appropriate for novice computer users).
Most of the program's 8 activities feature 5 different skill levels. Clicking on the littlest of Baby Kermits, for example, will set the skill level appropriate for babes in their parents' laps. The activities introduce children to some simple, early learning concepts like colors, shapes, parts of the body, vocabulary, music, and more.
Baby Kermit chugs along in a toy train on the main screen of the program, and his final destination can be selected by a simple click of the mouse. Children can choose to pop colorful balloons in Balloon Landing, identify animals and the sounds they make in Toyland Zoo, or engage in sing-alongs at the Music Stop. At Dress Up Point, children dress Scooter or Skeeter in a logical fashion (socks should be chosen before boots, for example), and they learn to identify colorful, basic shapes at Shapely Corners. Children earn "prizes" as they successfully complete activities.
There are 5 difficulty levels for most activities (see screenshot at left). In Toyland Zoo, for example, the first level doesn't require mouse clicks at all – children simply view animals one-by-one as they appear onscreen, and listen to the sounds they make. Level 2 is similar, except now a child's input is required – in order to advance to the next animal, a random click of the mouse or tap of the keyboard will do. On level 3, children with point-and-click abilities can select any of 3 animals to place in a farm or forest background, then watch and listen as the animal appears on the scene and utters its familiar sound. Kermit asks players to find a specific animal on level 4, and requests children to click on an animal after hearing a sound clue on level 5. Most activities contain similar leveling challenges.
All of the screens are bright and inviting, and the animations are adorable. The shapes are chunky, colorful, and they even glow, adding to the visual appeal of the title. Kermit occasionally offers some interesting information about, or functions of, such items as tractors, stars, woodpeckers, and more, and he is always encouraging. When children make mistakes, they are encouraged to try again, and after a few errors, the correct answer is highlighted to help struggling players make a correct choice.
The main problem we have with this program is its excessive prompts to select or change difficulty levels. In fact, for each activity, the level screen appears as kids enter the activity and as they leave it! This is an unfortunate problem as it can easily confuse young users when they attempt to exit an activity and select a new one. Also, a print icon appears on every screen, and it is simply too accessible! Your printer may be working overtime if you don't monitor your child closely, and there is no way of turning this option off. Printable pages are nothing more than souvenirs as they lack any off-the-computer activity value.
As a parent of children who were introduced to the computer at a young age, I always appreciate software titles that make using the computer easy and fun for little ones. This program would make a nice choice to add to your early learning software collection simply for the sake of variety. However, titles such as Reader Rabbit Toddler and Reader Rabbit Baby are much easier to navigate, and if you are limited to only a couple of choices, Muppet Babies Toyland Train shouldn't be high on your list. This title will be best for parents to play along with their children (used as "lapware") so that they can control the navigation. While level 5 may be appropriate for preschoolers, there's simply not enough in this program to keep them happy or challenged. As such, this title is most suitable for toddlers.
In short, this program has much potential, but its flaws prevent it from being distinguished as a highly recommended title. We would love to see an improved version of this title in the future.