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Review CornerSoftware
Oscar the Balloonist Drops into the Countryside
Rating: four stars
The Bottom Line
This charming program features lovable characters, vivid graphics, and fun adventures that will keep children busy for hours on end.
 
Ages: 4-8   Subject: Adventure  Brand: Tivola Electronic Publishing
Review Sections: Product Overview  Entertainment Value  Pros & Cons  Technically Speaking  Design  Skills Covered  Replayability  Educational Value  Dollar Value
 
 
Oscar the Balloonist Drops into the Countryside Product Overview
This charming, slow-paced European title features Oscar, a little boy with a magical hot-air balloon. In this episode, Oscar is taking a ride in his balloon when he meets up with a bird who has spotted something curious down below in the countryside. Oscar lands his balloon in order to investigate, and meets up with a venerable, albeit confused, zoologist. It seems that the zoologist is not only having trouble finding some animals, he also confesses that he is actually a little scared of them! Oscar offers to help track them down.

This is where your child comes in. By clicking on the field screen, kids are introduced to a set of talking animals, each of which is quite eager to tell players all about themselves. Clicking on any one of them prompts a short "Who am I?" game. After a cryptic clue like "I'm scaly, but I'm no fish", the featured animal introduces him- or herself, talking about things like his enemies, prey, sleeping habits, and other interesting tidbits. Some even clear up some common misconceptions about themselves. Kids meet up with the likes of the "fluttery, good-looking, and hard-to-get" Belinda the Butterfly, the nocturnal Bill and Brenda Barn Owl, and the timid Dorothy Doe. Clicking on Oscar's magical seasons balloon will take kids to a screen that shows the featured animal in a scene for each of the 4 seasons of the year. A few clickables on each screen further children's understanding of the animal.

Kids learn the answers to such questions as why the lizard sticks out his tongue, why moles have sealable ears, and why the doe's coat is a different color in the winter. Loads of such interesting facts are available every step of the way.

Oscar's friend Carmela the Games Chest is available any time a child wants to play an activity. Five games are immediately available, and the remaining seven need to be discovered — and believe me, they aren't very easy to find!

A beautiful 2-level puzzle of a flower and herb arrangement is available, and, once complete, rolling the mouse over each kind of plant prompts the program to identify its name. A game that asks children to identify the correct combination of animals that hibernate in the winter is not easy at all! Kids will need to know their stuff. But, no bother, they can always explore the field screens again to find out.

Another game asks children to identify the animals that need to make a quick get-away from the animal featured on a "Wanted" poster. This is a cute activity that teaches kids about animals and their enemies and even their strategies to elude danger.

The most unusual activity in the game has children attempting to identify the correct herbal remedy for a variety of ailments! They learn a little bit about such herbs as dandelion, nettle, chamomile, sage, and even poisonous herbs like foxglove. Sage tea, we learn, soothes a sore throat, chamomile helps unblock the nose, and more.

Other activities include a beautiful butterfly memory game, an activity that teaches about animals' headgear, a hare and hedgehog game that plays like a board game, and more. There are 12 activities in all.

At any time during the game, kids can toggle between English (with a British accent), French, and German. This is a lovely feature.

Technically Speaking
Minimum requirements are Windows 3.x/95/98/NT 4.0, a 486, 8 Mb RAM, and 2X CD ROM. Mac users require 8Mb RAM, System 7.1, 2X CD-ROM.

Pros & Cons
The most hampering problem of this disc is its non-interruptible sequences. Introductions, instructions, and often lengthy clickable sequences cannot be "clicked through" or otherwise bypassed, leaving less patient children rather annoyed. The nature of the program is already slow-paced and quiet, and this design problem simply makes the game drag.

This title is extraordinarily informative and unique in its quiet educational value. Parents who are looking for a charming program that has a calm, storybook atmosphere will welcome this title as a nice change of pace. Be aware, however, that kids accustomed to faster-paced edutainment titles will quickly become bored. In this case, parents may be more pleased than their kids with the program than their kids.

The graphics and audio are wonderful. Oscar the Balloonist Drops into the Countryside is beautifully illustrated, and the educational content is excellent. Animals and their natural habitats are introduced to children in delightful ways, with each animal eager to talk about his/her special habits and distinct characteristics.

Skills Covered
exploration, animals, foreign languages, seasons

Educational Value
Information about animals and nature is passed on effortlessly as a result of children's explorations through the different field screens and activities. Kids interested in natural science will learn a whole lot of facts through osmosis. The multi-language component is a wonderful option, and the ability to change the language at any time during the game means kids can get immediate translations.

Entertainment Value
This is not high-energy edutainment. This title is very calm and soothing, and will appeal to children who enjoy listening and learning about nature, and who love a nicely illustrated story. Parents might enjoy playing this game with their children. The animal characters are endearing and can be humorous at times.

Design
Kid testers were unsure what they had to do after watching the beginning introductory sequence, but did eventually grow accustomed to the program's design. The non-interruptible instructions and clickables is an annoying problem for most kids.

Replayability
The inability to bypass long sequences seriously hampers the replay factor of this program for many children. However, there is a lot of content, and finding the games will take quite a bit of exploration.

Dollar Value
This CD-ROM is priced to sell at less than $20 US.

Released: 1999
Reviewed: August 2000