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Review CornerSoftware
Reading Blaster Ages 7-8
Rating: four stars
The Bottom Line
This title is best used as a reading review, as it primarily contains spelling, grammar, and reading drills. The activities don't teach kids reading concepts as much as they test and reinforce them. Second-graders who enjoy arcade-style games with an intergalactic theme will thoroughly enjoy the well-designed format of Reading Blaster Ages 7-8. Motivational incentives are high and a broad range of skills are covered.
Ages: 7-8   Subject: Reading/Pre-reading/Spelling  Brand: Knowledge Adventure
Review Sections: Product Overview  Entertainment Value  Technically Speaking  Design  Skills Covered  Replayability  Educational Value  Dollar Value
Reading Blaster 7-8 Product Overview
This title is a dressed up version of Spelling Blaster Ages 6-9. Most of the activities are the same, but the newer Blaster Pals that have been appearing on computer (and television) screens the past year or so are now featured. An all-new activity that allows kids to practice reading and reading comprehension skills is added as well.

The basic premise of Spelling Blaster is carried forward to this title. The Blaster pals are vacationing on Planet Islandia, but there is trouble brewing! Valuable books have been stolen and the Blaster pals' help is needed. Through a series of activities on the Planet's different islands, players earn clues that ultimately help them identify the guilty Mumblers.

  • In Mumbler Maze kids use arrow keys on their keyboard to direct Mel around a maze collecting gems and avoiding Mumblers. Once complete, they must rearrange scrambled words and punctuation to create a readable sentence.
  • In Ski Bum Mumbler (the all-new activity), kids read a short book, then direct Max Blaster down a ski slope, avoiding obstacles and answering multiple-choice questions that test reading comprehension.
  • In Geyser Valley, kids fire balls from the cannon into geysers. On level one, each ball has a number on it, and kids must fire the numbered ball into a geyser whose word has that same number of syllables. Later levels have players forming plurals, finding synonyms, and more.
  • In Volcano Drop, the object of the game is to get down the mountain before the volcano blows. Children must identify, for example, all the words that come before "nap" in the dictionary or the words that are capitalized correctly, all the while avoiding Mumblers.
  • Volcano Climb involves helping G.C. climb the volcano by identifying words that follow a particular pattern (such as all words that start with the same sound as "clock") and avoiding the falling lava.
  • Bridge Puzzle requires children to spell words several times using their keyboard as they slowly rebuild a bridge for the Blaster pals. The first time they are confronted with a new word, they are given its spelling in full. Then, letters are dropped, and finally kids must spell out the word without any clues.
Once 5 clues have been collected, kids use their deduction skills to determine the guilty Mumbler from a line-up of suspects (see screenshot at left). There are 45 Mumblers to catch in all.

This game features 2000+ vocabulary words, 200+ lessons, and each activity has 5 levels of difficulty.

At the Juice Shack, kids can browse through and read the program's storybooks, create a printable crossword or word search puzzle (word lists are available), do a creative activity that involves stamping letters, words, and pictures onto a message board to create poems or stories, read "B-Mails" that contain riddles, and look at their Star Chart that shows progress for each activity at each of the 5 levels of difficulty.

An added feature involves collecting SmartPoints that kids can redeem for online prizes. Note that this feature needs to be unlocked by a parent. A second CD entitled Virtual Classroom allows kids with an Internet connection to explore a safe, educational environment with Max Blaster as the host of virtual classes. This feature is free for 4 months, after which there is a subscription fee if parents elect to become members.

This program receives mixed reactions from different children. Arcade-style games predominate, and children less skilled at these types of games may find it difficult accessing their brain power as they focus on navigation issues. However, none of the games really require difficult maneuvers, so it will boil down to taste in the end. Some kids are thrilled with this kind of format — one 8 year-old tester couldn't get enough of it.

Motivational incentive is high, and a good variety of skills are covered. Early second-graders might find some of the reading drills difficult, however. Reading skills are neatly organized into the five different difficulty levels, and word lists are also well-organized.

Note that this title is identical to Reading Blaster 2nd Grade in most respects. This updated version features the new SmartPoints rewards as well as the Virtual Classroom free trial.

Technically Speaking
Minimum requirements are Windows 95/98, a Pentium 133 processor, 32 Mb RAM, and 12X CD ROM. Mac users require a 120 MHz Power PC with 12 Mb RAM free, System 7.6.1, and at least 4X CD ROM.

Skills Covered
phonics, spelling, vowel sounds, contractions & compound words, nouns, verbs, adjectives, 2000+ vocabulary words, prefixes & suffixes, punctuation, capitalization, sequencing words to make sentences, antonyms, synonyms, homophones, verb tenses, reading comprehension

Educational Value
Plenty of reading drill is in store for second-graders! Because much focus is on various reading, spelling, and grammar rules that are taught in second grade, this would make a good refresher for children who have already completed grade two and could use some brushing up on reading facts. A broad range of reading skills are featured. Printable crossword and word search puzzles are a wonderful touch for away-from-the-computer learning.

Entertainment Value
Fans of Blaster titles and the TV show starring the Blaster gang will enjoy the format — in fact, this title may be just the ticket for kids who need arcade-style activities to play educational games. This will suit kids who don't have the patience to embark on a long adventure because Reading Blaster Ages 7-8 contains mini-games that are relatively brief. Discovering the identity of the guilty Mumblers is great fun!

The design is excellent. Navigation is extremely easy and intuitive. There are 5 levels of difficulty for the educational activities, and even a choice between easy and hard gameplay! These levels are readily adjustable. Progress reports are available as well.

This program contains a whole lot of content — there are 45 Mumblers to "catch" in all, and kids must come up with 5 clues for each by displaying mastery scores of 85% or more. Kids don't need to wait a long time before collecting their clues and enjoying the fun "catch the Mumbler" activity, helping to hold interest for children with shorter attention spans.

Dollar Value
This CD-ROM sells for $30 US.

Released: 2000
Reviewed: July 2000