Reader Rabbit and friends look a little different this year, and the adventures the gang embarks on are improved, as well. The new Reader Rabbit grade-based software line features adventure formats and exceptional graphics that help entice kids to stick with the program. As before, the educational content is superb and the resulting balance of education and entertainment is ideal.
Through an exciting introductory video, children learn how Reader Rabbit, Sam the Lion, Chester, and Page landed on the rubbery Balloon Town Island. Their Dreamship has been bubble-wrapped and, in order to recover it from the palace, they will need to wake Bulldozer, the dozing bull. Only the Palace Guards can do the deed, as they know how to play the song that awakens the bull, but they are missing musical instruments. This sets up the game's missionto retrieve the instruments by playing educational activities.
In order to get from one part of the island to the next, players must fly Piggy Airlines, but they will have to balance the pig's wings with equal numbers of balloons first! Throughout Balloon Town, kids find songs with learning themes (such as a days-of-the-week rap), funny characters (like Starry, the full-of-himself starfish), and fun educational games.
In one activity, kids spell words by determining the beginning, middle, or ending sounds using lowercase letters that sound themselves out to help players along. On later levels, children encounter beginning blends like ch and gl. In the context of a basketball game, children determine if word-labelled basketballs rhyme with the given word, and on the beach they play a memory game that involves matching letters, numbers, and shape pairs. In Snail Mail, children listen to clues that have them working with the concepts equal to, larger than, and smaller than in order to blow up balloons for delivering mail packages. Once they've collected three or four differently sized balloons, they need to arrange them on the package's hooks in order from shortest to tallest, thinnest to thickest, or according to similar criteria. In a tree, children encounter cocoons that have lost their patterns. The butterflies are all aflutter, and kids need to extend patterns in order to set things right.
Once kids have earned all five of the musical instruments and handed them to the correct guards, they watch and play as the guards perform the bull-rousing song, turning instruments on and off at their discretion. The bull's waking dance is giggle inducing and allows children to enter the palace. Once inside, players quickly discover that there are a couple more games to play before finishing the adventure. First, turtle-kids need to be settled down with stories, and it is the player's job to put the storybooks' pages in logical order. Then, children must complete short rhymes as they unwrap the gang's ship one portion at a time.
Kids who prefer to play the games outside of the mission can play the CD-ROM in practice mode. Children benefit from automatically adjusting levels of difficulty, and sometimes they get smart feedback when they make a number of mistakes in a row.
It is important to note that children playing the game will need to recognize and work with lowercase letters of the alphabetan ability not typical of children just entering Kindergarten.
Minimum system requirements are Windows 95/98/ME/2000/XP, Pentium 166, 32 MB RAM, 8X CD-ROM. Mac users require 180 MHz Power PC, System 8.6-9.1 and OSX, 32 MB RAM, and 8X CD-ROM.
Kids work with number recognition, counting, addition, equivalent equations, math problems, phonics skills, letter recognition, identifying rhyming words, following directions, sorting by attributes, extending patterns, and distinguishing shapes and colors.
Every step of the way, children need to use their heads as they work with letters, numbers, and patterns. Following directions is especially necessary with the program's adventure format. Educational content may quickly become challenging for a typical Kindergarten student. As such, it is probably best for more academically advanced Kindergartners or when used as a review for children entering first grade.
Though learning is not entirely disguised, the program's goal is enticing and the story line is hard to pass up. The graphics of the game are dazzling, and the story is engagingfrom the fun introduction all the way to the satisfying conclusion.
This game contains all the smart features that help distinguish any early learning CD-ROM as excellent. Though children can click through animations and instructions, they are unable to do so when an activity first begins. This ensures that mouse-happy Kindergartners don't skip past important instructions. A map feature allows children to quickly move from one activity to the next, and progress reports are available for parents. Children should have no problem understanding this title's interface.
In order to complete the entire adventure, children must work through the levelled activities. Most kids will be very motivated to do so if only to "save the day." As a result, this program has higher replay value than most open-ended programs.
This CD-ROM carries a suggested retail price of only $19.95 US.
Reviewed: July 2001