These games are fun, and teach, too

HOME COMPUTING

December 14, 1992|By MICHAEL J. HIMOWITZ

Given a choice between blasting Klingons or practicing multiplication tables, nine kids out of 10 will be out there in space on the Enterprise, phaser in hand, looking for the bad guys.

It's the Age of Universal Nintendo, and it's hard to focus a youngster's attention on learning something when a wonderfully noisy adventure is only a game cartridge away. So publishers of educational software today have their work cut out for them.

Here are a few examples that offer the best of both worlds, if you're looking for a stocking stuffer that will stretch your child's mind as well as his reflexes.

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FOLLOW THE READER (age 5-8) from Disney Software is a wonderful blend of graphics, animation and sound that gives early readers a friendly workout, along with something they really want -- control over what goes on in the game.

The program opens with Mickey Mouse asleep in his bed, with an incomplete sentence at the bottom of the screen. By choosing from a selection of verbs and nouns, youngsters can create a simple story and watch Mickey do exactly what they tell him to do.

They can explore Mickey's house, make breakfast, do the laundry, build a toy, invite Donald Duck or Goofy over to play, or travel to the park for a picnic.

If you have a sound board, the program will read each sentence back as your child completes it. The voice reproduction and sound effects are among the best I've heard, and the animation is smooth and Disneylike.

When your child is through, he can replay the whole story, print it, or save it to disk for replaying later. There are endless variations to the storybook.

Follow the Reader is flexible enough to be mastered by a first-grader with an adult's help, yet interesting enough to keep kids involved once they've learned how to read on their own. It's a fine piece of work that's entertaining and educational. It requires an IBM compatible computer with at least 640K of memory and 4.5 megabytes of free hard disk space.

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If dinosaurs had never existed, kids would have invented them. it's not surprising to see the terrible lizards cropping up everywhere in educational software.

ZUG'S RACE THROUGH SPACE (age 5-12) from ZugWare puts its friendly creatures in outer space (where else?) in the further adventures of the Zug, who first taught kids how to clean up the environment in EcoSaurus.

This effort puts Zug in the employ of an interplanetary fast-food franchise. His mission: deliver dinners to dinosaur outposts throughout the solar system before archrival Mr. Bronto of the Burger Blaster chain can beat him to the door, er, airlock and claim the turf.

The idea is to learn facts about the solar system, and Race Through Space makes it fun and easy as youngsters have to vTC figure out where they're going from written and spoken clues.

The graphics are clever but don't overwhelm the main purpose of the program, which is learning about the planets. To get the most out of it, particularly for younger readers, you'll need a sound board and speakers, since the program makes extensive use of its speech generator. It will also cost you 5 megabytes of disk space.

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TREASURE MATHSTORM and TREASURE COVE (age 6-8) from The Learning Company are new releases that pick up where the company's excellent Treasure Mountain left off.

In MathStorm, Morty the Master of Mischief has returned to cast an icy spell on Treasure Mountain, scattering its treasures on its winding paths.

Youngsters playing the game roam the mountain paths, capturing elves who provide clues in return for solving math problems. They'll also learn how to make change, set a clock, balance a scale, recognize number patterns and do all kinds of other math problems in a colorful, entertaining adventure.

Treasure Cove takes the action to the bottom of the sea, where that sly old devil Morty has scattered the treasure and left behind a trail of polluting goobies. This one teaches science facts, problem solving and math.

Along the same lines, older youngsters (9 and up) will enjoy TLC's Operation Neptune, a challenging arcade and math game that puts youngsters at the control of a high-tech submarine trying to recover a space capsule from the ocean floor and save the world from mysterious extra-terrestrial pollution. The arcade action in this one is some of the best I've seen in educational software.

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For sheer inventiveness, READING ADVENTURES IN OZ from Davidson Software (age 4-9) is hard to beat. Your children find themselves in the Land of Oz, where they have to help Dorothy, the Tin Man, the Scarecrow or the Lion get what they need from the Wizard.

To do that, they'll wander through 40 different screens full of mice that roar, flowers that talk, trees that spring into bloom and hundreds of other animated surprises.

Each object has a word attached that pops up when they click the mouse button, and their job is to find the Wizard's messenger, figure out which object he wants from a written clue, and collect it.

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