Magic School Bus Volcano Adventure, by Microsoft
Posted: 21-Apr-2002

3 1/2 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: Microsoft Type: COMMERCIAL

Reviewer: Bill Catambay Class: EDUCATIONAL

The Magic School Bus series is a set of educational titles by Microsoft for exploring and learning about different subjects with some fun. The Volcano Adventure does just that with the world of volcanoes. This software is rated for ages 6 to 10, and tested on a child of age 10. The review machine is a G4/867 Tower.

Installation
Installation is simple. You run the installer on the CD, and it installs it into a folder on your hard disk. The game requires the CD to be inserted to run, and parents may wish to install the software so that it resides in the desired "games" location.

Starting Up
After starting up the game, a list of players is displayed, allowing you to select who you are. For the first time, the list will be blank, and you just type in your name on the first line. After clicking GO, you are then asked to create a "lava license". This is a fun task for kids, as they get to design the picture on the license, with a wide variety of features to choose from. You click on the hair to change hair styles and colors, click on the eyes to change eye features, and the same for the nose, mouth and ears. It puts the mindset into creative mode right off the bat. There was a printer icon that I thought would allow me to print the license, but no matter how many times I pressed it, I could never get the license to print.

School Bus Activities
Once you have your lava license, you are ready to go. You start off inside the Magic School Bus, with verbal instructions from the teacher (you can also turn on Closed Caption by clicking the "CC" button in the bus). The inside of the bus is layed out creatively, not structured like a menu, but more of a hodge podge of items that you can click (much like the way a kids room might look). When you place the cursor over the different icons, most of them have some animation effect which is activated (i.e., the globe spins, the plants grow, etc.). Clicking on the item takes you to a different action, usually with a theme related to the object itself. For example, clicking on the volcano gives you a list of different known volcanos that you can learn more about (such as lava flow, special features, etc.). Some objects will just do something immediate there in the bus, such a clicking on the doors will trigger a joke, and clicking on the radio will toggle the music on and off. Most objects, however, will take you away from the bus and into some information screens or into a game.

The two games from within the bus are the lava flow blocks and the puzzle. In the laval flow game, you must lift a cement block with your helicopter and place it strategically on the mountain so that when the lava flows down, it does not hit any cars or houses. By forcing the flow to miss the objects, you get points for those items as the lava passes. One flaw I noticed is that if the lava flows off the screen (to the right or left), there is no visual of where the lava is, and you just have to wait as points just start showing up on the screen. This may be frustrating for youngers minds looking for a visual. I also did not know immediately where the cement blocks were (was only told that I needed to use them). I looked hard at the bottom of the screen, but then finally discovered that they were to the right in left about a third of the way up the mountain.

The other game is a puzzle game, where scattered pieces are off to the side, and you must assemble them into the center rectangle by dragging them to the correct place. When dragged to the correct place, they snap in, but if they are not in the right spot, they snap back to it's original location to the side. This can be frustrating, as with real puzzles as well as many other computer puzzle games, you want to be able to arrange pieces, organizing them as you desire before placing them on the board.

The best of the "in the bus" activites is the TV icon. Clicking on the TV generates a real-life video of some volcanic action. The real-life videos are far more appealing than the animated action. Likewise, the real pictures of lava rocks and the world map showing existing volcanos were quite interesting as well. Another activity was creating pictures on a dorment volcano by placing houses, plants and trees, complete with simulated growth, critters in action, and a working print function.

Volcano Activities
In addition to the activities that are available in the bus, you can click on the bus door to visit a nearby volcano, and a new set of actions become available. Click on any of the kids for narrated information about volcanos in a child's voice. Click on the camera to see more volcano pictures, and click on the measuring devices to learn about the devices. Also interesting was clicking on the spaceship far in the background (almost unnoticeable), and view different tidbits on volcanos on other planets. Finally, this area comes with two more games, "Rub-a-dub Sub" and "Lava Leaping". The sub games allows you to navigate a submarine through an ocean floor with little cinder spouts and falling lava rocks. Avoid the falling rocks, gas escaping from the spouts, squids, and try to collect the rocks and starfish sitting on the ocean floor. The lava leaping game reminded me of Frogger, only instead of jumping on logs or through freeway traffic, you are a bus trying to cross the lava, hopping on objects floating in the lava. The only problem I had with this game is knowing that none of the objects (wood, basketball, etc.) would have survived the lava, and hopefully the game would have taught the kids the same thing.

Summary
Overall, there is a vast amount of information related to volcanos in this program, and the information is presented in a variety of different formats, some more interesting than others. The games are mildly entertaining, but not the highlight of the software. The real-life pictures and movies were the best parts of the software, and the creative setup for navigation was a nice touch. The 10 year old in my test did not recognize that exiting an action and returning to the bus was done by pressing the circle arrow, so that icon could be improved. I also began to find the voice of the school teacher to be annoying after awhile, with a squeaky high cackling pitch. As far as learning about volcanos, the information provided was fun and informative. Not enough to right a college paper on, but for kids in the targeted age range, probably just the right amount of information. Just don't throw your basketball in the lava, because it will not float! In summary, there are limitations to the program, but for what it does, it does it well.

Pros:

  • Interesting information on volcanos
  • Great real-life movies and pictures
  • Creative and fun screen menu and lava license

Cons:

  • Puzzle game does not allow organizing pieces
  • Games in general are entertaining for awhile, but lackluster in the long run
  • Lava license would not print


Overall Rating:

3 1/2 out of 5 Mice