Magic School Bus Whales, by Microsoft
Posted: 29-Oct-2002

4 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 Whales CD brings back Ms Frizzle and her class, and takes you on a field trip to the Pacific Ocean to discover whales and dolphins, where they live, what they eat, and other amazing science facts.

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 even an option to print the license, which worked like a charm. Very nice.

School Bus Activities
Once you have your "whale" 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. Clicking on most items takes you to a different action, usually with a theme related to the object itself. Some objects will just do something immediate there in the bus, giving the bus a lively feel. Most objects, however, will take you away from the bus and into some information screens or into a game. For example, clicking on the map displays a world map with pictures of various whales and dolphins around the map. Clicking on each species then highlights areas on the map where that species is known to live, along with a Ms Frizzle narrative. My favorite part of the bus was the various real-life movies that played after you clicked on the television screen, each with its own narrative. Another cool action was the whale scale, where length and weight of the Dolphin, Blue whale, Humpback whale and Orca where presented in comparison to either a bus, kids, cats or elephants. For example, while the length of a Dolphin was represented by 7 cats, the length of the Blue whales was represented by 54 cats. This is a brilliant way of giving kids a visual representation of just how long some whales are. They will also learn that the weight of a Dolphin is equivalent to the weight of 24 kids, as compared to the Blue whale at a weight of 5,000 kids, and the Humpback whale at a weight of 1493 kids.

In addition to the various information screens, the bus also included two games: the Puzzle game, and the Clam game. All the games provide a selection of easy, medium or hard in difficulty. The Puzzle game provides an ocean scene with some pieces scrambled, and it's up to you to put the pieces in their correct place. The scenes could be cycled through, and all were pretty nice. The Clam game displayed a bunch of clams on the ocean floor, and when you clicked on a clam, a point value was displayed, and a question was asked (TRUE/FALSE and multiple choice). Get the question right and earn the points (also keeps track of the top scores).

The bus activities are sure to entertain kids for a long time, and best of all, they really are great learning tools (I learned quite a bit myself). Some other features were pictures of whales with hot spots, such that if you clicked on a part of the whale, that part is described, and the ocean "Diner" where you get to find out what various species of whales and dolphins like to eat (did you know that Orca whales like squid, but not octopus, or that most whales like plankton, with the exception of the Orca and the Boto whales?). Some of the species that are discussed in various features are the Baleen, Beluga, Narwhal, Orca, Humpback, Bowhead and Sperm whales as well as the Boto and Bottlenose dolphins.

Ocean Activities
In addition to the activities that are available in the bus, you can click on the bus door to go into the ocean, and a new set of actions become available. In the ocean, you can click on the scuba diving kids for more information about whales, or you can click on any of the large whales pictured in the scene to watch those whales swim to the next screen where more information is provided in narrative.

There are also two other games outside the bus: Beluga game and Camera game. In the Beluga game, you try to guide a Beluga whale through a maze, watching out for predators and other hazards (like oil spills), eating fish and plankton on the way, until you bring the Beluga to safety with its family. This was probably the most challenging game of all the games on the CD. The Camera game is a shoot and click game where various species of whales or dolpins pop out of the water, and if it matches the species in focus, you quickly put the camera icon of the creature and click to take its picture (and earn points).

Summary
The Whales CD is chock full of really neat information about whales and dolphins, presented in a very fun way to learn. The real-life movies are fascinating, the games are very entertaining, and the amount of knowledge to be taken away from the bus ride is fantastic. Ironically, the one thing I found really lacking is that there wasn't much information on how to spell the different species' names. In writing this review, I had to look the names up on the web to get the correct spellings. Overall, however, there is some really good information packed into this software that will keep kids entertained, while feeding their fascination of the whales and dolphins of our oceans in fun and involving ways. I strongly recommend this title for kids, and perhaps even for some of us adults.

Pros:

  • Excellent information on whales and dolphins
  • Great real-life movies
  • Creative, involving and fun methods of learning

Cons:

  • Game did not do much for learning how to spell the different names
  • Could have used more real-life movies as well as real-life photos


Overall Rating:

4 out of 5 Mice