The Secret Codes of C.Y.P.H.E.R.: Operation Wildlife. (educational computer game) (Evaluation)
by Karen Lee Siepak
I thought it strange that an undercover agent drove a pick-up truck. Now, after he's abandoned me in front of a dilapidated feed store on this deserted street, I'm wondering whether he's a double agent. No matter. All I can do is go into the store. With a little luck I'll find another agent who'll take me to headquarters. Inside, the woman behind the counter gives me a mean stare, then nods toward some shelves filled with jars and boxes. I swallow hard and step toward the shelves. They slide apart, revealing a narrow hallway. My heart races. I remember the pickup truck and fight my instinct to ditch this dive. I've begun this mission, and I have to see it through. I brace myself and step into the hallway. A head I see flashing lights. Gadzooks! It's the sign-in computer for Operation Wildlife!
This is where Tanager Software leaves you in its new educational game, The Secret Codes of C.Y.P.H.E.R.: Operation Wildlife. You're a secret agent, and your mission is to decipher messages for clients. Along the way, you learn about mammals as you collect pieces of code. The fun part is unscrambling the code, especially if you see an alternate alphabet. I like decoding in American Sign Language, but you may find Braile, Morse code, semaphore, or Greek more fun--and English more manageable.
A lot of thought and planning went into Operation Wildlife, evident in its terrific artwork and tiny details. It's delightful: You use a code name, doorknobs turn, sound effects are catchy and appropriate, and mammals are positioned in their correct habitats. A bonus feature lets you send messages to other players, so you can carry on conversations with friends who've signed into the game. Your message is encoded, and your friend has to unscramble it. It's fun to leave silly and sometimes cryptic notes.
You select your clients from an extensive list detailing each client's bio. It includes Ruth the Snoop, a gossip columninst who seeks exclusives; Dr. Celeste lal, an astronomer who's secretly studying a quadrant of the galaxy; Heidi N. Tzeeck, an animal tracker who's looking for a lost wolf; and Murray Sackum, a coach whose team is a shoo-in for the Super Bowl. This motley crowd's bound to have someone who piques your interest.
You learn the names of Indian tribes, constellations, trees, and a host of other subjects that serve as the street names where you meet contacts. Successfully identify a mammal from your contacts' clues, and you receive a bit of coded message. Collect all the pieces, and you're ready to decipher.
As you play, you also learn all sorts of information--habitat, range, size, winter color, and so on--about a seemingly endless number of mammals. And don't think this game is just for kids: It includes a tapir, a sugar glider, and other animals most people haven't seen or heard much about. Need help? Tap FunCyclopedia, located on your watch. It's just what you'd guess: an abbreviated encyclopedia full of fun facts about mammals.
Unscramble the puzzle, and your client replies with a message, which in turn elicits a response that you have to collect and decipher. So it goes until you've received all the transmissions and the case is closed.
Although it'd be great to see the animals animated, there's little to complain about in Operation Wildlife. It's a fun way to spend a rainy day and a great way to learn about animals. I'd tell you more, but I think I see Eagle behind that cypress on your right, and I've been waiting for her for an hour . . . something about a scandal involving Mike Robe and the park's water supply.