Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 141 / JUNE 1992 / PAGE 84

Super Solvers Spellbound! (educational software) (Evaluation)
by David Sears

For those of us born without a knack for spelling, weekly grammar-school spelling bees always inspired a certain degree of terror. Misspelling a word in the first round happened more often than anyone would like to admit. Or worse, poor spellers would somehow survive the initial barrage of common words only to face a word like sobriquet. Meanwhile, the class word bully, who could spell peripatetic while performing handsprings, claimed the gold star by correctly spelling nutmeg. Where was justice?

Must our children endure the horror and embarrassment we fell victim to? Not now: Super Solvers Spellbound! makes it fun to learn how to spell.

The Learning Company brings in the familiar, whimsical characters of Super Solvers to put even the most reluctant young students on the path to better spelling.

The story begins with a challenge: Morty Maxwell wants to prove that he's not only the Master of Mischief but the world's best speller as well. No self-respecting Super Solver will stand idly by and allow this to happen, despite the fact that not every Super Solver is a terrific speller.

Thanks to the Spellbinder (a notebook-sized computer), beating Morty at this game will take only a few fun-filled hours of playing with words. To win, you must triumph not only at local spelling competitions but at statewide bees as well. The final test takes place in Washington, D.C. -- an auspicious location for Morty's downfall.

Even players at the young end of Spellbound!'s 7-to-12-year-old target audience will have little trouble getting started. A short command at the DOS prompt invokes the program. With a mouse driver in place, you can initiate most actions within the game via simple pointing and clicking. Parents might wish to encourage heavier reliance on the keyboard, however, where the arrow and Enter keys, along with the space bar, serve just as well as the mouse.

Spellbound! increases typing efficiency, and while the empahasis remains on spelling, this adventure can't help but familiarize keyboard neophytes with the rudiments of text entry.

In the Spellbinder is a trio of spelling exercises disguised as puzzles. Word Search resembles the popular diversion of the same name often found in newspaper. You must find a number of words hidden in a grid filled with random letters. The difference between other word finds and Word Search is, of course, the ulterior motive. Super Solvers search for words that later will appear in the spelling bee. And in preparation for this upcoming test, you must not only find the word but also select its constituent letters in the proper order. The Spellbinder doesn't permit you to select letters indiscriminately; elves must be culled from the grid sequentially, beginning with e. Starting with s or v, even it all the other required letters are eventually selected, doesn't merit a correct answer.

Word Search can put together challenging puzzles. With the user-selected word lists as its database, it will scatter words upside down, diagonally, backward, and in a delightful serpentine manner. Kids will love to follow the word microprocessor, to name one, as it snakes down and across the grid. Sound a bit tricky for your seven-year-old? Don't worry; the advanced puzzles appear only late in the game, just before the final spelling bee. By then your Super Solver will gamely tackle any puzzle.

The next activity, Flash Card, brings you face to face with Morty, Each flash card boldly displays Morty's mug -- further incentive for a Super Solver to spell each word correctly. Press the space bar or click on Flash to display a word briefly; then attempt to spell it. The Spellbinder doesn't give up on kids who can't spell the word the first time; it gives them three chances before moving on to the next word.

Already the most demanding of the three preparatory activities offered by the Spellbinder, Flash Card increases in difficulty as you approach your goal of competing in the Washington, D.C., spelling bee. Not only do you have to spell flashed words correctly, but you also have to unscramble these same words in order to earn further point bonuses.

If you don't recall the flashed words from the beginning of the activity, unscrambling them can prove frustrating. The Spellbinder helps out here by allowing several attempts at unscrambling each word; the Flash Card screen displays any letters that are placed correctly, leaving gaps where incorrect letters are chosen. All in all, it's not a bad compromise, and kids will probably feel the most pride for successfully completing this activity.

Criss Cross brings to mind crossword puzzles, but instead of presenting clues, this activity supplies all the words needed. The task is to fit words of varying lengths into a framework of boxes, one letter per box. Through the process of elimination, you can quickly brings this activity to an end.

As with the other puzzles, later levels can bring greater complexity in Criss Cross. However, when words of the same length appear on the list, trial and error will yield the unique solution in just a few minutes.

After participating in all three activities and earning sufficient points to qualify for the next spelling bee, Super Solvers head for the real competition. There, Spellbound! shines brightest. Besides the rich 256-color VGA graphics that give you plenty to look at, clear digitized speech on the PC makes the program truly remarkable. The warm, feminine voice of the officiator welcomes the contestants, utters words of praise, and most strikingly, regularly speaks aloud many of the worlds that Super Solvers have studied.

While many PC owners, all too familiar with the raspy static that often passes for digitized speech in otherwise respectable games, would just as soon ignore optional vocals, this aspect of Spellbound! deserves attention. Any fear of missing a word simply because it's unintelligible to the human ear fades quickly; this digitized vocabulary ranks among the best.

PC speaker quality may vary, but a sound card promises consistent and superb results for digitized speech playback. If you don't have a sound card, you might want to consider The Learning Company's Family Sound Value Pack, which consist of an Ad Lib card and copy of Spellbound! and sells for only $119.95. Spoken words are interspersed among the majority of flashed words, often to good effect.

What if, despite all your preparation for the spelling bee, you don't take first place? Then head back to the activities of the Spellbinder, of course, for more practice. Spellbound! never penalizes players for trying, and this no-lose atmosphere will do timid kids far more good than the public humiliation of a real spelling bee.

Present lists cover general topics as well as troublescome word types such as homonyms and palindromes. In addition, you may fill up to 100 special lists with words of your own choosing, thereby customizing the program to focus on problem words or this week's spelling list.

So with a minimum of effort and a good deal of fun, Spellbound! can turn every Super Solver into a spelling heavy-weight. And who wouldn't like to teach the local word bully a lesson or two? Spellbound!s remarkable union of updated learning activities with outstanding sound makes this software a great equalizer where words are concerned.