The Secret Island of Dr. Quandary. (computer game and educational software) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by David Sears
Hunt for your body and pick up math skills along the way in this delightful game full of puzzles.
At carnivals you lose track of your money trying to topple milk-bottle pyramids with baseballs; in Dr. Quandary's shooting gallery you lose track of your body. But don't worry: In The Secret Island of Dr. Quandary, you have ample opportunity to reclaim your body and time to boost brainpower and wrist reflexes besides.
Despite the tongue-in-cheek humor found throughout The Secret Island of Dr. Quandary, most parents will agree that MECC doesn't kid around about educational values. This game looks great and plays well, but most important, it runs the gamut of learning experiences available on a personal computer. This diversity guarantees that younger players will return to the island again and again to solve simpler puzzles that always have different solutions and that somewhat older children will target the higher levels of play for real challenges to their logic.
The big attraction here is Dr. Quandary's Troggle Shoot, in which you try to shoot diminutive, bizarre troggles as they scroll past. Dr. Quandary will offer you a choice of three Kewpie dolls: B. Ginner, O. D. Nary, and D. Feecult. A decision in the gallery tempers the difficulties of the island. The beginner's level shouldn't pose any insurmountable problems to anyone and will serve as an excellent introduction to the island; the highest level might just cause some fits.
Shoot a Kewpie doll, and your onscreen character leaves its body and is transported into the doll's body and to the island. Thus begins your islandwide scavenger hunt that will ultimately result in the reunification of your body and your errant ethereal self.
You awaken on a tropical island in the form of a Live Action Figure and remain trapped there until you can locate the ingredients for a Fixer Elixir. Certain obstinate characters and, well, quandaries, lie ahead, but a hard time's rarely been this much fun.
On one of the island's beautiful beaches, you'll encounter the Beach Dudette and her Disc Appear contest. Several rows of compact discs lie in the sand. Remove any or all from a single row; the object is to force the Beach Dudette to keep the last disc, usually a Don Ho or Wayne Newton recording. She'll try her best to force you to keep the last CD, but don't give in. While this exercise in reason may require some practice, Quandary allows you as many attempts as you need. Lose one round, and you may return with a new strategy later; to escape from Quandary's island, you need more than just the components for a Fixer Elixir. You must prove to be the master of every puzzle.
Tax Factor clearly illustrates the concept of factors and in the process provides probably the most intriguing diversion on the island. From a sequential series of numbers beginning with 1 and ranging to a possible 50, players select numbers to earn points. A lisping tax collector picks up the factors of whatever number you choose. Click on 25, for instance, and the tax man will collect 1 and 5 for a total of 6, assuming you or the island equivalent of the IRS hasn't chosen these numbers already. When only prime numbers remain onscreen, the tax man scoops up those, too, and tallies his earnings. The highest score wins. After several attempts, most players will develop a scheme to beat the acquisitive varmint at his own game.
Take a respite from all the arithmetic and tackle something simple--geometry! Actually, Quandary's island isn't all mathbound, and Let's Make a Door, HMSB Quandary, and Waxy Buildup prove it. In these puzzles Dr. Quandary presents you with striking visions of a portal, a sailboat, and a giant candle. He then shatters them; you pick up the pieces and fit them into the outline of their original image. Anyone playing with B. Ginner need only snag the pieces and put them in their places; D. Feecults will need to rotate pieces using the right mouse button in order to make them fit. Success here clears the jungle pathway for further scavenging.
Not every dilemma centers on you, a Kewpie. Poor Edmund Pillory waits mournfully, hoping that a wandering stranger might guess the combination that opens the padlock standing between him and freedom. Quandary's loathsome magic prevents Edmund from telling you the combination, but know it he does, and he can wink or smile to indicate the accuracy of your guesses. This exercise will reveal either your intuitive gifts or the lack thereof. You'll have to practice educated guessing, and after only a few attempts to open the padlock, you'll begin to develop the necessary logic on your own. A handy list of your guesses and Edmund's reactions appears onscreen; you have no reason to keep pen and paper beside your mouse pad in this or any other Quandary brainteaser.
In Ape the Ape, you mimic a pattern of numbers and sounds as dictated by one William Apespeare on his musical vending machine. Patterns begin simply with a single number, but if you repeat a sequence exactly, William ups the stakes, adding more and more numbers to the series. (Don't jot down the numbers as they come up. How can you improve your memory if you're unwilling to work at it?) Ape the Ape operates much like the early electronic game Simon, and anyone with a flair for that addictive hand-held will do well against this simian taskmaster.
Astute players might voice the legitimate concern that none of the microgames within Quandary are truly original. Take Tire Tower, for example. It has three posts and from three to five tires of varying sizes. You move the tires one at a time from post to post, never placing a larger tire over a smaller one, hoping to relocate the pyramid of tires from its original post to either of the other posts. Sounds familiar, doesn't it? Tire Tower is at best a variation on an ancient game, but execution counts for something.
Quandary puts only pointing and clicking between you and its puzzles. The keyboard commands work fine, and some numerical data entry is required, but surmounting most quandaries demands the spontaneity that only a mouse can provide. Besides, collected under the auspices of an island scavenger hunt, these tried-and-true games will improve your thinking, in a puzzle-solving sort of way. More important, though, kids will love the presentation of the puzzles. Blending 256-color digitized images with hand-drawn art, upbeat music, and playful commentary, Quandary sets a comic tone where the monotony of the same old math and logic could've been oppressive. Moreover, the necessity of completing each task can't become overbearing; players have as many chances as they require to complete a problem. This sort of tacit encouragement will keep kids learning even when that final number in a series continues to elude them or that last tire just won't stack.
No one plots like Dr. Quandary. He plans to keep you coming back to his little educational paradise, and he'll probably succeed, no matter what your age. Admittedly, eight-year-olds stand to learn more from this island vacation than adults, but adults don't know everything. Take Dr. Quandary's challenge and learn to think again.