Stickybear Town Builder. (computer game) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by Leslie Eiser
Let's see. . . . I'll put the restaurant with flashing neon sign here, the hospital over there, and the airport on the opposite side of town. Think there's room anywhere for an amusement park with a Ferris wheel?
So begins Stickybear Town Builder, a city construction set for five- to ten-year'-olds. Starting with a bird's-eye view of a grassy plain, youngsters pick and place up to 14 buildings from the 30 different pieces supplied. The city automatically adds the roads needed to link each piece to the town center. It's the random nature of these roads--with their weird bends, dead ends, and zigzags--that gives Stickybear towns their unique appearance.
Once built, towns are intended to be the backgrounds in two driving games--Take a Drive and Find the Keys. Use the arrow keys (up, down, left, and right) to guide the car around your town map. But don't expect a free trip. Both games have very specific goals. In Take a Drive, your task is to guide the car to the location that matches the picture on the bottom of the screen. Since each correct visit increases your score, you'll want to get to as many places as possible before time and fuel run out.
Decidedly more challenging is trying to locate the 12 hidden keys in Find the Keys. Vague directional hints appear on the onscreen compass and are repeated using standard directional notation (north, southeast, etc.). As the car moves around town, the hints change to reflect the new relative location of the target, Employing as-the-crow-flies logic, the clues help determine which building is the final destination, but figuring out which road to take is a bit harder. It's somewhat akin to being asked to drive to the Empire State Building or the Golden Gate Bridge when you see it in the distance; you may often feel that you can't get there from here!
But what happens after you've found the keys or visited all the locations? In 1985, the Apple II version of Stickybear Town Builder offered extremely simplistic text rewards ("Good for you. You found it."). In the 1992 MS-DOS version, digitized audio tracks of the same comments have been added, and the box design has been changed to proudly proclaim that it's Ad Lib, Sound Blaster, and Sound Source compatible. Unfortunately, the sophistication of the target age group has changed in the intervening years, making even simple digitized comments seem old-fashioned. Where's the fancy animation, showy music, recordkeeping, or Hall-of-Fame routine? Not here, that's for sure.
Even the interface is annoying. Using arrow keys to steer from an overhead view was awkward in 1985; for the program to use the same interface in 1992 is unforgivable.
It's tough when the times seem to pass a great publisher by. In the mid 1980s, Stickybear software was the best. The colors were the brightest, the animation the smoothest, and the humor--well, kids of all ages chuckled at the things that crazy bear family did.
Unfortunately, Stickybear Town Builder, while great in its time, simply can't compete with games offering the sophisticated graphics and responsive interfaces that are expected by today's young computer users. Stickybear Town Builder still sticks out--but now it sticks out in the wrong places. IBM PC or compatible; 640K RAM; CGA, EGA, MCGA, or VGA; supports Sound Blaster, Ad Lib, and The Sound Source from Disney--$49.95 OPTIMUM RESOURCE 10 Station PI. Norfolk, CT 06058 (800) 327-1473 Circle Reader Service Number 369