Treasure Cove. (computer game and educational software) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by Clayton Walnum
A mysterious fellow named the Master of Mischief has left his home in Treasure Mountain, crossed the Rainbow Bridge, and made his way to Invention Island, a place where he is anything but welcome. Now, he has destroyed the Rainbow Bridge and is polluting Treasure Cove with goobies, a type of fish found beneath the ocean's sands. It's up to your child, in the role of a Super Seeker, to stop the Master of Mischief, get rid of the goobies, and help the elves rebuild the Rainbow Bridge.
This is Treasure Cove, another exceptional educational program from The Learning Company. Children ages 5-9 get to slip into their swim fins, don a mask and snorkel, and join a fascinating adventure beneath the sea as they solve puzzles, learn about sea creatures, and find treasures. They'll discover that Treasure Cove is as addicting as any videogame, thanks to its charming characters, challenging puzzles, and action. And, as they enjoy the videogamestyle fun, they're brushing up on their counting, reading, and logical skills.
The game begins with a short storybook presentation that explains the underwater mission. To play, your Super Solver must dive into the depths armed with only a flashlight and a bubble pump. Under the sea's surface there's much to explore: over a dozen types of sea creatures, a sunken ship, mysterious caves, and more. By capturing sea animals with the bubble pump and exploring the ocean floor with the flashlight, your child advances through the levels of the game, eventually gathering enough gems to rebuild the Rainbow Bridge.
The Super Solver's flashlight requires light energy to work. To get light energy, your child has to collect red sea stars with the bubble pump. This involves swimming up to a sea star, aiming the bubble pump, and shooting bubbles. If the bubbles enclose the sea star, the flashlight's energy indicator goes up one unit, the bubble pops, and the sea star skedaddles. In the lower levels, capturing sea stars is a snap. As the game progresses, however, your child's aim must be increasingly more accurate.
The bubble pump, of course, requires air. Super Solvers can refill the pump by finding an air station and blinking the flashlight the number of times shown on the pump. If they're successful, the station's Crabby Attendant emerges, grabs the sea-horse air nozzle, and fills the bubble pump with a ten-bubble charge. Players who run out of light energy and therefore can't refill the bubble pump can find a school of glow fish. These glowing friends provide just enough light energy to start the air station. In this way, Treasure Cove never comes to a frustrating dead end.
After capturing an orange sea star, your child is given a puzzle to solve. Puzzles are multiple-choice questions and usually involve solving simple math problems, finding rhyming words, or completing sentences. A correct answer is rewarded with a clue that will help your child locate gems and the all-important puffer fish.
Gems increase your child's score, but the elves also need them to rebuild the Rainbow Bridge. And, after all, helping to rebuild the bridge is one of the game's objectives. Therefore, as a Super Solver, your child's main task is to find as many gems as possible. But the gems are hidden on the ocean floor, covered by various types of ocean life. To find them, Super Solvers must locate the right group of life forms and then shine the flashlight on them. The clues given for correct responses to puzzlers help children locate the life forms that are hiding the gems.
Each level in Treasure Cove offers as many as three clues. For example, after catching an orange sea star and answering its puzzler correctly, children may be given the clue three. This means the kids should search for a group of three plants or animals. A second clue may be blue. By combining the clues, children can figure out that they must look for a group of three blue plants or animals. Finally, the last clue may be the name of an animal or plant--for example, crabs. Gems can be found under a group of life forms that match just two clues. In our example, any group of blue crabs, any trio of crabs, or any trio of blue life forms may hide gems. However, when players locate the group of life forms that matches all three clues, they get the puffer fish, which is required to move on to the next level.
Of course, children can search for gems and the puffer fish with any number of clues by randomly shining the flashlight on the ocean floor. This method, however, takes a lot of time and forces the child to stock up often on bubbles and light.
While searching for gems and puffer fish, your child also needs to keep an eye out for enemies--specifically goobies, which steal light energy when touched. Luckily, goobies, like the sea stars, can be handled via the bubble pump. Enveloping these creatures in a bubble causes them to float up and off the screen. By replacing traditional weapons with the bubble pump, The Learning Company has cleverly avoided violence in Treasure Cove. Animals trapped in bubbles are not destroyed; they're simply removed from the screen.
After finding all the gems in the level and locating the obligatory puffer fish, players can move on to the next level. To do this, they have to find the level's Goobie Tube and plug it with the puffer fish. The successful Super Solver is escorted to the next level by a sea creature. For example, in one level, the child's onscreen character swims into a whale's mouth and then is blown into the air through the whale's blowhole. These well-rendered animations further reward children for a job well done.
After completing three levels, players enter Shark Park, where they must avoid sharks while trying to shine the flashlight on a bonus gem. Sharks, like goobies, steal light energy when touched. However, a well-aimed blast from a bubble pump fills these meanies with air and floats them away.
Players who successfully avoid or remove the sharks are taken to the elves to give them the gems collected so far. The elves rebuild part of the Rainbow Bridge with the gems and then reward the Super Solvers with a special treasure of their own. These treasures are stored in the sunken ship. Children can swim through the ship to see the treasures they've amassed.
All throughout this underwater adventure, your child will be delighted by Treasure Cove's almost cartoon-quality graphics and humorous animation--especially when the program is run in 256-color VGA. (The EGA graphics are OK, but to fully appreciate this program, you really need VGA.) Moreover Treasure Cove's sound takes full advantage of a Sound Blaster-compatible card to produce snazzy sound effects and a catchy soundtrack.
As mentioned previously, Treasure Cove is targeted for children between the ages of 5 and 9. However, the younger children will need parental assistance, since reading skills are required to answer the puzzlers. Also, younger children may not have the dexterity required to handle the action portion of the game; aiming the bubble pump and swimming both require manual skills.
Treasure Cove is filled with delightful characters, fascinating underwater scenes, and enough sound and action to keep learning from becoming boring. Kids will love it. What more could a parent ask?