Mixed-up Fairy Tales. (computer game) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by Eddie Huffman
Have you seen this child? Not if the child's been playing Mixed-Up Fairy Tales, a new educational adventure game from Sierra On-Line. It teaches children to disappear with threatening-looking strangers.
Of course, in Mixed-Up Fairy Tales the stranger is a benign, bespectacled dragon called Bookwyrm who appears to the child in a library, materializing from a book. Bookwyrm encourages the child to follow him to a magical land where water tastes like grape soda and every action plays against a synthesized soundtrack provided by Bach and Mozart. And while Bookwyrm may be a stranger in the beginning, his land has characters as familiar as Snow White and the seven dwarves, Jack (of beanstalk fame), and Cinderella.
All is not well in Bookwyrm's fairly tale sphere, though. An aptly named little hairball called Bookend has--you guessed it--mixed up all the fairy tales. It's the child's job to put them together again. Thanks to the well-designed, mouse-oriented interface of Mixed-Up Fairy Tales, doing so becomes an entertaining, educational challenge loaded with enough difficulties to be interesting but not enough to become frustrating.
The package comes with a concise, helpful manual; a book with bowdlerized versions of the real fairy tales; and a Mixed-Up Fairy Tales coloring book complete with crayons. The disks come with a self-explanatory installation program, which takes even novice computer users by the hand and walks them painlessly through the process. My biggest problem was finding enough memory to run the program--you need about 535K RAM free to load Mixed-Up Fairy Tales.
Another problem I encountered was a virus Norton AntiVirus discovered in the sound drivers for Mixed-Up Fairy Tales. Repeated attempts to call Sierra's technical-support line yielded only busy signals. Later, Norton AntiVirus reported the same virus in a sound driver for an unrelated program, making me wonder whether the virus report was accurate. I still don't know, since I never was able to get through to Sierra and find out.
Mixed-Up Fairy Tales is intended for children ages 7 and up. There's a fair amount of reading required, but no typing. Every action comes as the result of a simple mouse click (or a much less intuitive keyboard command; you really need a mouse). Whether you're looking at an object, moving to a new screen, or talking to a fairy-tale character, manipulating your character quickly becomes second nature.
If the classical music never sounds quite as good as in the concert hall--at best it's a synthesized approximation, at worst a bad imitation of funeral-home organ music--Mixed-Up Fairy Tales comes with a better-than-average soundtrack and a good mix of sound effects. You can hear water streaming down a waterfall and listen to Cinderella disappear in her pumpkin coach in a dizzying flourish, although a frog's hops sound more like a series of barely audible violin squawks. The better your sound capabilities, the better the sound, of course.
After a brief introduction from each character you encounter, you must guess which of five fairy tales the character belongs to. It takes two or three actions to help each character complete his or her story, all of which end with a reassuring "And they lived happily ever after." The fairy tale territory looks like a pleasant enough place to run out the clock, although visually it leaves a few things to be desired. I played the 256-color VGA version, which features a nice array of backdrops but rather choppy characters. resemblance to Sierra's companion game, Mixed-Up Mother Goose.
As with Mixed-Up Mother Goose, most of the action in Mixed-Up Fairy Tales takes place at a gentle pace, but there are a couple of moments of high drama. At one point you get to chase Bookend cross-country to retrieve an object, and another time you get to watch the giant crash to the ground from Jack's beanstalk, leaving a giant-shaped hole in the ground.
Don't worry about a child disappearing into the game, though: It's actually a nice place to get lost in, and an educational way for modern technology to bring to life some vintage stories.