Quarky and Quaysoo's Turbo Science. (educational software) (Evaluation)
by David Sears
Consider the popular misconception of science nuts: reserved and reclusive mathcrazed social outcasts who concern themselves first with research and last with physical exertion. Adults know better, and everyone probably remembers at least one well-rounded athlete and scholar from high school or college, a person as at home in the laboratory as in the gym. Just try telling your children that they can have the best of both worlds, though. If they remember the cross-generational parade of nerds from movie and TV history, they'll stick with a good game of baseball or a day of bike riding rather than glance at a textbook.
But that was before Quarky and Quaysoo's Turbo Science, a delightful game in Sierra On-Line's Discovery series. More than being just an unusual title, Turbo Science manages to integrate scientific investigations, spirited competition, and some hilarious cartoon humor in a package designed to show kids that physics isn't for nerds only.
First off, the game's namesakes hail from New Delhi, India. Though tittering space elves, the blobbish little creatures show tremendous spunk and intelligence. Like members of so many other space-faring species in other stories, Quarky and Quaysoo found themselves bored silly without cerebral challenges, so they masterminded a competition called Turbo Science.
Perhaps more popular than the space elves intended, the science competition attracts contenders from across the galaxy and as far away as Australia. The reigning champ defends her title after players climb through the difficulty ranks and dominate both the churlish Das Liquidators and the smug Cool City Maulers. Besides being a humorous lot, these opponents show children that it takes all sorts of people to keep the world spinning.
The actual competition consists of conducting research and answering questions. Oh, no--it's a test! Well, not really. Turbo Science is actually more of a cross-country team effort to prove that you know more than your opponents--the sort of challenge that kids relish.
As each race begins, players appear on a map depicting the game environs, from mountainous retreats to urban sprawl and down to the beach. Each race winds through slightly different territory, so players won't encounter the same characters and locales too often.
At each location, kids have the opportunity to earn money by answering questions about objects, people, and phenomena they see there.
For each spot on the map, Sierra's artists did a fine job of merging whimsy with an essential precision--young scientists-in-training will poke, prod, and investigate virtually everything that appears onscreen. To do this, children simply use the pointer to click on points of interest. The program makes more significant detective work possible with the researcher's toolbox, which is available on the icon bar at the bottom of the screen.
Clicking on the Eye icon and then clicking on onscreen objects invokes a pop-up window full of amusing bits of information--a description of the big-brained Dr. D. Vious, for one. With a click on the Tools icon, kids can summon a full box of tools that every serious explorer needs. Within the box is a voltage meter that reveals the shock value within thunderclouds, power lines, or electric sockets. A sound meter counts the decibels emanating from screaming children, noisy motorbikes, and ice cream trucks. Other tools include a tape measure for pinpointing distance, length, and height; a beaker that tells volumes; and a scale that weighs almost everyone and everything.
Players could perform their entire investigation before attempting to answer even a single question, but with so many objects onscreen at once, they'll certainly miss a few important tidbits of information. Still, if they choose this strategy, they'll improve their memories as they attempt to retain large amounts of data.
Turbo Science doesn't stress memorization extremes, however, and once the questions begin, all tools remain available for use. If a player can't quite remember which mountain climber h the least mass or which light source burns the brightest, it's easy to take a moment to find out. The competitors continue to struggle with their own questions, though, so the local Turbo Science team should keep its investigations brief.
Sometimes a question might prove too difficult for even veteran Turbo Science scientists. In those rare cases--say, when kids need to know about air pressure differences between elevations or the nature of electrical current--they can take time out by clicking on the Research icon and cracking the books. One book, actually: Turbo Science Research Guide, a 145-page feast for hungry minds.
Sierra crammed each page with the laws of physics, clear explanations, and humorous examples. Children will also encounter great moments in science history in the book, as well as inventors and scientists (plus more amusing characters). Turbo Science refers players to the exact page they need to read for the question at hand, but the material found within the text is so well done that many kids will probably keep reading long after finding the necessary information. In fact, the research guide stands up fine on its own and makes perfect reading for a kid's spare time.
As the difficulty level increases, the race route passes through more locations on the game map. Kids may choose a variety of strategies to win. One strategy is to answer a few questions, earn enough money to BMX to the next checkpoint, and then answer more questions--whatever it takes to stay ahead of the competition.
An alternative method, though one that requires somewhat stronger nerves, has players answer questions and earn the maximum $9,999 for a location, then buy the most expensive transport to zoom ahead of their opponents. Either strategy promises some entertaining interlude animation as Quarky and Quaysoo speed on their way.
Turbo Science works overtime to provide positive feedback. After each correct answer, Quarky or Quaysoo--depending on whom the player selected to run the race--teleports, flies, moonwalks, or explodes onto the screen, yelling support for his human teammates. At the finish line of each race, Paco Suave, a Turbonet newscaster, interviews either the winners or the losers, and while the dialogue runs on the silly side, it never insults a child's intelligence--a matter of serious importance for an educational product.
The music for every screen serves well, but the gold stars for truly superior aural achievement go to the samples. A flurry of grunts, mild insults, and random chatter from the cartoonish space elves adds considerably to the fun.
Children will love Quarky and Quaysoo's Turbo Science just for the gameplay. And if your youngsters ever ask things like why steel ships don't sink or how airplanes fly, now they can find out for themselves.
Through the act of discovery, players are bound to uncover more than the simple kinds of answers we adults could give them in the often minimal amount of time we have to spare after work or before dinner. So give your children Turbo Science, and they'll uncover the answers they're seeking. But for realworld demonstrations, you'll still have to take the little knowledge hunters on expeditions to the Hoover Dam, the airport, or even the circus, Circle Reader Service Number 392