Eagle Eye Mysteries. (educational computer game) (Evaluation)
by Clayton Walnum
Children team up with a special pal as they learn about the world and develop their problem-solving skills in this cleverly designed mystery game.
When it comes to sneaking education in with fun, Eagle Eye Mysteries is ingenious indeed. In this new educational game from Electronic Arts, children learn about everything from bats to caves to U.S. presidents while they solves a series of clever mysteries. The educational element is integrated so smoothly into gameplay that it's almost invisible. Add 256-color graphics and digitized sound, and you have an educational game that few children can resist.
The first thing, Eagle Eye asks your child to do is to register his or her name with the program. This enables Eagle Eye to track the progress of many players, letting the entire family get in on the fun. After registering, your child chooses a partner (either Jake or Jennifer Eagle, the founders of the Eagle Eye Dectective Agency), who will act as a town guide as well as a helper when it comes to discovering and recording clues.
Your child then sets to work solving the many cases available in the casebook. All told, there are almost 75 mysteries organized into three casebooks. Children may choose to solve any mystery in the current casebook, but they can't move on to the next book until they've solved all the mysteries in the current book. Although the mysteries in each book have the same names, they feature unique clues and different outcomes.
After having chosen a mystery, your child joins Jake and Jennifer Eagle in their tree house headquarters, where the three of them receive the background for the selected adventure. For example, in the Case of the Missing Skateboard, the Eagle Eye Detective Agency gets a phone call from Willy Barr, a local kid who says that his skateboard has been stolen from Shredd's Bike and Skate Shop.
It's your child's task, along with help from Jennifer or Jake, to travel around the town, questioning people and gathering clues. To do this, your child simply clicks on a location on the town map, which brings the chosen location up on the screen. The logical first step in the skateboard mystery, for example, is to go to Shredd's Shop, where your child can question Steve Shredd and his customers, as well as examine the workroom from which the skateboard disappeared.
In each location, rectangles indicate areas that your child should examine or people that should be questioned. Clicking on a rectangle displays a portrait of the person or the object along with a text balloon containing dialogue for the scene. Often, Jennifer or Jake jumps in with a comment like "Look at that!" and points the child toward a particularly valuable clue.
Jennifer or Jake also helps by recording the clues on TRAVIS (Text Retrieval And Video Input System), a sort of combination video recorder and minicomputer that can be used to review and solve a case. After visiting all locations marked on the map, talking to all suspects, and examining all evidence, your child can click on TRAVIS and sort through the clues, choosing the ones that best solve the case.
It's the process of examining clues that really puts your child's mind to work. Over the course of a case, your child discovers many clues, but only the five that seem to best identify the culprit may be used to solve the case. Sorting through the clues is a challenging task, forcing your child to actually solve a case rather than just guess at the culprit. To add to the challenge, many mysteries have several suspects; only careful examination of the clues can reveal the guilty party.
Of course, while evaluating the clues, your child also reviews the educational facts gathered during the investigation. Because the facts are pertinent to the case at hand, to the case at hand, they blend in nicely with the other clues. Again, the educational element is seamlessly integrated into the game.
If your child fails to choose the correct clues or cannot identify the guilty party, no penalty is given; instead, the program gently suggests that the clues need more careful consideration. Your child is allowed unlimited guesses, but the correct five clues must be chose and the culprit identified before your child successfully solves the mystery and closes the case.
At the end of a mystery, your child's partner reviews the case, presenting all the clues and describing how they incriminate the culprit. Often, after a case has been solved, children will discover information during this review that they overlooked during the investigation. As a reward for solving the case, children receive a newspaper clipping about the case or a thank-you note from the victim. These rewards are added to the electronic scapbook, which can be viewed at any time.
Another nice feature is that, whenever players view the map screen, the Eagle Eye control panel is accessible. This enables children to perform such tasks as switching partners, turning sound on or off, registering a new player, viewing a scrapbook, saving a case, starting a new case, or quitting the program.
If all Eagle Eye had to offer were its clever melding of mystery and education, it would be a worthwhile investment. But the detailed 256-color graphics, original musical score, and digitized sounds and voices make this a guaranteed winner. Throughout each mystery, your child views various scenes about the town of Richview, with most scenes featuring simple animation effects. For example, after a fire in the Case of the Angry Arsonist, the interior of Grime's Novelty Shop drips water from the rafters; in Swank's Hotel, your child can watch a desk clerk fill out forms and the lobby elevators rise and fall. Digitized sound effects include ringing phones, a police-band radio, and various voices.
Although Eagle Eye targets the eight-and-older crowd, children under ten may have a difficult time following the logic of even the easiest cases. This is because children must select only the clues the best prove who the culprit is. Clues that don't directly point out the culprit, although they may play an important part in solving the mystery, cannot be selected when the player is about to accuse a suspect. In the tougher cases, sorting through the clues can be challenging even for an adult. Younger folks will require parental help in order to work through each mystery's logic.
Along with the software, Eagle Eye includes an activity book that contains dozens of puzzles. These puzzles, which feature cryptograms, word searches, rebuses, crossword puzzles, and others, all involve Jake and Jennifer in another mystery story. Moreover, the puzzles' solutions go together to complete a final puzzle that your child can submit as a contest entry. The contest winmner will have his or her face featured in the next version of Eagle Eye.
Also included with the package is Electronic Arts' EA*Kids Theater, a graphical menu system. When installed, EA*Kids Theater enables children to start Eagle Eye, to view demonstrations of other games in the EA*Kids series, to get help, or to exit to DOS. If your purchase additional EA*Kids programs, you can add them to the EA*Kids Theater, giving your children access to all games from a single screen. The Theater also allows you to create a boot disk, select a Theater music score, delete previews or programs, and specify your hardware configuration.
If Eagle Eye is any indication, Electronic Arts is on its way to putting together an impressive collection of educational software for children. Eagle Eye is as cleverly designed (albeit aimed at a younger age group) as Broaderbund's Carmen Sandiego series, and we can only hope that, like the Carmen series, Eagle Eye Mysteries will have a long run of sequels.