Multimedia spotlight. (computer games for children) (Multimedia PC) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by Carol Ellison
THE VAMPIRE'S COFFIN, THE LAST DINOSAUR EGG, THE HYPNOTIC HARP
The titles on the boxes of Sanctuary Woods' kids' game series, The Awesome Adventures of Victor Vector & Yondo, say a lot about them even if you don't look at the age rating. The experiences inside are uniquely designed for the eight-and-over set, which seem to invoke the work awesome with--well--awesome regularity. The larger-than-life quality of these animated escapades also appeals to those of us who grew up defining life with words such as neat.
The three Victor Vector CD-ROMs--The Vampire's Coffin, The Last Dinosaur Egg, and the Hypnotic Harp--are part of what Sanctuary Woods calls its I-Ventures, in which the I stands for interactive. They pack the fun and high adventure of a Saturday matinee serial. Each game is framed within a screen to add to the sense of video excitement. Kids click on the onscreen knobs and directional controls to move through the game. Not only do the comics-style graphics beat those you'll find on any newsprint page, but they top those of most computer games.
There's no titillating violence here. That should appeal to Janet Reno and the growing number of parents who are concerned about the knock-'em-sock-'em quality of TV and videogames. On the other hand, they don't exactly lack scary moments. Each appeals to a child's sense of adventure and mystery with elements such as vampires, dinosaurs, secret codes, and gladiators.
Kids join the action as museum archivists who control the adventures of "the valiant Victor Vector and his Digital Dog Yondo." Our heroes are introduced just that way by a voice that possesses all the anticipatory inflection of a Walter Winchell or Robin Leach. It's just another of the games' matinee motifs. Voice-overs and musical scores, produced especially for the games, features the melodramatic verbiage, hypertensive inflection, and cliff-hanger action of Captain Marvel, Superman, and the other futuristic fantasies of an earlier generation.
In each Victor Vector game, players travel through time with Victor and Yondo to recover items for the museum and prevent those items from falling into the wrong hands. Victor is a "digital agent" who looks for all the world like christopher Reeve. He is, as the games describe him, "brave, honest, athletic, and enthusiastic." And Yondo, his Saint Bernard, upholds the tradition of Lassie, Rin Tin Tin, and countless other heroic dogs who have graced the screen with their strength, wisdom, and loyalty.
The games pit Vitor and Yondo against archvillain Ram Axis, a virus spawned in the great crash of 2093, who often goes undetected by changing forms to foil their efforts. Players explore a virtual environment, clicking on images to talk to people, gather treasure, collect props that boost or diminish their energy level and help them past hurdles later in the game, or retrieve information from Yondo's data bank collar.
Yondo's collar is one of the educational elements that kids must return to again and again to meet the games' challenges. Kids must review and use the information in the data bank to correctly answer questions, solve puzzles, and progress through the games. Sanctuary Woods integrates fact with fantasy in a way that makes the games seem anything but bookish. The Last Dinosaur Egg and The Hypnotic Harp present factual information on the history, science, and culture of prehistoric times and of Rome. The Vampire's Coffin is replete with information about cental Europe in the late eighteenth century.
Like all good computer-based adventures, these games are complex. They feature 80 to 150 interactive screens that involve a fair amount of trial and error as kids try out the different options--only to end up in a Transylvanian jail or find themselves sliding into molten lava from a prehistoric volcano.
And the fun doesn't stop when the game's over. Just as their parents could earn premiums and surprises by sending in box tops and proofs of purchase to their favorite TV heroes, young fans of Victor and Yondo can join Sanctuary Woods' Fun Club by simply registering their games. Members receive things like stickers, game clues, and previews of new games. It's a little like the code rings we could earn by mailing in Ovaltine labels.
It's this nod to nostalgia and the rich traditions of larger-than-life fantasy heroes and canine sidekicks that gives these programs a special charm. No doubt about it, the kids will soon be complaining that they can't get the keyboard away from Mom and Dad.