Are We There Yet? (computer game) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by Tracy Mygrant
OK, let's be honest: If you're not into crosswords, word searches, and jigsaw puzzles, you may find Are We Finished Yet? a better title for this game. But if such brain pickers interest you, Are We There Yet? is a challenging, educational package.
The Mallard family wins fourth place in a cereal company's sweepstakes and receives much more than a prize from the box. Leaving the white picket fence behind, they travel the nation with their award, a handy coupon book for U.S. tourist traps. They can move from one state to another only after solving some problems. Making this trip is what the manual calls the typical American family. The hardworking Drake Mallard isn't home much. The mom thinks she may be turning into her own mother (how fitting that the only name listed is Mom), while the daughter, Tiffany, holds a personal vendetta against both parents for not ending her name with an i. Blip, the younger brother, finds hand-held videogames and rubber vermin vastly fascinating. We don't see much of these folks, however, since solving the two puzzles in each state forms the bulk of the game.
After choosing a state, the Mallards are given such basic information as state nickname, capital, and points of interest. Then they select one of the two tasks, each pertaining to an actual event or place. Players encounter 23 kinds of puzzles ranging from crosswords and mazes to Hangman and Concentration. At each stop, a pulldown menu gives instructions for overcoming the obstacle. In Virginia, the Mallards venture the Great Peanut Tour (a winding bicycle route) and collide with the Kaleidoscope Festival in Lynchburg. The manual suggests how each puzzle fits with its event or place. For the Rattlesnake Hunt in Pennsylvania, the Sentence Search answer reveals why it's a good idea for participants to check their lunch bags (hint, hint). You're allowed to choose from several highlighted states in any order you want, but you can't move on to another group of states until completing the first.
As the family moves along, it collects souvenirs that appear during the final challenge when the back of each piece reveals part of another jigsaw. Any souvenirs it hasn't collected don't appear on the screen, thus making the game harder to solve, Luckily, the clue book provides answers to all puzzles and lists the souvenirs, in case you miss them on your own.
While the more than 200 puzzles are educational, they also require patience and a considerable amount of "brainergy." In fact, before actually starting the game, the player must piece together a map of the United States. Warning: These tasks move rather slowly without a mouse. Both the game's creators and I recommend using one, though it's possible (but somewhat frustrating) to play with a keyboard. Also, saving puzzles as you solve them prevents having to start over later, although you have to load the finished puzzles one by one to move on.
This may not be an action-packed game, but the sound effects and colorful graphics liven up still screens, providing a more interesting atmosphere for solving crossword puzzles than you'll ever find in the newspaper. For anyone who enjoys the challenge of thinking games, Are We There Yet? offers enough to fill hours and some interesting tidbits that may someday help you win Trivial Pursuit. IBM PC or compatible, 640K RAM; serial mouse (for PS/2 models 25 and 30); VGA, hard drive, and sound card recommended--$24.95 ELECTRONIC ARTS 1450 Fashion Island Blvd. San Mateo, CA 94404 (415) 571-7171 Circle Reader Service Number 367