Mixed-Up Mother Goose. (computer game) (Software Review) (Compute's Getting Started with Multimedia Applications) (Evaluation)
by Peter Olafson
Jack falls down and breaks his crown, and an invisible band breaks into song. Mary has a little lamb, and a lot of animation and digitized speech. Little Bo Peep has lost her sheep, but found a touch of showbiz. Sierra stuck its thumb into the nursery-rhyme pie and pulled out a plum with Roberta Williams's Mixed-Up Mother Goose on CD-ROM (Sierra On-Line, P.O. Box 485, Coarsegold, California 93614; 800-326-6654; $69.95).
There seems to have been an industrial accident in Mother Goose Land. Elements of 18 well-known rhymes are missing, and old Mother Goose needs you to set them right. That means finding Old King Cole his pipe, Jack Sprat and wife their ham, Little Miss Muffet her tuffet, Mary Quite Contrary her watering can, Jack and Jill their pail, and so on.
You choose your own animated figure from among a dozen broad-faced children--a feature Sierra might consider for its more sophisticated adventures--and steer it through 44 splendid VGA screens using a child-safe rendition of Sierra's icon interface.
(A side note here: The game is culturally adaptable. The available characters are an ethnically diverse lot, and a second CD in the package contains Japanese, German, French, and Spanish language versions. The manual almost apologizes for calling the player he.)
So what's the difference between this and the disk-based version? For one thing, each character speaks in his or her own distinctive digitized voice--from the tuneless piping of Mary Quite Contrary to the backwoods shazam-twang of Peter Pumpkin Eater to the almost Aussie-like drawl of Jack Be Nimble.
The graphics follow the lovely soft lines of Sierra's VGA adventures, and the effects are charming. It's worth standing still for a minute in each scene just to see what the design crew is going to throw at you: a huge butterfly in the foreground, a frog's bulging neck. a cricket's chatter, a bit of flotsam in the stream.
Once you've completed a task--and it's a simple matter of returning an item to the right person--you can sit back for a proper production number. You'll see a fully orchestrated performance of the rhyme in question, complete with animation of silver bells. cockle shells, and pretty maids all in a row. The music's a bit over the top for adult tastes--it's just Mother Goose, after all--but I can imagine kids clasping their hands together and gaping at the screen.
They may even be able to play the game unassisted. (It's recommended for children four years of age or older.) The mouse does the driving. The icons--a menu bar atop the screen in Sierra's recent adventures--have been greatly enlarged and enclose the graphic window on two sides. There's a big smiling mouth for talking, a stop sign to end your play, and simple sliders to change the game's volume and speed (tortoise to hare).
Items are strewn randomly throughout the game, and their arrangement is different each time. Although it only has 44 screens, Mother Goose Land seems quite large with all the to-and-fro. There are no puzzles in this treasure hunt and just a one item inventory, but a few fenced-in areas require some basic map skills to reach, and a couple of the other areas have obscure entry points.
However, some of the game's problems have nothing to do with rhymes. I occasionally found it impossible to replace one object with another without first leaving the screen and returning--a skill a child may not quickly develop. In later stages, the musical sequences sometimes broke off prematurely and the on-screen big-print lyrics skipped lines and failed to keep up with the music.
Finally, I wish the over-emphatic, Romper-Room tone of some of the narration had been moderated; it's a bit condescending, even for kids.
Then again, with everything else packed into Mixed-Up Mother Goose, they probably won't notice. Gee, I wonder what rhymes with wonderful?