Fatty Bear's Birthday Surprise. (children's computer game) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by Scott A. May
Children are natural explorers, and some of their first great adventures begin at home. Fatty Bear's Birthday Surprise finds comfort in such familiar surroundings, inviting youngsters to probe a pint-sized world of wonder, filled with magic, humor, and puzzles galore.
It's the middle of the night at Kayla's house, and her stuffed toys are restless. In a few short hours, it's Kayla's birthday. Fatty Bear springs to life to prepare a surprise party, with the help of Matilda Rabbit and Gretchen the doll. Your task is to guide Fatty Bear through more than 30 locations and wrap presents, make decorations, and find ingredients to bake a birthday cake. There's plenty to see and do as you explore the four-story house, garage, yard, and tree house.
There are also fun distractions that can keep you from your quest. Practice your math skills as you take in a few games of lawn bowling. Sit down at the piano to hear one of ten short tunes or compose and save up to then original songs. Many
more diversion await, if you know where to look.
The title marks the third and best offering from Humongous Entertainment, a company confounded by Ron Gilbert, creator of LucasArts' popular Secret of Monkey Island series. As you'd expect, Gilbert's influence is readily apparent in the game's singular graphic style and delightfully off-center sense of humor.
When children point and click on almost any object, they're rewarded with extravagant and inventive responses. Birdhouses don't just cheep, they detach from tree limbs and rocket about the yard. Lifeless bathrobes break into tangos, and normally sedate chairs gallop around the room. It's silly, yet quite sophisticated, and not at all condescending to developing intellects.
The designers do a remarkable job in structuring the game to appeal to each stage of its three- to seven-year-old target audience. For the youngest players, it's an attention-keeping, interactive festival of fluid animation, humorous sampled sound effects, and remarkably crisp digitized speech. Older kids will have no trouble reaching the end, and although the game's story line never changes, the sheer diversity of discovery beckons them to join in on Fatty Bear's birthday quest again and again.