BY OWEN LINZMAYER
Not only does The Voice module enhance the play of video games on the Odyssey2, it is also used in educational drills where speech is essential. Sid the Spellbinder uses arcade action to capture the interest of younger children (age 6-10) as they learn to spell commonly used words.
Sid the Spellbinder can be used by one person at a time and has two levels of play. These determine how fast Sid the snake slithers across the screen, the amount of ammo you receive as a reward, and the difficulty of the words that you must spell. If you take too long to choose a level, the program defaults to the more difficult setting.
The game begins with Sid, a snake made of ten circular segments, slithering across the top of the screen as The Voice warns, "Monster attack, open fire!" You must move your cannon along the bottom of the screen and fire at Sid when he's above you by using the joystick and the red action button.
Points are awarded for each segment destroyed, and your score is displayed in the lefthand corner of the blue status box. Be careful not to waste missiles--every time you shoot, your limited ammo supply is diminished by one.
When Sid rushes overhead, you can always get off at least one shot at him. With each successive pass, Sid drops closer to the bottom of the screen where there are two exits from which he can escape. If Sid safely reaches either exit, he will chomp five of your reserve missiles for each of his segments that make it to the opening. When you run out of missiles, the game ends.
If you succeed in destroying the entire snake before it reaches the lowest level, you go directly to the spelling bee section of the game. In this part of the program, you get a break from the arcade action. The computer quizzes you on three words before you again do battle with Sid.
The Voice pronounces a word, and then asks you to type the spelling on the keyboard. Don't worry about having a generation of kids mimicking a robot's voice; this voice is masculine with a very distinctive mid-western accent. If by chance you didn't hear the word you are to spell, press the spacebar and it is repeated as many times as you need. As you type, a computer-like voice calls out each letter. When you believe you have the correct spelling, press return. If you notice a mistake, you are allowed to hit the clear key to start over again.
If the word you type matches the spoken word, you are awarded a certain number of bonus missiles. Should you, on the other hand, misspell the word in question, you are given another chance. After two mistakes, the computer takes it upon itself to spell the word slowly for you. There is no penalty for answering incorrectly; only the loss of a bonus.
Rather than one long drill after another, you return to the video game after each series of three words. This time Sid is faster, and he continues to pick up speed as he descends the screen. From here on, the two sections of the program continue to cycle until you run out of ammunition.
You receive two booklets along with the Sid the Spellbinder cartridge. The first is simply an instruction guide that briefly describes game play and helps you set up your Odyssey system. The additional booklet contains a 30-page story with Sid as the main character. The words that are found in the spelling program are used in this story in alphabetical order. Some of the more difficult words are footnoted with definitions. When read along with an adult, this helps the child understand how to use the words in context.
The educational value of Sid the Spellbinder is not to be overlooked simply because it is both a game and a drill. Sid is the perfect example of a constructive use for video games. By combining a simple, yet enjoyable arcade game with a spelling bee of considerable size (100+ words), the people at N.A.P. have developed a cartridge that can be both fun and a learning experience.