Nick Jr.'s dog Blue has taken pre-schoolers, and their parents, by storm. Judith Cockman reviews three Blue's Clues CD-Rom interactive games: ABC Time Activities, Blue's Birthday Adventure and Blue's 1,2,3 Time Activities.
Wanna have a great time on a lazy summer afternoon? Slip one of Blue's Clues CD-Roms into your computer and forget about being an adult. I co-opted my 8 year-old daughter to play these games, based on the TV show and earmarked for 3-6 year olds, and together we set off on a giddy series of missions with Blue and that darn adorable guy Steve (striped rugby shirt notwithstanding).
ABC Time Activities
We start with ABC Time Activities and are drawn into a delightful world -- uncluttered yet fanciful -- rich with bird song and a 3-D quality that makes us long to jump into the screen. With Mr. Salt and Mrs. Pepper, we choose the snack that starts with the identified letter, which is a good bit of fun, although what I thought was a nectarine and my daughter thought was an apple turned out to be a peach. This could be discouraging for a 3 year-old trying to pick the right letter for the fruit. Luckily, Salt and Pepper, in their inimitable en Français way, tell us what each snack is before we get too discouraged. An indication of the automatic skill level kicking in, perhaps. In this CD, we did have a problem with the "Make A Story" game. We could only negotiate one word to fill both blanks in any given story, with rather uncreative results. This may be a reflection of our own confusion rather than the game itself. We went on to "Make a Rhyme," which was delightful. The bath bubbles looked real enough to blow, making a rhyme was fun and there is just enough repetition of certain words to make it a useful learning experience. And gee whiz, Blue is cute.
Blue's Birthday Adventure
We tore ourselves away from the ABC's to try out Blue's Birthday Adventure. This is a whopping double CD. It took us half an hour to find our first of three Blue's Clues and frankly, I didn't have time to wait for the party to start. This is a good thing. The games are not mere 20 minute wonders, ready to be repeated next time you open the computer. They are insightful, challenging and worth a regular check into the instruction booklet to discover more than meets the eye. We may have been flummoxed as to finding Blue's paw (the clue) with any speed, but we were happily sidetracked. My daughter got to make a birthday card for Blue. She decided to color the whole card blue. This had to be done with a paint brush, don't you know, so it was painstaking work. Then we inadvertently erased this critical piece of artwork at which point she was ready to quit the whole game. Just as surprisingly, we discovered how to make it reappear. She was doubly impressed. It highlighted the fact that this is a game the little ones will need adult help with, certainly the first few times. For those of you who love to spend time with your child, this is a godsend. Birthday Adventuring Day Two My daughter's at camp, so I happily settle in alone with Steve and Blue. Today I realize that even if I pick a nonsensical choice I am rewarded. For example, the day before we had smugly chosen the towel to wipe Blue's paw print from the screen. Today, slap-happy, I choose the party blower. Aren't I clever! Steve blows the paw into tiny blue feathers that float away! I continue to discover not everything is an either/or. Possibly 75% of everything on the screen will come to life if I click it, and will do so in a different way each time for at least three clicks in a row, then surprise me with a bit of a finale. Candy acrobatics, bees buzzing from behind flowers ... better and better, the more I click the bigger the swarm! I can create a havoc of bees in the garden and no-one reprimands me! No-one gets hurt! I click and reclick on some balloons to create a plethora of strange creatures jumping along a tightwire crying, "Whoo Hoo!" The faster I click, the more "Whoo Hoo's"! (I'm having a ball.) Monsieur et Madame Salt and Pepper invite me to help make Blue's cake. I count out and add 3 cups of flour to the bowl, then crack open two eggs into the batter. I look forward to coming back and pouring it into the pan and eating it when baked. Alas, if this is in store for me, I never find out. This culinary review must be written sometime.
I'm a good twenty-five minutes into the game without a clue gathered when I jump into a birthday card ("Blue skidoo and so can you!"). We enter a kid-lovely place of cakes and cupcakes and candy and, oh glory of glories ... present trees! When, Click! after a cherry, and Click! after a strawberry, finally, Click! a pineapple lands on top of a cupcake, I concede Monty Python was conceived from the nonsense of childhood. Or is it the other way around? I suddenly have a new mission: to find the key to unlock a chocolate and smartie covered treasure chest. And aren't I proud of myself when I notice, by happenstance, three keys hanging on the kitchen wall! And aren't my instincts finely honed when I choose the diamond shaped key, leap back through the birthday card, hurry toward the chocolate chest and discover that my key works! Never mind what's inside is a disappointment ... a bunch of toys that need fixing?! What the heck? However, my stoic repair work is rewarded with -- finally -- my first (and only as it happens) Blue's Clue imprinted on the lock of the chest when it closes again. Yipee yaiyo yai yay! Well, I'm forty-five minutes into the game with but one clue and it's time to go. Luckily I can easily save my "work" and restart another time where I left off.
Blue's 1,2,3 Time Activities
I am shockingly reminded of a problem I've had since childhood ... I tune out to instructions. I continue to find my self staring at the characters on the screen who are patiently waiting for my response. But I had daydreamed through their request! Thankfully for me and all the other mind-wandering children of the world, if we just start clicking, eventually we discover what's expected of us. It's during the weighing of the souvenirs that I recognize how the skill level adapts to the player (an option you can also control manually). I'm breezing though the game when slyly, the friendly little critters present me with four souvenirs to be weighed on but three weighing scales! And when I make a mistake (only on purpose you understand), I'm easily directed to re-trying without ever being told I was wrong. Suddenly, as a result, the game gets a bit easier. Four objects reduce again to three, with no fanfare. I make socks of money from sorting snacks with Mr. and Mrs. Salt and Pepper. Everybody is on my side as I sort sprinkled cookies from unsprinkled, three snacks on a plate from two, and here if I make a mistake, everybody scratches their head as if they, too, are confounded by the oddity of having chosen something that just won't go into its allotted space. Not until I make the right choice that is. I play a matching card game with Bear and win a dollar just for losing. It makes not getting the $3 for winning okay. And when I beat Shovel in a game of Mother-May-I, she jumps up and down, excited for my good fortune. How very sportswomanlike of her! With my backpack now loaded with Blue's Dollars, I hurry to the prize tent. Here I learn to subtract as I purchase prizes, a ritual not unlike choosing the tacky little winnings from tickets won at DC Discovery Zone, Chuckie Cheese's or carnivals. After buying enough little prizes, I'll have won a Big Surprise for Blue, but having a whopping $18 to spend I don't take the time to winnow it down to my last dollar to discover what that big surprise may be. The great news is, I get to keep the CDs. I'll come back tomorrow (if my daughter hasn't grabbed the games first) and danged if I won't find some more Blue's Clues and buy Blue that big prize. And -- hot damn! -- one of these days I'm going to make it to her birthday party! Blue's Clues CD-Rom's are the creative result of a collaboration between Nickelodeon and the award-winning creator of children's software, Humongous Entertainment. Blue's Birthday Adventure is available for $29.99 on hybrid CD-Rom for Windows 98/95 and Macintosh. Blue's ABC Time Activities and 1,2,3 Time Activities are available for $19.99 on hybrid CD-Rom for Windows 98/95 and Macintosh as well. Judith Cockman is a freelance journalist, playwright and award-winning documentary writer. Her articles and reviews have been featured in such publications as The Toronto Star, The Sunday Sun, Creative Planet, Kidscreen Magazine and Playback. The mother of four, she has been surfing kid's CD-Roms with her brood for fifteen years.