One Disney Activity Center Is Groovy; the Other’s a Dog


Many families will no doubt take their children to see “102 Dalmatians” and “The Emperor’s New Groove,” new children’s movies from Walt Disney Studios. In conjunction with these releases, Disney Interactive has produced two software activity centers: “ ‘102 Dalmatians’ Activity Center” and “ ‘The Emperor’s New Groove’ Groove Center.”

After forking over nearly $30 for the movie, drinks and popcorn for a family of three, would parents find the CD-ROM worth the additional $30 to extend the movie experience? You might want to skip “ ‘102 Dalmatians’ Activity Center” but consider “ ‘The Emperor’s New Groove’ Groove Center.”

“Groove Center” enriches the movie’s story with four games and activities. It features animated characters from the movie along with the original voices and a setting that transports children into the movie’s world.


In the movie, an arrogant young ruler named Kuzco is transformed into a hip llama by his evil advisor, Yzma. Kuzco hooks up with a peasant named Pacha, and together they attempt to reclaim Kuzco’s throne.

In the software, two of the activities are arcade-style games. One has children rescuing a rope-swinging Kuzco from falling into the jaws of some crocodiles. The play is intense and fun. Don’t worry--no one ends up as crocodile food.

The other game has Kuzco trapped in a ziggurat as Yzma’s soldiers advance. Players attempt to hurl the correct magic potions at the soldiers before they reach Kuzco. Color matching and logic are involved in the fast-action game.

The Loomation activity encourages children to design their own six-panel tapestry. What is cool here is that the tapestry magically animates after it is designed. With careful planning, children can create a simple movie. This activity is highly inventive.

The last activity teaches children about how to raise crops. Players direct Pacha’s work in the fields, including hoeing the fields, planting various vegetables, watering and harvesting. On the harder levels, natural disasters complicate things.

There is also an online component to this game. Players can go online to download additional images and backgrounds for use in the Loomation activity.

In “ ‘102 Dalmatians’ Activity Center,” children explore five activities in London and Paris. Unfortunately, only three are well done.

The strong activities include Operation: Dalmatian, a logic game that uses clues to eliminate possible suspects, and Verdogo, an arcade-style game in which players navigate one of the puppies through a bakery. There is also an open-ended art activity in which children decorate an on-screen canvas with paints or stickers from the movie.

Kid-testers quickly lost interest in the Chow Train activity, which involves throwing bowls of food to puppies. The Adopt-a-Puppy activity allows children to play with puppies on the computer, but this animated world is a far cry from romping with a real-life puppy.

Because activity centers are a series of computer activities with no overall story line motivating play, the activities must stand on their own merits. Another hallmark of a good activity center is that children will want to play it repeatedly. “Groove Center” activities can be played over and over--and two of the four can be enjoyed with another player. Replay value is not as high in “102 Dalmatians.”

Good activity centers also offer a wide variety of activities. “Groove Center” provides only four activities--a pitiful number. And “102 Dalmatians” isn’t much better with five. Although both boxes suggest an age range of 4 to 8, very few 4-year-olds will be able to play the activities in these titles without help. “Groove Center” is best for 6- to 8-year-olds, and “102 Dalmatians” is best for 5- to 7-year-olds.

Both titles tout an online component. It’s cool to include an online feature in a game, but only when it is appropriate and safe. In neither activity center does Disney assure a safe Internet experience. Because installation gives adults the option of loading the online components, I would recommend that parents opt not to unless they are planning on always playing these games with their children.


The Skinny

“Disney’s ‘The Emperor’s New Groove’ Groove Center”

Price: $30

Ages: 6 to 8

Publisher: Disney Interactive

Platform: PC/Mac

System Requirements: On a PC, a Pentium 200 with 32 MB of RAM, 100 MB of available hard disk space and a video card with 2 MB of RAM. On a Mac, a System 8.5 or higher with 32 MB of RAM and 100 MB of available hard disk space.

The good: Fun and innovative activities

The bad: Not enough of them

Bottom line: An enjoyable way to enrich your child’s movie experience

“Disney’s ‘102 Dalmatians’ Activity Center”

Price: $30

Ages: 5 to 7

Publisher: Disney Interactive

Platform: PC/Mac

System requirements: On a PC, a Pentium 166 with 32 MB of RAM, 60 MB of available hard disk space and a video card with 2 MB of RAM. On a Mac, a G3 233 running System 8.1 with 32 MB of RAM and 60 MB of available hard disk space.

The good: Three of the five activities

The bad: Two of the five activities

Bottom line: Expensive for the small amount of quality play


Jinny Gudmundsen is editor of Choosing Children’s Software magazine.