Studios Link Movies to Software

jinny@choosingchildrenssoftware.com

One of the pleasures of summer is going to the movies with your kids. Two of this summer's expected blockbusters, "Jurassic Park III" and "Atlantis: The Lost Empire," offer companion software for children younger than the target audience of the movie. The software attempts to bring the fantasy of the movies to your computer screen.

"Jurassic Park III: Dino Defender" is an adventure and puzzle game that is intellectually challenging and exciting. In "Jurassic Park III: Danger Zone," kids experience an inventive virtual game board on which the spaces lead to mini-games or challenges. "Atlantis: The Lost Empire--The Lost Games" offers four games, but only two were considered winners by kid testers.

'Jurassic Park III: Dino Defender'

By signing in to this game, children become members of the highly specialized Dino Defender team. Typhoon damage has left the island without power fences, and the dinosaurs are running wild.

Players must sneak into the dinosaur enclosures, distract or trap the dinosaurs and then flip the circuit breakers to restore power to the enclosures. There is enough work to keep children busy through six levels of play, each with multiple scenarios.

When players land in a new enclosure, they must size up their surroundings, locate and avoid the carnivorous dinosaurs, find airlifted supply boxes and figure out which supplies will help solve the puzzle, which in turn allows them to locate and activate the electric fences. It's intense and complicated, and kid testers loved it.

Kid testers didn't seem to mind that they frequently became dino chow, were reincarnated and had to play the scenario over and over again to get it right. There is nothing like big, white, gnashing teeth to make you think at your best.

Each maze-like scenario requires children to be creative thinkers and to have good hand-eye coordination. These puzzles are so challenging that younger children may become frustrated. Our 11- to 14-year-old kid testers were driven to win this game and played it intensely for days.

However, since the experience doesn't change from game to game, don't expect children to play it again right away.

'Jurassic Park III: Danger Zone'

When kid testers started playing "Danger Zone," they could barely contain their excitement. They were magically transported to Jurassic Park and asked to help replenish the dinosaur DNA by playing a virtual board game against a friend or the computer. Landing on a space often led to a fun mini-game that involved dinosaurs.

As with most board games, this game has its share of bad-luck and random-events spaces. But the spaces that testers desired most were those that led to the dozen different mini-games, such as matching dinosaur bones or controlling jeeps to herd vicious raptors down a path into an enclosure.

A few special board spaces allow a player to "dart" a dinosaur to collect DNA. The first player to collect a vial of DNA and clone a dinosaur wins.

The game was greeted with much enthusiasm, but children's interest waned when they had experienced all of the special mini-game spaces. The games were still fun but no longer novel.

Parents should note that there is one particularly violent mini-game. Landing on the Raging Raptors space requires children to participate in a vicious battle between two raptors. Children control the attack of one raptor by using the keyboard to have him bite, claw, tail-whip and dodge. The game ends when one of the two raptors is knocked out. Although the software box targets children as young as 7, the violence in this mini-game ups the appropriate age to at least 10 years.

Even then, it may not be something you want your children to play.

'Atlantis: The Lost Empire--The Lost Games'

In this companion software to Disney's "Atlantis: The Lost Empire" movie, children join the movie's motley crew of adventurers as they introduce four multileveled games. The games are set in scenes from the movie.

With machine-specialist Audrey, children design their own machine to go into head-to-head combat with another machine. The contest takes place in a ring and the object is to knock over the other machine, cause it to stall or push it out of the circle. By trial and error, children learn how to design a superior vehicle.

Another challenging activity requires children to rotate vehicles in a caravan so that the one in front can take care of any obstacle blocking the road. Obstacles may be rivers of lava, mounds of stone or canyons. This game requires children to plan, navigate the constantly moving caravan and rotate vehicles within the caravan at lightning speed.

Kid testers found the two remaining activities uninspiring. Both suffer from unresponsive navigation, and children found the objectives uninteresting. In one, children navigate submarine pods through an obstacle course. In the other, players fly airplanes through a volcano shaft to collect King Stones. Players also need to disable enemy planes and then herd enemy ships to a corral.

This software received low marks for value because only two of the four activities were particularly interesting to children. For the money, this software may not be worth it.

*

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

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The Skinny

"Jurassic Park III: Dino Defender"

Price: $30

Ages: 8 and older

Platform: PC/Mac

System requirements: On the PC, a Pentium II 233 with 64 MB of RAM and 30 MB of available hard disk space. On the Mac, a G3 or iMac running Mac OS 8.1 with 64 MB of RAM and 30 MB of available hard disk space.

Publisher: Knowledge Adventure

The good: Captivating, challenging play

The bad: May be too tough for younger children

Bottom line: Great dino fun

"Jurassic Park III: Danger Zone"

Price: $30

Ages: 10 and older

Platform: PC/Mac

System requirements: On the PC, a Pentium II 233 with 64 MB of RAM and 30 MB of available hard disk space. On the Mac, a G3 or iMac running Mac OS 8.1 with 64 MB of RAM and 30 MB of available hard disk space.

Publisher: Knowledge Adventure

The good: Plenty of mini-games

The bad: One mini-game is too violent

Bottom line: Fun, but with a short shelf life

"Atlantis: The Lost Empire--The Lost Games"

Price: $20

Ages: 7 and older

Platform: PC/Mac

System requirements: On the PC, a Pentium 200 with 32 MB of RAM and 100 MB of available hard disk space. On the Mac, a G3 233 running Mac OS 8.6 with 64 MB of RAM and 100 MB of available hard disk space.

Publisher: Disney Interactive

The good: 2 of the 4 games

The bad: The other 2 of the 4 games

Bottom line: Not much value for the price

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