As a little girl, I spent many hours on my tummy watching insects at work. Although there is no substitute for climbing trees or getting dirty, children today can also have wonderful science adventures on their computers.
With "Millie Meter and Her Adventures in the Oak Tree" children can shrink to fit inside a tree to learn about its life cycle. In "Mia 2: Romaine's New Hat," kids join a plucky mouse named Mia in an adventure that explores the world from a mouse's point of view. In both adventures, children stumble upon games that offer a fun way to learn science facts.
'Millie Meter and Her Adventures in the Oak Tree'
Millie Meter is a girl who owns a magic helicopter that allows her to shrink down to microscopic size. In this adventure, Millie meets Twit, a man who has decided to cut down an old tree because he mistakenly believes it has no life left. Millie persuades Twit to let her prove that the tree is still alive by collecting 10 photographs of living things found within the tree.
Children join Millie in exploring the oak tree. Kids choose where Millie should go--to the roots, the trunk or the canopy of the tree. In each location, there are several scenes to explore, some leading to the inside of the tree.
The exploration is very cleverly presented. As children branch out, they encounter lively animated characters that live in the tree. Eric the Red Squirrel serves as Millie's guide. In the roots, players meet Ludovic Lumbricus, an earthworm who takes his job of loosening the soil very seriously. Kids also encounter Grandpa Jack Lumber inside the bark of the tree. He explains why trees have rings.
As children click various items, they discover six science games that reinforce concepts introduced in the software. The characters are novel and highly creative.
"Millie Meter" does have a few navigational shortcomings, including a strange save feature that remembers what you have collected but not where you are. Also, there are many recorded lessons that cannot be interrupted--even after they've been watched two or three times.
'Mia 2: Romaine's New Hat'
Mia is an adorable mouse who skateboards as easily as she walks. In her second software adventure, Mia gets lost and loses her mother's favorite hat--which she needs the player's help to find.
As children enter Mia's world, they see it through her eyes--roadway curbs are mountains. As children direct Mia, a compelling story unfolds. Mia and the players navigate the wilds of a backyard that includes a pond and a hedge. In the process, they meet all sorts of animals, including Romaine, an evil rat who snatched the missing hat.
Uncertain about recovering her mother's hat, Mia is anxious to acquire the mouse currency, sparklies, so she can buy a new hat if need be. Sparklies are earned by playing science games. The eight games vary, depending on which of four levels of difficulty is selected. The games cover a wide range of science topics including the solar system, the human body, weather and habitats of animals.
Moving Mia can be slow at times, but there are many neat features. Clicking on Mia's head prompts help if players are stumped. "Mia 2" showcases movie-quality 3-D graphics that are truly spectacular. The game's rich environment and sweet story particularly appeal to girls. This adventure is perfect for the unhurried play that summertime offers.
Jinny Gudmundsen is editor of Choosing Children's Software magazine.
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"Millie Meter and Her Adventures in the Oak Tree"
Ages: 4 to 10
System requirements: On the PC, a 486 with 8 MB of RAM. On the Mac, System 7.1 with 8 MB of RAM.
Publisher: Tivola Publishing
The good: Novel and creative characters
The bad: Ineffective save mechanism and uninterruptible info-bits
Bottom line: A fun science adventure set inside an oak tree
"Mia 2: Romaine's New Hat"
Ages: 5 to 11
System requirements: On the PC, a Pentium 166 with 32 MB of RAM and 40 MB of available hard disk space. On the Mac, a Power PC 275 running System 8.1 with 32 MB of RAM and 40 MB of available hard disk space.
The good: Unbelievable graphics reveal an engaging story
The bad: Pacing is somewhat slow
Bottom line: A charming adventure filled with interesting science games