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Software reviews

Times staff writers

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 13, 1999

Ellie's Enchanted Garden

  • Zowie Intertainment
  • Online price: $49.99

This interactive play set kept one little girl entranced for more than an hour. I can't think of any higher recommendation. With Ellie's Enchanted Garden, the action isn't confined to a mouse and the computer screen. The play set sits in front of the monitor. Movement on the game board translates into action on the screen. It seemed an excellent way to let our 4-year-old, Molly, have her own computer game even though she hasn't mastered reading and clicking.

Using the Quick Start Guide, the play set was easier to assemble and install on the computer than it is to get some toys out of their packaging. The on-screen instructions are a snap. In less than 15 minutes, we were ready to play.

The manual explains the four games -- jump rope, hopscotch, dancing, and hide and seek -- and their three levels. However, the instructions make a point to explain that there's no right or wrong way to play in Ellie's garden. When Ellie, Bingo the monkey and Lily the giraffe are placed on the play set they also appear on the computer screen and walk, hop and talk as the child moves the play pieces. Four other toy pieces cause "magical" things to happen -- from showing treasures hidden under the garden to transforming Lily into a long-necked version of Rapunzel. The Clouds of Change allow the child to choose from four gardens: Ellie's back yard, an English garden, a Castle garden or a Giant garden.

With that much to explore and levels to grow on, it will be a while before a child gets bored.

Platform: Windows

-- Ron Brackett, Times staff writer

WordPerfect Family Pack

  • Corel
  • List price: $79

Yes, Virginia, there still is a WordPerfect, and this suite comes with a load of features. Not only does it have the word-processing program, it also comes with Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing, Compton's Encyclopedia, Print House Magic and clip art for graphic projects, Quattro Pro spreadsheet (as well as some personal finance features) and photo editing. It is designed with novice users in mind, with easy to follow on-screen guides available for home, school or office use. It's hard to beat all these features for the price (and it includes a $20 rebate coupon).

Platform: Windows

-- Dave Gussow, Times technology editor

SimTheme Park

  • Electronic Arts
  • List price: $39.99

The Sim series has gone from building and running cities to building and running theme parks. This allows young entrepreneurs to choose from among four theme parks. The player starts with a budget, sets ticket prices, adds rides, food stands and sideshows, hires staff and manages it all. The program also allows players to design, build and ride their own roller coasters. Users are guided by a little on-screen character, who makes helpful suggestions along the way. My eighth-grader, who liked challenges in previous Sim games, thinks this one is better suited for elementary-age children.

Platform: Windows

-- Dave Gussow, Times technology editor


  • Lego
  • Online price: $19.99

Friends is a social hangout for girls, with composing music, making up dances and writing a diary in the mix. It also features an all-girl British pop-band Loose Chippin's. A neighbor's daughters (ages 8 and 6) loved the program, which allows them to take "photos" of the screen for a scrapbook. The diary is protected from siblings with a password protection. While the neighbors didn't think the program had educational value, it did keep the girls occupied. One of their concerns is that clicking an icon takes the child to the Web (either the Lego site or the band's), something they would want to monitor.

Platform: Windows

-- Dave Gussow, Times technology editor

Chronicle of the 20th Century: Day by Day (Millennium Edition)

  • DK Interactive Learning
  • List price: $39.99

For folks who enjoy fact-of-the-day calendars, DK's Chronicle of the 20th Century makes a fine stocking stuffer. But don't expect it replace a desktop encyclopedia or study guide. There is a paragraph or two on the two or three most significant events of each month of this century. Interested in what happened on your birthday? You'll find one or two one-sentence highlights for each day of the century. Video clips and audio narrations are scattered throughout, as are plenty of photographs from this century's significant events. The CD-ROM covers only January 1900 through June 1999; there's a link to DK's Web site for highlights of the rest of the century.

Platform: Windows (reviewed) or Macintosh

-- William Lampkin, Times staff writer


  • Southpeak Interactive
  • List price: $19.95

Southpeak and Robert Redford's Sundance for Kids have taken the activity center concept to its next, and very entertaining, level. Imagynasium has the obligatory sections: music (Jingle Jungle), art (Downtown), storytelling (The Curio Shop) and games. But the makers throw in wonderfully quirky graphics, the voices of Glen Close and Jonathan Winters, activities that actually make kids think, and Brain Boosters, an area that helps them brainstorm ideas by asking questions to help them focus, break out of their normal thinking and review what they've done. My first-grader has had a ball writing stories to accompany the intriguing illustrations she has selected, then adding music and sound effects to her stories. Imagynasium combines the fun of the best kids' games and, as its name suggests, engages kids' imaginations, too.

Platform: Windows

-- William Lampkin, Times staff writer

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