reviews\ Nov 21, 2002 at 7:00 pm

Zoombinis Island Odyssey - PC - Review

Those indomitable Zoombinis are back for their third adventure, and this time they return to their ancient homeland to repair the ecological damage done by the Bloats. This will take all their skills, but they're up to the challenge - are you?

In Zoombinis Island Odyssey, the third in the award winning series, the Zoombinis hear that the Bloats have left Zoombini Isle after destroying much of the natural environment. The Zoombinis decide to return to help restore the ecological balance. They begin with the Zerbles, an endangered species. In order to ensure their survival, the Zoombinis will need to secure a food source and continue research into Zerble genetics. To achieve these goals, many logical puzzles will have to be solved!

As in the previous games, sorting characteristics by certain rules is the main brunt of the program; what is different is that the Zoombinis are no longer the focus of any of these data sorting and other critical thinking games. Instead, a variety of items are used, such as plants, flowers, Zerbles, machines, and symbols. In fact, the familiar beginning activity of assigning various body parts to each Zoombini is superfluous and has no bearing on later gameplay. Another change is that there are fewer puzzles than before (the original Zoombinis had twelve, the second had nine), with only seven puzzles this time around. And finally, there are no longer campsites for left behind Zoombinis; left behind items just stay at each puzzle.

After assigning a party of twelve Zoombinis, it's time to steer for Zoombini Isle. To actually land on the island real, however, the Zoombinis will have to be "launched" by a Catapult that uses combinations of mudballs and boulders to activate the "launchpad" to fling the Zoombini up onto the cliff. This will require careful study of the gears and ball launching patterns, as the rate of movement determines the number and frequency of balls that make it to the launcher. Once this obstacle is passed, the Zoombinis get to work on cultivating the moths that they'll need to pollinate the Zerbles' food source. The caterpillars feed off the Tum-Tum tree leaves, but the tree is guarded by The Wall - the wall can only be passed by decoding the cryptotiles on the wall. Each cryptotile has symbols that match the cryptos on the wall and it's up to the player to decide which tile belongs where. The next obstacle involves a spatial-awareness puzzle in the Planatarium that uses two views of the earth in relation to the sun. Kids will have to rotate the earth by placing numbered tokens that will rotate the earth in hour increments, which will release the moths from the chrysalises.

The Greenhouse contains the snozzleberry seedlings that the moths will pollinate, but first, a maze of plants has to be traversed to get to the other side. This puzzle is similar to the frog and lily-pad one in the original Zoombinis, wherein a path has to be selected according to a certain characteristic on the moth's back. Once the snozzleberry plants have been pollinated, they'll need to be planted in The Garden by Arno the picky tree-stump, who's now playing gardener. As before, he's very picky and only the right plant will pass muster with him! Choose the right hole by certain plant characteristics according to row, column and plot placement. The Zerbles have to be grouped according to which sort of snozzleberries they like to eat, and a Venn diagram in The Corral is just the tool to use. Lastly, the Barn is used for genetically controlled breeding of the Zerbles, according to desired characteristics. Try to match up two Zerbles with the correct dominant and recessive genes to produce the right offspring.

Most of the puzzles are geared toward mathematical thinking without using numbers, except for the Planatarium, which uses numbers and spatial awareness together. Math skills such as data sorting and analysis, graphing, patterns, logical reasoning, and problem solving are just some of the math concepts used. The game also touts science concepts as a new addition, but in actuality the science isn't that big of an "addition" aside from the ecological story line, as scientific thinking was always present in the Zoombinis games, in the sense that math and science are strongly related with regards to testing hypotheses and gathering and sorting data.

There are three difficulty levels for each puzzle which can be manually set for the Practice Mode, and also manually lowered in the Adventure Mode if the automatic leveling is deemed too hard, which is a very welcome addition in the series. The interface isn't very hard to master, but neither is it intuitive, as getting around can be awkward. For instance, in the Practice Mode, each activity can only be replayed by going back to the map and rechoosing the activity, rather than just clicking on a "replay" or "reset" button. This can get rather tiring. Also, the ability to reset the difficulty levels isn't obvious, it took us awhile to figure out that you were supposed to click on the level color on the map beside each activity to change the level, as we didn't know what the activity status bars were that the directions referred to.

Wow, this series just keeps delivering! These puzzles are incredibly fun, and also addictive. My personal favorite is the Garden with Arno, finding the right placements for those plants is very tricky. My twelve year old's favorite puzzle is the Barn, where the genes have to be matched for the offspring, but we really enjoy all the puzzles, except for, perhaps, the Planatarium one, which isn't as much fun to us. The story line is also much stronger than before and is more compelling. The only drawbacks are the smaller number of puzzles available, and the slight clunkiness of design, plus a small problem with the randomization in the Catapult puzzle: I kept encountering the same gear puzzle in the practice mode on the hardest level, about every eight-ten tries. However, TERC and The Learning Company have added improvements to the interface with each addition, hopefully they'll add a replay option to the next one.

It's hard to say which of the programs in the series is better, as each one has its own strengths: The original Logical Journey Deluxe offers more puzzles to enjoy, plus easier puzzles along with the difficult ones. The second game, Mountain Rescue, has more technology type puzzles, with some that are really fun, but the adventure mode advances in difficulty much too fast with no downward leveling available. This latest addition is a wonderful assortment of puzzlers with a fun story line, but the number of puzzles are too few and most of them are pretty difficult, even on the easiest settings. Even so, I give this game an enthusiastic two thumbs up, plus a couple of toes, and believe that this game will find a permanent place on my software shelf, along with the two previous installments.

Gameplay: 9.5
An incredibly fun and addictive game for everyone ages 9-up! Plus, it's great mathematical thinking practice. The only thing that kept this score from a 10 was the slightly clunky interface.

Graphics: 9 
Lookin' good, Zoombinis!

Sound: 8
The same sort of music from the other games in the series, unobtrusive but pleasant.

Difficulty: Medium/Hard
None of the puzzles are easy, most are medium to difficult.

Concept: 9 
The Zoombinis are the best and the effort to design a thinking game for kids really shows.

Overall: 9.4
A great game that continues the tradition of excellence in children's software from TERC and The Learning Company. This game would have gotten a perfect score with more puzzles in the content and a more streamlined interface, but it's still nearly perfect.


About The Author
In This Article
From Around The Web
blog comments powered by Disqus