If someone offered to introduce you to 'a loveable extraterrestrial who will... act as your alien tutor as well as your computer-based friend... He will always give you advice and reward you with games', you might think they'd read Douglas Adams' Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy once too often. This enthusiastic gushing does not come from the marketing department of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation, however, but from Europress Software, and is about ADI, the interactive animated character who fronts its eponymous series of educational programs.
Besides being your plastic pal who's fun to be with, ADI can be a stern taskmaster, posing a wide range of mathematical problems. His tests cover key parts of the mathematical course 11 and 12 year-old children will face during that difficult first year of secondary education. Techniques of calculation, percentages, geometric constructions, symmetry, algebra, and statistics are just some of the elements included in this package, based loosely around the theme of the Seven Wonders of the World.
The ADI series, designed to accompany what kids learn at school, fully covers many parts of the 'Attainment Targets' established by the new National Curriculum, and partially fulfils many more. These problems are no push-over and, believe me, it is a humbling experience to be reminded just how much mathematical knowledge you have forgotten since facing your O levels (Don't worry - I did pass the Maths one at the time!). I suspect many parents who buy this program will feel similarly if they have a go themselves.
Recognising that a computer-based tutor cannot put kids in detention, ADI has nine different games which are made available to his pupils in proportion to the number of points they score by answering questions correctly - a carrot and stick-at-it approach, you might say.
ADI offers on-screen background info on the subjects he covers, and a notebook and calculator to help the resolution of problems. His usually encouraging textual comments can become angry if a pupil persistently answers a question incorrectly. The Help mode could, perhaps, have been improved for such circumstances - I did not notice ADI's advice becoming progressively detailed with repeated failure on a particular question, which I would have expected.
ADI also provides a 'mini-encyclopaedia' of simple animations on a miscellany of topics children often wonder about: the origin of man, birth, the flow of blood, planets, the food chain, and volcanoes, for example. A basic atlas of Europe is also included.
In terms of the standard of graphics and sound, ADI does not come near the potential of the Amiga: ADI's 'whistly voice', for example, is actually an ear-piercing shriek of the sort produced for Dr Who by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, circa 1970. Genuinely unpleasant to listen to, switch it off unless you want to scare kids away.
In terms of layout, however, each element of this icon or keyboard-controlled package is clearly explained and easy to use. Overall, it is an extensive teaching tool which will help children come to terms with difficult concepts through explanation, effort and encouragement.