Edutainment - silly word, sound idea. If you need to keep the kids happy and entertained, wouldn't it be a great idea if you could give some solid learning material that they can enjoy? This is the principle that lies behind Bertie's Animal Kingdom. Here your children can learn about different types of animals, get to grips using a mouse (control device, not small furry rodent) and hopefully improve their reading abilities.
Bertie made his first appearance in the Blockhead games but has now retired to a life of rustic pleasures. So there's Bertie down on the farm drinking cider with Rosie. Life should be easy. There are problems though. For a start, Bertie needs help identifying the breeds of animals on his farm -maybe it's post-traumatic stress disorder having watched Billy the Bear being blown to smithereens or something, but poor old Bertie really does need help.
The next problem is that Bertie seems to have had an invasion of wild animals on his farm. There are giant spiders, lions, rhinos, tigers and all sorts of creatures with big sharp pointy teeth. Fortunetely, it won't fall to you or your children to rescue the domestic creatures from these jungle denizens.
The task that the player is presented which is relatively simple at first but gets more complex the longer you go on. The first game involves identifying the animals. You've presented with a picture of an animal and are offered multiple choice answers, written at the bottom of the screen. This doesn't mean your child has to have reading skills to play; you could read the questions and point out where the answers are, and improve reading skills in that way.
If a question is answered correctly, a tick appears, a congratulatory sound plays and it's onto the next question. There's a difficulty setting to determine how many lives the player has, and whether you have a second attempt at the question.
After the animal identification game comes a set of questions about what animals sound like, then what they eat and where they live. These can be fairly tricky. For example: do you know what a Rhino sounds like? I found some of the answers a bit dubious -there's an eagle, and what do eagles eat? Grain, it says, not meat. And does a giant spider live in the jungle, the grasslands or the plains? All three I assume, but the correct answer is grasslands. The game becomes more of a memory test than a general knowledge quiz.
This product serves its purpose but that's all you can say about it; there's very little in the way of polish. The graphics are bright and colourful, and all animals are identifiable. The problem is that there's not enough fun or variety. The main screen is always the same -a view of the farmyard. And why are all those wild animals in the farmyard? Surely it would have been better for Bertie to go on a safari holiday?
There is also next to no animation in the game. It would have been great to have a monkey capering about you'd properly identified him, have the dog chase a stick and the snake slither away. The only animation you do get is a poor little monkey dejectedly swinging from side to side on the title and end screens, and Bertie gurning and winking at you from time to time -I thought Berie was a bit scary, actually.
If you want to get your little folk interested in computing then you could stick them in front of this, put their sweet little hands over the mouse and let them get on with it. But if you really want educational fun, I'm afraid you would probably be better off spending your money on a really good pop-up book.