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Children's Software Review of:
Play with the ABC's



Bart Simpson is currently a Mr. Mom while his wife completes her Anesthesia residency for the Air Force. He is brushing up on his alphabet so that he can converse with his wife. She has already mastered the alphabet, and can use most of the letters in just one medical phrase.

From the May, 2003 issue of PC Alamode Magazine

Alphabet - Play with the ABC's is rated for ages 3 to 102. It shows the letters in a wide variety of fonts and patterns, with a lot of creativity. The program is based on the book by the same name, written by Kveta Pacovska in 1996. 

It is a very simple program with a minimum requirement of a Pentium 166 with 16 MB RAM, an SVGA (16 bit) graphics card, a sound card and a 4x CD-ROM drive. It runs on Windows 98 through XP. It will also run on a MAC with OS 7.1 - 9.1 and a Power PC with 32,768 colors or higher. I had no way of testing the Mac system, but I did run it on two PC systems. I ran it on an older HP desktop with Windows 98SE and a Compaq laptop running Windows XP Home with a touchpad mouse. The touchpad mouse makes it more difficult for kids to maneuver the arrow and click, but this program has a minimal amount of mouse activity. 

My daughter Malia, who just turned four, found it to be interesting for a short period of time. It did not hold her attention for very long, as it is mostly a visual program with a minimal amount of operator input required. She has had her alphabet down for a long time, so it has not provided much in the way of alphabet education, but the wide variety of graphics will hopefully inspire her to boundless creativity. She likes to click the mouse and feel as if she is doing something, but this program more or less runs on its own. 

After reading the limited directions on the case and the Website, I was under the impression that there was a menu which could be accessed in the upper left corner when you hold the mouse over it. It never worked for me, and without a menu, help button, directions or any hint of words to help a (clueless) adult, I spent too much time trying to figure out what to do or how to select the different games or screens. This was the most frustrating part of the program and the review. 

For example, Malia played a game where a "G" (looks like Ms. Pacman) ate the other letters and got bigger after eating them. She kept asking to play that game, and it has not appeared again. I had no idea how to find it, other than continuing to switch through the games and graphics until it appears again. Even if I found it, I would not know how to get back to it again. After a while, I just gave up and hit the escape button to exit the program. 

I called for technical support to see what I was doing wrong. The resident Windows guru was not in, but he called later that afternoon. After talking with Randy at the Tivola tech support, he said there was no menu, but he did give me the clues that I needed to get to the games. If you combine the mouse clicking with the various letters on the keyboard, you can choose a simple, artsy game for each letter. Some of the letters have more than one game. Examples include getting a "hippoponotamus" (Malia's pronunciation) to eat the letters and other objects that floated onto the screen, coloring a rhinoceros with blocks that change colors or disappear, or playing the keyboard like a piano. The minimal program instructions say that you can use a microphone with certain letters whenever you see the mouse pointer change into a red mouth. It will only work when you let go of the mouse. I was never able to get anything to happen, and it may have something to do with the touchpad mouse on the laptop. 

I do see a value in the program for my son. Nate just turned one year old, and will need to learn his alphabet before he goes to college (so I am told). The interesting colors, patterns, and sounds will be good for him to watch in the next year or twenty. The program reminds me of an old screensaver that I had on one of my early computers. You never know what will come across the screen next, and we could be entertained just by clicking the mouse or the keyboard and waiting to see what was coming on to the screen. There is a wide variety of artistic, creative uses of the alphabet.
Screen of A'sScreen of C's

The program retails for $19.95, and more information can be found at tivola.com.

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