Mickey's 123s: The BIG Surprise Party logo Mickey's ABC's: A Day at the Fair logo

Educational Software * Supplier: Infogrames * Phone: 071-738 8199 * Price: £25.99 per product

Mickey 123s is one of a series of American releases developed by Disney Software. As you've probably already guessed this is the same Disney of cartoon fame so all the characters in the programmes are the more famous cartoon stars like Mickey Mouse, Goofy and so on.

The package oozes quality - it is the type of program you could quite happily take off the shelf and thinking you would be all right in buying. It looks wonderful, complete with jaunty Mickey stuck on the cover. But as the program unfolds it seems that more time has been spent on the box than on the game.

For starts, it comes on two disks and is not hard drive installable. As a colleague of mine pointed out, if this program had been on the PC no-one would have touched it because it is not hard drive installable so why should we have to put up with programs such as these which boot from floppy?

When it opens Mickey is asleep in his living room chair. First you must wake him up and choose where he must go and what he will do. At this point I was seconds into the package and alarm bells were already ringing.

I was working with the manual beside me and following it to the letter but the action was incredibly slow. The machine tends to access the disk for some length of time then the screen will burst into frantic movement for a second of two then it will go dead again while it's accessing the disk.

In any other type of software this would be tolerable but because it's children's software you can't afford to have long gap where the child is not entertained. Everybody knows that children as a rule have an attention span of about half a second and they must be kept engaged. I really don't think that Mickey's ABC would stand up in a classroom.

Another thing which I found very unusual is the lack of educational content. Most of the sub-applications don't actually demand anything from the pupil.
To me the program is directed at pre-school children because a lot of the time it is dealing with concepts instead of actual numbers. It tries to introduce the child the ideas of more or less and quantities.

There are some nice reward sequences when you finish levels and some good sound effects to keep the children engaged but there is no long lasting appeal.

Mickey's 123s: The BIG Surprise Party logo

Educational games * £25.99 each * Infogrames * 071-738 8199
Bring the wonderful world of Disney to the Amiga - and learn something in the process. Gary Lord investigates.

IT IS PARTY TIME at Mickey's house, though when you first see the eponymous mose he is pushing up Zzzs in his armchair, so it is up to you to wake him up - which you can do by pressing a number on the keyboard. It is then up to you to help him organise his surprise party - although as everyone appears to know about it, it is not going to be much of a surprise to anyone. (Unless his parents are away...).

While organising the event you will not only have fun watching the cute little animations, but you will also learn how to count from one to nine. Quite why it does not go as far as 10 is a mystery.

This is a fairly simple program and there is plenty of counting to be done: when Mickey is making his various calls, a press of a number on the keyboard magics Mickey to a vehicle to drive. If you press '4' there is a huge puff of smoke, and four wheels are counted out on screen, which make up the four-wheeled Mickey mobile.

The counting continues as Mickey goes to the toy factory to get gifts made for his guests. Each toy's components has a number; press a number of the keyboard and the corresponding toy's parts are selected. Other activities include visits to the post office, and to Goofy's supermarket.

The graphics will help keep children's attention far longer than traditional learning books, but the program is no great leap forward and some of the animation is very stilted. The accompanying manuals are informative and have a special parent's section with suggestions on how to utilise the programs to the full.

Mickey's ABC's: A Day at the Fair logo

INFOGRAMES £25.99 TEL: 071 738 8199
Tony Dillon remembers with some fondness his days as a member of the Mickey Mouse Club. M-I-C, K-E-Y, M-O-U-S-E!

There's a lot more to numbers than two plus two, and this is something most educational packages tend to miss out. Sure, there are more than enough edutainment products dedicated to helping your children to count from one to a hundred and handle all sorts of operations on the figures between but that's all. Mickey's 123's - subtitled The Big Surprise Party - takes basic numbers (0 to 9) and uses them as part of a semi-planning, semi-recognition operation.

The game tells of Mickey's plans to throw a surprise party for a random character. What you have to do is go to the toy factory. create a present for the intended surprise, invite your guests and then buy the food and decorations. Travel around Mickey's small town is via the numeric keypad, with each destination numbered.

At the toy factory, basic number recognition is practised, with the child first selecting the toy they want to make from a menu of nine, and then using the number keys to perform all sorts of weird transformations on the conveyor belt. Then the invitations need to be sent out.

Here the child can invite as many of the nine possible guests as they like, by selecting them from a numbered list. Finally, they have to go shopping, and this is where the planning comes into the game. Enough food needs to be bought to satisfy the guests, or the party will be a failure!

Again, the presentation is excellent. All of the characters are true to their cartoon counterparts. and clever use of samples make them even more recognisable. Once more, though, the loading times slow things down heavily. Unfortunately this game really relies on keeping up concentration, and with everything stopping and starting every few seconds, it might just make it too frustrating for the pre-school user. A good idea, but the design just isn't tight enough.

Mickey's ABC's: A Day at the Fair logo

Educational games * £25.99 each * Infogrames * 071-738 8199
Bring the wonderful world of Disney to the Amiga - and learn something in the process. Gary Lord investigates.

IT IS NO GOOD learning about numbers if you do not know your ABC. And if you want to learn keyboard skills at the same time, this could be the answer. In this program Mickey intends to teach all about the alphabet, and the basic words that are essential to young and enquiring minds. In doing so, players also become familiar with the keyboard.

There is a choice of whether you wish to use upper or lower case letters. At school, children learn lower case letters first, but as keyboards are in upper case, there is simultaneous instruction of the two.

One of the painful elements about this, and the rest of the programs in this collection, is the copy protection - the accompanying sheet is so difficult to read, and that is a frustrating way to start any game.

Once you are past that hurdle, the idea of the program is quite simple. By pressing a letter on the keyboard, you make Mickey perform a task beginning with the letter that has been pressed. Press B and he will go and brush his teeth, press F and he will go to the fair.

Once he is at the fair then if you press Z then Mickey will go to the courgette stand. Yes, in the States courgettes are called zucchini, a tricky spelling for five year old - and also one that they are not really ever going to come across or use. And before you ask what the devil a courgette stand is doing at a fair anyway, it is a village fair, rather like a fete, that Mickey goes to - not a fun fair. You cannot help thinking that the latter would have been more fun.

Each time Mickey goes towards an object, a small animation follows - if you press W the word 'water melon' comes up on screen and Mickey has a melon-eating contest with Donald Duck. The idea is good, and it will go a long way to helping the child achieve the intended learning objective, but it is let down by unadventurous graphics - rather out of keeping with Disney's big screen reputation.

Mickey's ABC's: A Day at the Fair logo

INFOGRAMES £25.99 TEL: 071 738 8199
Tony Dillon remembers with some fondness his days as a member of the Mickey Mouse Club. M-I-C, K-E-Y, M-O-U-S-E!

Learning to read can be a hard experience for children. After all, with 52 shapes to remember you need all the help you can get. Mickey's ABC's is designed to help pre-school children (2-5) recognise letters and sounds through an imaginative cartoon interface.

The way it works is simple. There are two main scenes - Mickey's home and the local fair. For both scenes, there are 26 things for Mickey to do, including travel between the two, and each thing begins with a different letter. Typing a letter brings up a short animation of Mickey and friends acting out the action, along with verbal commentary of what they are doing.

Essentially, there are two ways to play Mickey's ABC's. The first is just to play around. Hitting a key at random and watching what Mickey does. Perhaps not high on educational value, but it does help the child get used to the interface.

Secondly, you can point some thing out to a child - an ice cream van for example - and see if they can get Mickey to eat some ice cream. Naturally the key to type is 'i', and getting the child to recognise this fact is a significant stage in the learning process.

The presentation is superb. Full cartoon animation abounds, along with stacks and stacks of samples of both Mickey and other Disney characters, and a friendly female voice-over that explains what's happening. Type the letter T while Mickey is at home, and the voice will say 'T' - as in Television'. The word 'Television' is displayed on screen and Mickey will wander off to the sitting room and switch on the box.

My only real criticism of this otherwise excellent product is the loading times. Due to the massive amounts of sampling used, the program bas to access the drive every time you do something. resulting in a slow moving game. This could lead to frustrating gameplay. After all. you and I know what's happening when the game freezes and the drive light comes on, but whose to say that a three year old does? Otherwise, a product that fulfils all it sets out to do.

Mickey's Jigsaw Puzzles logo

Educational games * £25.99 each * Infogrames * 071-738 8199
Bring the wonderful world of Disney to the Amiga - and learn something in the process. Gary Lord investigates.

THIS PUZZLE-BASED PROGRAM is no doubt the most fun out of the whole collection. It is aimed at the older tot (five and upwards) and it has absolutely nothing to do with the three Rs: it is basically a set of 15 electronic jigsaws all depicting Mickey (or Minnie) at play in various settings: on the tennis court, at an aerobics class - these are just some of the brightly coloured scenarios that kids can try to piece together.

Playing with jigsaws is far more fun on a computer screen than fiddling around with awkward little cardboard pieces - for a start, there is no chance of you losing that vital last piece that completes the picture. With each jigsaw in the set there is a difficulty option where you can decide the number of pieces that each puzzle is divided into. It can be an easy peasy four-piecer, or for the older, jigsaw-wise child there is a mammoth 64-piecer.

Mickey's Jigsaw Puzzle is not just straightforward jigsaw puzzles though. On the disk there is also a silhouette option, where just the main character is blacked out and you just have to place the relevant bits in to the correct black space on the picture. This option doubles the amount of puzzles you get for your money and 30 puzzles for £26 is reasonably good value.

There are a couple of extras which help make this package stand out from the crowd. For instance, once a picture has been completed then the child's reward is not just a completed picture. With Mickey's Jigsaw Puzzle, you can click on the 'film camera' icon which makes the picture come to life in animation - Disney at its best, in the eyes of a child.

For the more advanced child, there is also a timer option which allows you to try and complete the picture against the clock.

Mickey's Jigsaw Puzzles logo Mickey's Memory Challenge logo

Zur Abwechslung hier mal was für die ganz Kleinen: zwei ebenso lehrreiche wie kinderleichte Spiele mit der weltberühmten Disney-Maus, die vornehmlich für Fünfjährige mit guten Englischkenntnissen gedacht sind.
Mit seinen mittlerweile 50 Lenzen am Buckel gehört der clevere Mauserich ja auch nicht mehr zu den Allerjungsten - und genauso verhält es sich mit den Spielprinzipien, für die er und seine Zeichentrickfreunde hier die Präsentations-Gehilften spielen dürften.

Die zwei Disks enthalten 15 verschiedene Puzzles mit hübsch gepinselten Comicimotiven; von Minnie über Donald bis Goofy ist alles vertreten. Sobald man sich eines davon ausgesucht hat, darf man über Form und Menge der Einzelteile bestimmen; ist das Bild schliesslich komplett, gibt's zur Belohnung eine winzige Animation mit Sounduntermalung. Ansonsten herrscht aber, abgesehen von der kurzen Intromusik und ein paar Brocken Sprachausgabe, stets das Schweigen im Walde.

Die Sache hat natürlich einen kilometerlangen Bart, doch wurde immerhin versucht, das Gameplay durch eine Fülle von Optionen aufzuwerten, die in den übersichtlichen Menus bequem per Maus, Stick oder Keyboard zu erreichen sind.

Man kann die Puzzles z.B. ausdrücken, gegen die Uhr spielen oder allerlei Hilfestellungen in Anspruch nehmen - nur eine Übersetzung ins Deutsche fehlt und ist nach Aussage des Vertriebs auch kaum zu erwarten.

Haben wir bisher das optische Wahrnehmungsvermögen geschült, so steht jetzt Gedachtnistraining am Stundenplan. Dass dieses Digi-Memory zur selben Reihe wie die Computer-Puzzelei gehören muss, erkennt man schon an der gleichartigen, also auch wieder sehr komfortablen Benutzerführung. Memorieren darf man allein, gegen die Uhr, im Zwei-Kinder-Modus oder gegen ein computergesteuertes Mitglied der Disneyfamilie.

Der doofe Goofy ist am leichtesten zu besiegen, mit Daisy wird's schon schwerer, und die Obermaus ist naturlich 'ne äusserst harte Nuss. Neben Bildpaaren aus verschiedenen Themenbereichen werden alternativ auch Wort-/Bild-Paare angeboten, bei denen man einem bestimmten Objekt das richtige (englische) Wort zuordnen muss. Dem gedachtnisstarken Sieger bringen die Comic-Stars dann ein kleines Ständchen dar.

Die Präsentation entspricht bis auf wenige Nuancen (etwa fehlende FX) der Technik des Puzzle-Kollegen, und auch die Kritik gilt fur beide Games gleichermassen: Die preiswertere Konkurrenz aus Pappe erfüllt genau denselben Zweck. Wer diese aufgeblasenen High-tech-Varianten den originalen Kinderstuben-Klassikern vorzieht, muss schon ein grosser Disney-Fan sein - oder er kriegt zuviel Taschengeld... (ms)

Mickey's Jigsaw Puzzles logo

INFOGRAMES £25.99 TEL: 071 738 8199
Tony Dillon remembers with some fondness his days as a member of the Mickey Mouse Club. M-I-C, K-E-Y, M-O-U-S-E!

Moving into the five and above age range comes Mickey's Jigsaw Puzzles, an exercise in shape recognition. As you have probably guessed from the title, this game allows you to assemble jigsaws on screen from 15 different pictures. Choose the image you want to break down, along with the number of pieces to break it into, and let the computer do the rest.

Mickey himself talks you through the entire process, offering help here and there and letting you know the result of any options you may have chosen. This is just another example of the work that has gone into making the child feel that Mickey is right there working with them, rather than letting the parent feel they have been conned into another tenuously licensed product.

From this point on, all you are left with is a drawing showing the shapes of the pieces and the pieces themselves. You already know what a jigsaw is, so I don't need to explain what the player has to do. And...that's it? Yep, it seems to be.

I must admit, it doesn't seem like a hell of a lot, especially when consider that (a) the 15 pictures included are the only ones you can use (the program doesn't let you load in pictures of your own, which seems like a strange thing to omit) and (b) a very similar package is included as part of Europress' Paint and Create, rather than as a standalone product like this. To be fair, though, this does have a few excellent options.

Firstly, you can print out the pictures as a colouring book. Secondly, there are two jigsaw modes. The first is when the entire picture is broken up, like any other jigsaw. The second is when a section of the picture, such as Mickey himself is removed and broken up, and the player has to fit the pieces back into the original image.

Thirdly, the pictures can be animated once the jigsaw has been completed, giving the user an added goal to work toward. These are all solid plus points, but on the bottom line, I don't think that there is enough in this package to validate the price point.

Mickey's Memory Challenge logo

Educational games * £25.99 each * Infogrames * 071-738 8199
Bring the wonderful world of Disney to the Amiga - and learn something in the process. Gary Lord investigates.

THIS IS IN a similar vein to the jigsaw puzzles in that it is a program based on a traditional game tht has been transferred to the computer screen. It is centred around a kind of 'Snap' principle, where you turn cards over one by one until you recognise two that are the same. And here, of course, the turning is done on screen.

You can set the level of difficulty depending on the age group using the program - with 8, 15 or 24 images (or cards) on the screen at one time.

There are plenty of different categories to choose from, including matching pictures of everyday objects, or Disney characters. There are a few other extra gimmicks: you can play against a friend or the computer (who takes on the role of Goofy, Daisy or Mickey). The addition of the wild and bomb cards liven the game up somewhat.

It does not work as well as Mickey's Jigsaw Puzzles because there is nothing that makes it particularly different to the conventional game. However, it is a great concentration builder and kids will soon learn to recognise the images - all good education for the future.

Mickey's Memory Challenge logo

INFOGRAMES £25.99 TEL: 071 738 8199
Tony Dillon remembers with some fondness his days as a member of the Mickey Mouse Club. M-I-C, K-E-Y, M-O-U-S-E!

This is a game that all of us have played at some point under one name or another - Pairs, Patience or any other title. If you haven't recognised it from the screenshots, then here's the gist. A set of cards are laid face down. The spread contains a set number of pairs and a couple of wild cards.

Two players take turns to turn over two cards hoping to find two that match. If a pair is revealed, those two cards are removed from the board and the player turns over another two cards. If no pair is found, the cards are turned face down again and play hands over to the next player. The aim is to find more pairs than the other player by remembering the positions of previously revealed cards. Remember it now?

That is Mickey's Memory Challenge in a nutshell. Obviously it goes a little further than that. You can play with five different sets of cards, ranging from Disney characters (easy) through cards with words written on them (slightly harder) up to cards where you have to match the word to the picture. On top of that, you can play solo, with a friend or against Goofy, Donald Duck or Mickey. Goofy hasn't much of a memory, so he's the easiest to beat, but you won't get much past Mickey.

So what does this game teach your child? Mainly, it improves memory skills, getting the child to remember the cards turned over so far. Initially, I couldn't see the difference between loading this and just laying out a set of playing cards, but the differences soon became apparent.

Firstly, the voices of the characters involved are used to great effect, adding character to the game itself. Secondly, the cards used are much easier to remember than playing cards, making the game more interesting for the younger player.

The only thing that lets the game down is the fact that the player can't enter their own name, only being referred to as Player 1 or Player 2. This is only a small criticism of an excellent game - it's a lot of fun to play and will certainly sharpen your child's memory.