The long quest to find a children’s title that actually makes science fun has ended.
There are a myriad of programs out there that teach reading and other more basic subjects, and even more that are little more than entertainment wrapped in the cloak of educational software. But a program that could teach children the subject of science, and be fun at the same time, would be a gem; it would be worth five GiN Gems to be exact.
Mia 2: Romaine’s New Hat is such a program. Right from the start I was enthralled by the exquisite graphics, the best I have ever seen in a children’s title. The main character is a little mouse named Mia, who achieved stardom in the first title in the series Mia: The Search for Grandma’s Remedy. But even though the graphics of the original were impressive, they are down right eye-popping in Mia 2.
Mia has huge blue eyes and a cute little voice that never gets annoying. The graphics are actually integrated into the control scheme for the game, which are simple and easy to use. Mia will follow the mouse cursor on the screen and walk towards the cursor if you place it out of reach. Mia’s big blue eyes follow the mouse around the screen, so you can be sure you have her attention. The farther you put the cursor from her, the faster she will walk, so it does not take much time to get her to a destination even if it is several screens away.
But a pretty interface alone would not put Mia 2 up for a Game of the Year award in the Educational Software Category. A strong learning interface puts it there.
Mia is on a quest to buy a new hat for her mom, since she lost the old one in a storm. To do this, she needs to collect sparkles, which are basically little gems that the rodents and animals in her community use as money. She can occasionally find sparkles lying around, but more often than not she needs to compete in science games with the other denizens of her neighborhood.
Here is where the learning begins. In one of her first games, she tries to identify the different parts of a plant: the flower, stem, leaves, roots and fruit. It’s not really that easy as some of the examples, like corn, might go into different categories. In this way the child learns the parts of a plant and how to identify them.
Some of the games are not really challenges, but things Mia needs to do to help her friends (all of them equally as cute) or to get to a new area. A good example of this is when she meets her accident-prone frog friend Freddy sitting beside his broken-down jeep. Freddy needs help fixing the engine. The main problem is that the wires connecting the batteries to the engine are gone, so Mia will have to find some conductive material to make a new circuit. After a bit of exploring, a piece of copper wire is located that should do the trick. Once the wire is found, which in itself is a lesson in conductivity, Mia is shown a circuit diagram once she is back under the hood. You need to string the wire to make a complete circuit. After that, you are driven in a hilarious cut-scene to the next area.
The game has different difficulty levels when it starts up, or children can just type in their age and the computer guesses what level to set the different puzzles. I found that on the Expert level, it is even slightly challenging for adults. Kids as young as about four or five can easily play the game on the easiest setting, and the game can also hold the interest of kids as old as 11 or 12 on the higher levels.
It’s worth noting that the main character is a female mouse. While I don’t think this will keep young boys away from the title, it might serve to bring a lot of girls into the game. This is a huge advantage since most of the science kids games that do exist are aimed exclusively at boys. But with the amazing graphics of Mia 2 and the tender care shown by Mia herself, it should have girls enjoying the title and delving into the realms of scientific thought. In test groups, both boys and girls loved the title, and adored Mia.
Other topics covered in the game are animals and habitats, the solar system, weather and clouds, the human body, earth science, heat energy, properties of matter and fossils. These are tall topics for a kids’ game, but Mia 2 comes through with shining colors. I would recommend this game to any parent that wants to foster a scientific mindset in their child. The seeds planted with Mia 2 will extend into elementary school and beyond. Especially for girls, who are often steered away from science topics, this is a must-have title.
Mia 2: Romaine’s New Hat gets a perfect 5 Gin Gem score, because it is a title that is long past overdue in the educational games market, and because the amazing graphics will keep children of all ages glued to the screen.