ALPHABET: Play with the ABCs, is exactly what it says. It is an opportunity to play with each letter of the alphabet in its own unique way. Based on the art of Czech artist Kveta Pacoska, letters float and fade in and out on the screen. The child can double click on one which will take him to a screen of just that letter.
Then he/she has to figure out how to effect the letter, sometimes blowing into the microphone will ripple the letter. Sometimes it’s a matter of moving the mouse so that a letter like "G" will eat up smaller Gs, getting bigger as it does so until it is so big it fills the screen.
Alphabet is definitely different from any game or educational CD-ROM I’ve ever seen before, but I’m not sure that makes it better. In looking at educational software it’s important to ask two things: is it fun, i.e. will it hold a child’s attention, and is it educational, i.e. will the child learn anything by playing.
In the case of ALPHABET, it will be fun for very small children who like repetition and predictable behavior from entertainment. It’s very much like the Teletubbies that way.
The box says it’s for ages three to 103. I’m afraid that’s ambitious. I think by age five most children will be done with it. Some children will never like it all. Other children will like it because it’s kind of like interactive art: interesting to look at and manipulate, but only for the very young. By age five I think the average child, especially one that is used to playing on a computer, will find it too simplistic and non-linear. There is no goal, no objective and oddly enough, no reward.
As for learning anything or being a teaching tool, here is where I find the most fault with ALPHABET. I don’t think the letters are presented in a very clear way. For instance, the "G" looks a lot like a red Pac-man. The letter "O" is two marionettes that never really come together to make a perfect "O." The "I" looks like scribbles. The "V" is a solid upside down triangle. The "U" hardly has a dip in it. They are styled after Pacoska’s work which is really beautiful, but I think they should at some point form into a more recognizable letter so the child can associate it with letters they are normally going to see in the world. In their current form, the letters are not clear enough to help a child learn his/her alphabet.
The one thing the software does undeniably teach, however, is computer skills, though this is perhaps an unintended side benefit. Moving the mouse, blowing in the microphone and touching certain keys all make things happen on the screen. I’m just not sure it’s worth buying software that teaches a child these types of skills when children pick them up so quickly in other types of software that might be more entertaining or educational in the long run.
Tivola has definitely done something different here. As I played with it I recognized that they were trying to push the medium for children’s software. I’m just not sure they are pushing it in the right direction. I respect their efforts, if not the end result. I give it two GiN Gems for a good try. The CD that comes with the game works on both PCs and Macs, so just about anyone can load the title and play.