Donald Duck's Playground

Too clever for Les Ellingham!


Issue 28

Jul/Aug 87

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Sierra 24.95

'An action packed game about change making for ages 7 to 11'. I hate Donald Duck's Playground! Not that the program is bad, it's just that I am not sure I like the thought of 7 to 11 year olds being smarter than me! Seriously though, in a time when everybody seems to complain about the lack of good educational software, this one is a real cracker (or quacker? Groan!).

The game is designed to teach children the concepts of logical thinking, shape, colour and letter recognition and the use of money in a society that requires you to understand that nothing is for nothing and that hard work brings its rewards. It succeeds admirably in its aims and is packed with a number of well thought out scenarios that must make some impression on any child who plays. As with Winnie The Pooh (reviewed in an earlier issue) the hand of Walt Disney is evident in the understanding of children.

Starting from the beginning, you have the choice of three levels, beginner, intermediate or advanced, but be warned, even the beginners level is not too easy (play it while the children are not looking!). Donald passes through the appropriate gate and emerges in the high street where there are four workplaces in which to earn some money. These are McDuck Airlines, The Produce Market, The Toy Store and Amquack Railroad. Each has a choice of working a shift from 2 minutes upwards but they all feature different skills and will take time to master. At the airport you are a baggage handler and must sort baggage from a conveyor into the appropriate truck for its destination. This involves checking a three letter code on each passing package and recognising the corresponding truck. With the conveyor continually moving it is quite hard! In the Toy Store you must put toys on the shelves by recognising similar toys and placing a ladder so that you can climb up and put the toy in the right place. An additional problem is the train passing by from time to time which, if you are not careful, will dislodge the toys you have put up and so reduce your earnings. The Produce Market has more of an arcade element requiring you to catch produce thrown off the back of a truck and find the right box to put it in. Finally, on the Railroad, you must pick up packages from certain stations and deliver them to others by changing a series of points. A real challenge to logical thinking, this one!

Whichever job you choose, at the end of your shift you go to the Payroll office to pick up what you have earned. The money is counted out in appropriate coins and your total earnings increased. You may now go back and work some more or find somewhere to spend some of those wages!

On the other side of the street are three shops where you have a choice of items to buy. Each item has a stated price and a description which needs to be read carefully because some items are much more useful than others, especially if you want to have the most fun in the park! After choosing the item you want you must pay the shopkeeper, you are not allowed to leave or buy more without settling your debts. Paying involves going up to the till and counting out either the right amount or tending a higher amount and working out how to get the correct change. A nice lesson in paying for what you want and understanding how to count up the right amount or check that you have the right change. Once you have got it right your purchases are automatically delivered to the park. Guess where we are going now?

After all that work, it's about time we had some play, so off to the park. This is the Playground of the title and to get the most fun you will need to have worked hard and bought some of the right things. There are many tantalisingly interesting things in the park but you may not be able to use them without the right accessories. The park lies across a railroad and, all credit to Donald, he stops and looks both ways before crossing but it might have been wiser to have some gates or no railroad rather than encourage children to cross railway lines, however much they stop and look. Anyway there are lots of things to do in the park and many more challenges. You will have to work out how to use most things and will certainly need to go back to the shops to buy more equipment. In all probability you will have spent all of your money and will have to go back to work again. Another lesson, this time in economics, perhaps it is better to keep something back in case you need it?

Donald Duck's Playground will last for a long, long time and with parental guidance cannot fail to have some beneficial influence on a young child. Almost all of the concept and design is excellent but there are one or two criticisms. Certainly I felt that the control of the character is unnecessarily difficult, especially with a mouse, and might well defeat a child that is good at thinking but not necessarily that dextrous. A great pity because the aim of the program is to encourage positive thinking and not to produce another 'arcade junkie'. The other point is that better use could have been made of the graphic power of the ST. Each scene is loaded in from disk, as with other Sierra adventures, and this makes the action extremely slow, especially when you finally get on the rocket slide and have to stop halfway down for the bottom half to load! Donald Duck's Playground is not a huge area and most of it could be loaded in and scrolled.

Criticisms aside, this is probably one of the few, and one of the finest, educational programs filling the gap that seems to exist for the over fives. If you have children, you really should consider buying this. It is fun, educational and may just help your children understand all the complexities of later life a little better.

Donald Duck's Playground will run in Colour or Mono and uses joystick, keyboard or mouse. Many thanks to Software Express in Birmingham for supplying the review copy.