Software Review: Vacuous like cotton candy

Where have all the children's computer games gone?

tutim disk 88 (photo credit: )
tutim disk 88
(photo credit: )
Mesahakim im Tutim (Playing with Strawberries), a CD-ROM from the American Greetings series Strawberry Shortcake, translated into Hebrew by Pecan and distributed by Hed Artzi Multimedia, requires Windows 98 and a Pentium 3 PC, for ages three and up, NIS 59. Rating: ** Where have all the children's computer games gone? A decade or so ago, computer software shops were packed with colorful, attractive, innovative and educational games for children as young as two. But today, there are very few. The non-profit Center for Educational Technology hasn't released a new program for home use in many years (it focuses instead on software for schools); the only educational series on the market is Comfy, which requires the purchase of a special childproof keyboard; and only occasionally are there kids' games released as commercial knockoffs to promote movies, TV shows or toys like Barbie dolls. Even Lego software has petered out. This game, a very unimaginative piece of pabulum for the three-year-old crowd just out of diapers, is a disappointment whose content was fresh 15 years ago but has aged badly. Strawberry Shortcake, a mouth-watering name for a little red-headed girl who wears a flowered sun hat, is the heroine of the series. She first entered pop culture exactly 30 years ago when Muriel Fahrion, a greeting card illustrator at American Greetings' juvenile and humorous card department, drew her and her cat, Custard. She added 32 more characters like Raspberry Tart, Huckleberry Pie, Apple Dumplin', Pupcake the dog, Blueberry Muffin, Cheesecake the mouse, Cherry Cuddler, Gooseberry Angel Cake, Panda Café Olé, Crepe Suzette, Ginger Snap, Chocolate Chipmunk, Marsh Mallard the duck, and bad guys like the Peculiar Purple Pie Man (just typing these names makes me salivate). Each Strawberry Shortcake characters bore its own dessert - or fruity-themed name with matching clothing, and each was matched with a dessert - or fruit-named pet. They started not only as characters in a series of greeting cards, but also on posters and as a line of toys. The dolls and toys all had hair scented to match their dessert theme. The characters lived and played in a place known as Strawberryland. Then, in 1980, American TV presented the first of six annual Strawberry Shortcake TV specials aired, making the little girl an even better-known character among this generation. But the characters disappeared, until the series was revived for young TV watchers and moviegoers of the 21st century and has been broadcast on Israel's cable network and now is being sold in disk form. The game, which is very short, is divided into four categories: memory, creativity, fireworks and printing. The memory game, playable at three levels of difficulty, is a standard matching game with eight, 12 or 16 uniformly decorated overturned cards, each showing a different character from the series on the other side. You click on one and then a second and try to match them. If this is too difficult for a younger child, he or she can click "Hint" and will be shown the location of each match. The fireworks section certainly wouldn't light a fire under anyone. There are a few buttons representing different-colored fireworks; the narrator tells you which colors to click, each time adding another one to the series whose order you must remember, as in a "Simon Says" game. Yawn! In what is misnamed as "Creativity," the next section offers two levels of difficulty. A few plastic-looking cakes and unappetizing decorations are presented. At the lower level of difficulty, the child must drag the right decoration to fill in a shadow of the same shape, while at the higher level, he or she just decorates the cakes at will. The final section, with 27 images, invites youngsters to print out signs for their bedroom or front door (including "No Entrance!" and "Entrance only to Candies!" Even though the price of this disk is relatively low, it will not make young players any more satiated than a lunch of cotton candy. The stomachache is free.