The Battle for Your TV September 2006

The latest reviews of software, tech toys, video games & web sites
September 2006
Issue 78
Volume 14, No. 9
100 Hoops Basketball
Counting Game
Ant Bully, The
Bratz: Forever Diamonds
Children's Internet, The
Cooking Mama
Designer's World
Disney's Kim Possible:
What's the Switch
Early Literacy Station 3.0
Fridge Phonics Magnetic
Letter Set
Grand Slam Trivia
Hamsterz Life
Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi: The
Genie & the Amp
I Can Play Piano
I Spy Treasure Hunt DVD
LeapsterTV Learning System
Lord of the Rings, The: The
Battle for Middle-Earth
Midnight Synergy Games
Monster House
On the Farm with Farmer
Pac-Man World 3
Reading Readiness
Sansa e200 MP3 Player
Sharp Quiz Calculator
(Elsimate EL-S50)
Super Monkey Ball: Banana
V.Smile Baby Infant
Development System
Wild, The
World Tour Soccer '06
XNA Game Studio Express
ZOOOOS Play and Learn
DVD System
The Battle
for Your TV
Teachers: There might be a Leonardo da Vinci
sitting in your classroom.
During the Italian Renaissance, the world population
was estimated to be 350 million, a mere just 5.3% of
today’s 6.5 billion. Yet that number included names like
da Vinci, Columbus, Magellan, Michelangelo, Mozart
and Shakespeare. All were alive at the same time.
So it figures that there should be about twenty times
the number of these types of gifted individuals alive right
now. And, if not already, in a few days they’ll be headed into your classroom
with their powerful, hungry minds ready to soak up everything you can
throw at them. Will they find a place where they can develop, as da Vinci did
with his education, or will they find a stagnant, boring place that they wake
up dreading. Now is a good time to think about the influence education had
on a young Leonardo da Vinci. Growing up in his father's Vinci (a region of
Italy) home, Leonardo had access to a rare luxury—scholarly texts owned by
family and friends. He started school at age five, and he had time to freely
explore in the countryside where he developed a fascination for living creatures. He showed “such a power of intellect that whatever he turned his
mind to he made himself master of with ease” (Vasari, 1550). As a young
adult he was fortunate to be apprenticed in an artist’s studio where he
worked with a variety of materials. His teachers noted he was impulsive,
jumping from one task to another, often jotting thoughts in notebooks. Next
time you see one of your students doodling, tell them that one of Leonardo’s
doodle-filled notebooks recently fetched $30 million from Bill Gates. These
are just some of the things I learned about da Vinci at
Today we have incredible digital tools that no other generation had.
Imagine what da Vinci would have done with Google, or Michelangelo with
Adobe PhotoShop. Wouldn’t it be fun to match Mozart with GarageBand or
Magellan with a GPS?
In the digital realm, a creative mind can take back the stroke of a chisel or
the dab of paint, enjoying a new creative space. What would happen in the
arts and sciences if we had not one, but 20 people like da Vinci searching for
new energy sources, or perhaps curing the horrible diseases that exist today
like AIDs, MS and Cancer? And when the work is done, perhaps we’d have
time to enjoy some new plays from a new generation of William
Shakespeares, set to the music of an army of Mozarts. Teachers, the future is
in your hands this fall, and the tools all have been invented. It is up to you to
figure out the educational technology puzzle and give our stagnating education system a renaissance. Have a great year.
At the Boston Museum of Science web site on da
Vinci, you can type any word, and see it written in
da Vinci’s famous mirror writing.
Here’s how da Vinci would have signed my name.
Staff changes: We’re thrilled to welcome back to Chris Grabowich, who will be replacing
Tracey Lyons as our Circulation Manager. Tracey will remain on staff as our accountant.
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September 2006
Volume 14, No. 9, Issue 78
CTR is published monthly in laser print
and PDF formats.
EDITORIAL Warren Buckleitner, Ph.D., Editor
([email protected]); Ann Orr, Ed.D.
Contributing Editor.
([email protected])
Bobbie Nester ([email protected])
Grabowich ([email protected], 800993-9499)
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Visit to learn more.
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with release information to Lisa Della Fave,
Software Librarian, 120 Main Street, Flemington, NJ
08822 (Phone: 908-284-0404)
EDITORIAL GUIDELINES. In order to protect
review integrity, CTR follows a set of editorial
guidelines found at
.html). Highlights include:
• We don’t sell software or profit from the sales
of products that we review. All software is
donated to a non-profit foundation.
• We don’t distribute/trade or sell subscriber
• CTR’s review process is available for public
We want our readers to know that there are no
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Review™ (ISSN 1555-242X) is published monthly
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Use of this publication for
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Entire contents © 2006 by Active Learning
Associates, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Children’s Technology Review • September 2006
New titles are listed here, grouped by age.
Preschool & Kindergarten
100 Hoops Basketball Counting
Game, LeapFrog,, page 4
Fridge Phonics Magnetic Letter
Set, LeapFrog,, 5
LeapsterTV Learning System,
On the Farm with Farmer Bob,
Integrity Publishers,, 13
V.Smile Baby Infant
Development System, VTech
Electronics North America,, 10
ZOOOOS Play and Learn DVD
System,, 14
Early Elementary
I Can Play Piano, Fisher-Price,
Inc.,, 6
I Spy Treasure Hunt DVD
Game, Snap TV,, 12
Upper Elementary
Children’s Internet, The The
Children’s Internet, Inc.,,
Designer’s World, Hasbro, Inc.,, 11, Warner
Bros. Online, 13
Middle and High
Grand Slam Trivia, Snap TV,, 6
iPod, Apple Computer, Corp.,, 12
Midnight Synergy Games
Collection, Midnight Synergy,, 7
Sansa e200 MP3 Player,
SanDisk,, 9
XNA Game Studio Express,
Microsoft Corp.,, 14
Early Literacy Station 3.0,
Alternative Work
Environments, Inc.,, 5
Reading Readiness, Knowledge
Adventure, Inc.,, 8
Sharp Quiz Calculator
(Elsimate EL-S50), Sharp
Electronics Corp., 9
Console Games, Younger
Barnyard, THQ, Inc.,, 4
Disney’s Kim Possible: What’s
the Switch, Buena Vista
Games,, 12
Pac-Man World 3, Namco
Hometek, Inc.,, 8
Super Monkey Ball: Banana
Blitz, Sega of America,, 13
Console Games, Older
Ant Bully, The, Midway Home
Entertainment,, 11
Bratz: Forever Diamonds, THQ,
Inc.,, 11
Hamsterz Life, Ubisoft, Inc.,, 12
Lord of the Rings, The: The
Battle for Middle-Earth,
Electronic Arts, Inc.,, 13
Game Boy Advance
Wild, The, Buena Vista Games,, 10
Nintendo DS
Cooking Mama, Majesco
Entertainment,, 11
Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi: The
Genie & the Amp,
D3Publisher of America, Inc.,, 12
Horsez, Ubisoft, Inc.,, 12
Monster House, THQ, Inc.,, 8
World Tour Soccer ‘06, Sony
Computer Entertainment
America,, 13
CTR Editor’s Choice
Selections for
September, 2006
100 Hoops Basketball
Counting Game
Fridge Phonics Magnetic Letter Set
Midnight Synergy Games Collection
Sansa e200 MP3 Player
Coming in October Issue
As we go to press with this issue, we’re testing
the titles below. Have you used them? We welcome your feedback, at
Backyard Sports Baseball 2007
CivCity: Rome
Clifford The Big Red Dog Phonics DVD Game
Disney Mix Max
FLYware: Fly Through Writing
Giga Pets Explorer TV Game
Giga Pets Tomcat
Happy Feet
Harvest Moon DS
I Spy Spooky Mansion
LEGO Star Wars 2: The Original Trilogy
Munchkin iCrib Sound System
Nancy Drew: The Creature of Kapu Cave
The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy
Totally Stumped!
Thanks to the following individuals, including members of the
Mediatech Foundation, who contributed their valuable feedback
during the testing process.
Mike Ainsle, 13; Lauren Aldrich, 4; Dana
Andrews, 10; Jessica Andrews, 12; Christian
Bollin, 10; Jenna Buckleitner, 11; Sarah
Buckleitner, 14; M. Burton, 30; Ian Bydalek, 3;
Addie Bydalek, 6; Jamie Colasurdo, 11; Steven
Crew, 6; Daniel Della Fave, 6; Nick Della Fave,
10; Nicholas Demers, 6; Justin Dempsey, age 10;
Cassidy Durkee, 3; Scott Evans, 11; Mohamed
Farid, 12; Lauren Fiorilla, 11; Michael Francavilla,
9; Nicole Francavilla, 7; Jordan Fusco, 7; Morgan
Fusco, 5; Jon Gick, 18; Nicholas Gerhartz, 5; Aaron Gervasio, 2; Laura
Henry, 12; Ellie Hilgen, 4; Erin Hilgen, 11; Curtis Hill, 5; Jarrett Hill 10;
Jon Hubert, 22; Rahul Kishore, 13; Jimmy Klein (8); Tess Lindsey, 5;
Austin Lyons, 12; Connor Lyons, 10; Owen Lyons, 6; David Marks, 8;
Taylor Meacham, age 9; Colleen Nester, 11; Sonya Newman, 5; Vera
Newman, 3; Billy O’Neil 14; Tyler Parker, 10; Tori Pinello, 8; Diana
Pinello, 5; Lauren Ross, 12; A.J. Ross, 10; Mehyar Sadri, 13; Alex
Schlicklin, 14; Taylor Schlicklin, 9; Daniel Swartz, 11; Miles Ward, 5; Tim
Wolock, 14.
Children’s Technology Review • September 2006
Feature Reviews
Page 4
100 Hoops Basketball Counting Game
As long as you don't mind having a softball-sized soft rubber basketball flying around,
you'll like this basketball counting game designed to reinforce counting skills. You first attach
the hoop to a vertical surface such as a doorknob or over a door. As the child shoots the
ball in the basket, it teaches them to count. (We put ours over an easel, so we could keep
track of the tournaments). There are five modes of play, including counting from 1 to 100
forwards; counting backwards; counting by 2s; by 5s; and by 10s. All games can also
toggled on the fly between English and Spanish.
Details: LeapFrog,, $24.99, for ages 3-6. Runs on Smart Toy.
Teaches: counting, skip counting, object-number association, spanish. Rating (1 to 5 stars)
= 4.8 stars. Review date: 9/1/2006.
You're the new cow on the block in this movie-based adventure, for up to four players
on most game consoles. After you customize your cow, either as a boy or a girl, you help
keep the farm running smoothly by collecting items and solving problems. Along the way,
you must work cooperatively with 27 other animals on the farm to meet goals and unlock
the gate to the next level. Innovative features include day and night modes, each with a
different set of goals. For example, in the day mode, you explore the farm smashing things
to reveal things such as chocolate, ice, flowers, coins or ingredients for recipes. All of these
items will have a function later in the game. As players explore, there's a nice variety of minigames to discover. Children find a hidden treasure with a metal detector, read secret notes,
serve milk to the other animals, play pool, race cars, play a game of Whack-a-Mole, tip over
sleeping cows or play darts. Created for THQ, Inc. by Blue Tongue.
Details: THQ, Inc.,, $30-$40, for ages 6-11. Runs on PlayStation 2,
GameCube, Game Boy Advance, Windows XP, Wii. Teaches: problem solving. Rating (1 to
5 stars) = 4.5 stars. Review date: 9/1/2006.
Ease of Use
Design Features
Good Value
Ease of Use
Design Features
Good Value
ESRB Rating: Evereyone
Children's Technology Review, September 2006
Early Literacy Station 3.0
This computer learning package has been improved with the addition of a talking menu
and an improved organization scheme so that it is less likely for young children to find
themselves in a program that is too advanced for them. Components of the $2440 (starting
price) package include a Dell computer that comes pre-loaded with 26 older, generally highquality programs (note, the company claims to have used CTR's ratings to help select
software; see disclaimer below), a monitor and a printer. There is no Internet component.
To keep things simple, there is no CD-ROM drive. Also included are a color-coded
keyboard, headphones and a kid-sized optical mouse (the Tiny Mouse). No disks or
installations are necessary--just turn on the computer to see a menu. The simplicity is
The software appeals to pre-K through third grade students and covers a range of
subjects and interests--more than just Literacy. The system is marketed to children's
librarians, but would work in any early childhood/early elementary setting.
Activities include several Living Books (Green Eggs and Ham, Stella Luna and The Cat
in The Hat), three creativity packages (Kidspiration, Krazy Artroom and Microsoft Paint) and
a variety of other early childhood CTR All-Stars (Millie's Math House, Ollo, USA Explorer and
five of the best Reader Rabbit titles, including Reader Rabbit Toddler). There's no shortage
of things to do, and it is easy to get out of any activity, so children feel like they have a
choice in the software.
Also included in the purchase price is an industry standard three-year warranty and
one year of support (if it breaks, ship it back and they'll replace or upgrade it.). If you're
looking for an easy-to-use system, this solution takes the headaches out of choosing
software and maintaining a computer.
Disclaimer: Alternative Work Environments, Inc., used CTR's reviews on a nonexclusive
basis in the selection of products for this system. CTR received no compensation for this. An
Early Literacy Station was provided on a long-term loan to the Mediatech Foundation, where
CTR tests software. Mediatech, a non-profit organization, has also accepted hardware for
testing purposes from Apple, Disney, HP, IBM/Little Tykes and Gateway.
Details: Alternative Work Environments, Inc.,, $2440, for ages
3-8. Runs on Win XP. Teaches: computers, reading, math, science, history, creativity. Rating
(1 to 5 stars) = 4.6 stars. Review date: 9/1/2006.
Page 5
Ease of Use
Design Features
Good Value
Fridge Phonics Magnetic Letter Set
Ease of Use 10
Now featuring both upper- or lower-case letters, this is a set of magnetic letters (one
magnet per letter) and a battery-operated magnetic letter reader that attaches to any
magnetic surface such as a file cabinet (for school) or a refrigerator (at home). Every time a
Design Features
letter is placed in the reader and pressed, it is heard out loud, along with an associated item.
There is also a phonics song.
Good Value
Details: LeapFrog,, $19.99, for ages 2-5. Runs on Smart Toy.
ESRB Rating:
Teaches: language, early reading, letter recognition . Rating (1 to 5 stars) = 4.7 stars. Review
date: 9/1/2006.
Children's Technology Review, September 2006
Grand Slam Trivia
This DVD game tests players' knowledge of major league baseball. It features 100
questions from the 19th Century through the 2005 World Series. Players can pick their
difficulty level, choosing either Single for easier questions or Home Run for the most difficult
questions. Content includes 500 video highlights from baseball history, including gamesaving catches, clutch hits and baseball bloopers. There are both single-player or multiplayer modes for up to 8 players.
Our test family played as a family in two teams of two. While the questions for singles
and doubles (for the most part) were fairly easy if you're a baseball fan, the other questions
were much more difficult. In fact, many were impossible for a child to answer as they dealt
with baseball trivia from a long time ago. Even adults may have difficulty, unless they are
experts on baseball trivia.
Another option to the regular game is to visit the batting cages. There you can choose
a category such as Team Rivalries or Team Mascots. After choosing your category, you are
given 10 questions to answer within a certain time frame. While these questions were fairly
easy and interesting, if you chose the wrong answer, it didn't tell you the correct answer (as
it does in regular play). All in all, this is a game you might want to borrow rather than buy.
Details: Snap TV,, $24.99, for ages 12-up. Runs on
Interactive DVD. Teaches: baseball trivia. Rating (1 to 5 stars) = 3.9 stars. Review date:
I Can Play Piano
Electronic piano lessons are hardly a new idea. In 1994, "The Miracle" keyboard
attached to your computer and was seen on those late-night infomercials. But none-to-date
have been a threat to the flesh and bone variety of piano teacher, and I Can Play Piano ($80, is no exception.
First some background. At last year's New York Toy Fair, a computer-based piano
tutorial was released, called Piano Wizard (, Allegro Multimedia). The
concept of matching colored notes to the keyboard was interesting, but it required attaching
a USB MIDI keyboard to your computer, some vodoo to get it working with your computer
speakers, and then carefully sticking several dozen colored stickers on every key. Mediatech
testers were less than enthusiastic.
This year, however, Fisher-Price has repackaged the concept as more of a toy that
uses the Piano Wizard's color matching scheme on a three-octave keyboard that plugs into
your TV, for about half the price. And, it makes more sense. The setup is easy, and an
additional handful of games, plus a freestyle mode of play, expand the appeal of this
When plugged into the TV, children can play along with one of eight songs like Row,
Row, Row Your Boat or Heart and Soul. As the song plays, a stream of color-coded notes
moves across the screen, mapped to the music. If the note is played at the right time, the
melody can be heard. It's like paint-by-number piano, where quick matching can let you into
the song, sans any talent or pitch. Additional controls let you adjust the tempo, turn on or off
a metronome, or toggle between four screen themes. Just one shows real musical notes; a
fact human piano teachers don't care for. Our child testers, however, liked the games and
enjoyed trying to keep up with the catchy songs.
As an early musical experience, I Can Play Piano is excellent. As a piano teacher,
however, it is lacking both in depth and technique. Note: future cartridges are planned that
will feature Scooby Doo, Dora the Explorer, Jimmy Neutron and Barbie. There's no doubt
the program can introduce the general idea that the piano keyboard = musical notes.
However, it is not clear if it can teach one how to "play" the piano, as the title implies.
Details: Fisher-Price, Inc.,, $80, for ages 4-8. Runs on TV based
Game. Teaches: music, piano, introduction to notation, pitch. Rating (1 to 5 stars) = 4.1
stars. Review date: 9/1/2006.
Page 6
Ease of Use
Design Features
Good Value
ESRB Rating:
Ease of Use
Design Features
Good Value
Children's Technology Review, September 2006
LeapsterTV Learning System
Designed to let you play Leapster software through your television, this is a game
console that is similar in many ways to the original V.Smile (CTR, Winter 2004). Remember
that the Leapster L-Max, released last year, can also be played through a TV, offering much
of the same functionality.
Once you have plugged the base console into your TV and inserted a game cartridge,
you can then plug up to two wired controllers into the base; although only one comes with
the unit. The wires are long enough to sit away from the TV. The controls look like they were
designed with preschoolers in mind. They feature a large oversized Joystick, large plastic
input buttons and a touch sensitive track pad.
Despite the early childhood look of this device, our testers found the controls more
difficult to manipulate than the regular Leapster. That's because a touch screen that is
removed from the graphics is quite a bit more abstract than a touch screen that lays over
the graphics. For example, when entering a name, children must move the cursor to each
letter and "click" using the stylus input button; a clumsy process even for an adult.
LeapsterTV comes with one software cartridge—"Dora the Explorer Pinata Party"—
and will be powered either by four 'C' batteries or an AC adapter (sold for an additional fee).
Details: Leapfrog,, $50, for ages 4-8. Runs on Leapster. Teaches:
a TV peripheral. Rating (1 to 5 stars) = 4 stars. Review date: 9/1/2006.
Page 7
Ease of Use
Design Features
Good Value
Midnight Synergy Games Collection
Ease of Use 8
Created by a group of game enthusiasts in Canada (called Midnight Synergy) this pack
of seven games consists of 5 brain-bending puzzle games and two side-scrolling space
shooters (one of which is the sequel to the other). You can purchase the games individually
Design Features
either as a download or a CD-ROM. The first three games (Wonderland, Wonderland Secret
Worlds and Return to Wonderland) present the player with obstacles, puzzles, and enemies
Good Value
which must be worked around. This demands lots of box-pushing and bridge-making and
ESRB Rating:
gets quite addictive. Because there are three different versions of this game (each of which
has plenty of levels), and it comes with a level editor, Wonderland provides almost enough
content to be worth the price of admission on its own.
Colony is the other puzzle/strategy game in the pack. This pseudo-board game is
almost like Checkers, and the challenge is to take control of the majority of the board. This is
also addictive, but is not as fun as Wonderland. The space shooters (Intensity XS and
Intensity XS ReCharge) are standard fare, but should please any gamer who likes that sort of
thing. The graphics are simple, but the game play is top notch. The CD we received
included full versions of Wonderland (v1.17), Wonderland Secret Worlds (v1.00), Return To
Wonderland Platinum Edition (v3.01), Intensity XS (v1.52), Intensity XS ReCharge (v1.12),
Frazzled (v1.08) and Colony (v1.2). The CD Menu allows you install all programs at once, or
you can pick and choose to install individual games. The CD also allows you to easily install
one copy on your home computer and, say, one copy on your laptop.
Details: Midnight Synergy,, $59.95, for ages 8-up. Runs on
Windows XP. Teaches: logic, spatial thinking. Rating (1 to 5 stars) = 4.4 stars. Review date:
Children's Technology Review, September 2006
Monster House
Based on the movie, players play as one of three main characters, DJ, Jenny or
Chowder, each with their own actions and abilities. The goal is to explore the Monster
Mouse and battle the enemies with your water blaster without getting killed, which would
result in you having to restart at that level. Both Nick (10) and Daniel (6) tried the DS and
GBA versions of this game, and "they hated them both." The only thing they liked about the
DS version was that the graphics were good. But the game itself was boring and the
controls were hard to use. The GBA version was a little better in that it gave you a choice in
which rooms to enter (unlike the DS which just takes you to the next room). They both
thought the PS2 version was a little more fun, but wouldn't buy any of the games.
Details: THQ, Inc.,, $39.99, for ages 8-up. Runs on Game Boy
Advance, Nintendo DS, PlayStation 2, GameCube. Teaches: spatial relations. Rating (1 to 5
stars) = 3.3 stars. Review date: 9/1/2006.
Page 8
Ease of Use
Design Features
Good Value
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+, Comic Mischief
Fantasy Violence
Pac-Man World 3
Ease of Use 8
Inspired from the 2D maze game 25 years ago, this modernized version of Pac-Man is
a single player adventure game with plenty of collecting, fighting and problem solving.
Reading is minimal, and games are saved along the way, making this a consideration for
Design Features 9
children. There is no shortage of cartoon violence, including Pac-Man's "butt bounce" used
to smash crabs, among other things. Most the the game follows a very similar venue—
Good Value 8
explore, fight and collect—while trying to get to the next level. Players can also control the
ESRB Rating: Everyone, Cartoon Violence
Ghosts Pinky and Clyde, each who have special abilities to solve puzzles and access areas
that Pac-Man can't reach. This is the first game in which Pac-Man speaks.
The goal is to save the world, by defeating the Ghosts, and fight against an evil genius
who has created a robot. The story line is that Pac-Man has been mysteriously transported
out of Pac-Village, into a mysterious land, and he must uncover the evil genius Erwin's plot
and save the world from massive catastrophe.
Content includes seven levels, ten types of enemies and nine types of moves. For
example, Pac-Man can do a power roll to take out a line of monsters at once. Bonus
material includes a Pac-Man museum, an interview with the Toru Iwatani (the game's original
creator), and the original arcade version of the game that looks and sounds exactly like the
original game. This is fun way to help children understand what the very first video games
used to look like. We reviewed the PS2 version.
Details: Namco Hometek, Inc.,, $20, for ages 6-up. Runs on PS2,
Xbox, GameCube, Win 98, Win XP, PSP. Teaches: strategy, timing, the history of video
games. Rating (1 to 5 stars) = 4.2 stars. Review date: 9/1/2006.
Reading Readiness
Well-designed, educationally valuable but limited in functionality, this electronic
alphabet book lets children decorate their own letter-themed pages. For example, on the
page for the letter A, children can choose from ten or so A-related items, such as an ax or
an apple, to drag and drop around the letter, one at a time. Each time an object is selected,
is is verbally labeled in clear speech, creating an excellent reinforcement of language skills in
the context of the child's interests. Limitations include an inability to save work (once you
change pages, all your work on the previous page is gone). A bit more creativity would be
nice, too, such as the ability to freely draw or type on the page.
This is an excellent open-ended way to explore letter and phonics sounds. A variety of
teacher recourses are provided as PDF files.
Details: Knowledge Adventure, Inc.,, $89.95, for ages
5-8. Runs on Windows XP, Mac OSX. Teaches: Language, reading, upper/lower case,
auditory discrimination, letter recognition, phonetic analysis, seeing auditory text in print, text
to speech. Rating (1 to 5 stars) = 4.1 stars. Review date: 9/1/2006.
Ease of Use
Design Features
Good Value
Children's Technology Review, September 2006
Sansa e200 MP3 Player
Sandisk's flagship line of Sansa MP3 players (there are three in the series) can do a lot
more than play music. They can record sounds with a tiny built-in microphone, or play or
record FM radio stations. Audio can be played back through headphones or transferred to a
computer as .wav files. The recording quality is good for fainter sounds, but loud songs
over-modulate easily, creating distortion.
The primary function of the Sansa is for playing and storing music, which it does nicely
using iPod-like controls. The scroll wheel is an actual wheel that you can feel, that lets you
glide through menus easily. The blue backlighting and glossy black case look cool and won't
go unnoticed by Nano-seeking middle schoolers.
The operating software arranges songs by artists, albums, songs, genres and playlists,
and pictures or movies can be displayed on the crisp but small 1.8-inch screen. Other
features include removable lithium ion batteries, that provide 20 hours of playback time, a
microSD port, and the FM radio tuner. Content is managed with Windows Media Player
(don't even try to use iTunes), and the file transfer software is friendly with both Microsoft
PlaysForSure and RealNetworks Rhapsody subscription services. The player comes in three
sizes: 2GB ($180), 4GB ($230, which we reviewed), and 6GB ($280). If you need a good
digital audio recorder, this is a good consideration.
Details: SanDisk,, $280, for ages 6-up. Runs on Windows XP.
Teaches: an MP3 player and digital audio recorder. Rating (1 to 5 stars) = 4.5 stars. Review
date: 9/1/2006.
Page 9
Ease of Use
Design Features
Good Value
Sharp Quiz Calculator (Elsimate EL-S50)
Ease of Use 10
Just in time for Back-to-School '06, Sharp Electronics ( has
released two standard desktop calculators with built-in math drill features. For students, the
smaller EL-S50 Quiz Calc ($12) provides practice with sets of specific math facts, such as
Design Features
the times tables. The more drab looking EL-T100B Brain Exerciser ($13) is for business
executives, and it can silently dole out sets of random math problems, along with your
Good Value
score. Like Nintendo's Brain Games, the math drill was was inspired by Japanese
ESRB Rating:
neuroscientist Ryuta Kawashima, the proponent of the rather depressing notion that as you
get older, you should exercise your mind to keep it from deteriorating.
On the student model, you start a drill by turning on the calculator and pressing a
DRILL key. You are then asked to select how many problems you want to do (25, 50 or
100). The problems start in sequence, one at a time, and you can't advance without entering
the correct answer. Once you finish your set, you get a score. There are no bells, whistles or
dancing rabbits—just the quiet warm feeling you've defeated a silent drill sergeant. Both
calculators are powered by a 3V lithium battery that can last seven years with normal use;
hopefully enough time to master your times tables.
Parents should note that elementary teachers can get picky about which calculator fits
their math curriculum--teachers sometimes like to walk the entire class through a series of
keystrokes at the same time, so check with your children's teacher before sending one of
these to school.
Details: Sharp Electronics Corp.,, $12, for ages 7-up. Runs on
Smart Toy. Teaches: Math facts (addition, subtraction, multiplication and division). Rating (1
to 5 stars) = 4.1 stars. Review date: 9/1/2006.
Children's Technology Review, September 2006
V.Smile Baby Infant Development System
Designed to work as both a busy box and a game controller, this innovative and
extremely talkative platform attempts to create a setting where children control the TV rather
than the other way around.
There are two main components. A console plugs into your TV and is powered either
by 4 AA batteries or an AC adapter (not included). Software comes on cartridges that plug
into the console.
The activity panel is a colorful orange and white set of seven buttons powered by 3
AA's, with a washable plush cushion. Controls also include a recessed On/Off slider, a Menu
button and a switch for toggling between TV or play alone modes. There's also a seethrough slider switch that changes the level of the activity.
This product offers two very different experiences. One is designed to work
independently, with the sound coming from an internal speaker. The other works with your
TV, and the controllers are used to make things happen on the screen. Unlike interactive
DVDs which can be tricky to set up and sluggish to control, V.Smile Baby is easy to use,
and the games are very responsive as long as the infrared signals don't get blocked.
For the youngest users, who will have no idea that they can control something on the
TV screen, this is simply another toy to explore, with a lot of sounds and sugary narration.
More advanced levels associate short phrases with each shape (e.g., "a star has five
points"); content that has little if any meaning to children under three, who would much
rather explore the slippery buttons or perhaps pour juice on their sister's head. There is little
to tactually explore, except for a spinning track ball. This is a pretty limited busy box.
When in TV Play mode, the panel becomes a game controller. The cartridge that
comes in the box, called Learn & Discover Home, offers 15 activities that range in quality.
Some, such as Puppies Stacking Number Blocks, best exemplifies the potential for this
platform. With each touch of a key, objects on the screen instantly change color, as children
help a puppy count up or down from one to five. The action is quick and right on,
developmentally. This brief window of control is eroded by both a menu where the icons
don't match with the controller layout and a good deal of noisy background music.
Included in the content is an animated introduction to sign language with no interactive
element. Also, the sliding mode button is fun to move, so that a child who gets bored with
the introduction may move the slider, not understanding where they are. The result is a quick
loss of interest, at which point a narrator takes over with a mind numbing cycle of prompts
before thankfully going to sleep.
There will be five software titles ($15 each), including Baby Einstein. There are three
modes of play for each cartridge; one of which is a sign language tutorial based on baby
sign language (this is not ASL), based on the work of the authors of the book "Baby
Signs" (Acredolo and Goodwyn) who served as consultants to this project.
Details: VTech Electronics North America,, $40 ($15 for software),
for ages 9 months - 3. Runs on V.Smile. Teaches: sign language, early learning,
classification, logic. Rating (1 to 5 stars) = 3.8 stars. Review date: 9/1/2006.
Wild, The
Based on the Disney movie, this single-player, side-scrolling adventure game for GBA
allows players to take on the role of characters from the movie (Samson, the lion and Benny,
the squirrel). There are 18 levels of play which are customized for each character and follow
the movie story. Up to three games can be saved on the cartridge—an essential feature.
Players move through stormy seas or erupting volcanoes, where they fight against dogs,
vultures and wildebeasts. The goal is to rescue Samson's son, Ryan. The game has all the
features of a leveled platform adventure. It uses multiple button controls, which takes some
learning and could be frustrating for younger children, despite a well-designed tutorial.
Minimal reading is required.
Details: Buena Vista Games,, $29.99, for ages 6-11.
Runs on Game Boy Advance. Teaches: logical thinking. Rating (1 to 5 stars) = 4.2 stars.
Review date: 9/1/2006.
Page 10
Ease of Use
Design Features
Good Value
Ease of Use
Design Features
Good Value
Children's Technology Review, September 2006
Other New Releases
Page 11
Ant Bully, The
The Ant Bully for PS2, GC, PC and GBA shipped in July, but the Wii version will be released this holiday season. Based on
the animated film from Warner Bros. Pictures, The Ant Bully video game follows the storyline of the film. It is about a young boy
named Lucas who is magically shrunk down to ant size and made to live like an ant in the colony as he battles and explores in
his new ant world. In this game, players to take on the role of Lucas as they fight to save the colony from extermination. Visit
The Ant Bully
Details: Midway Home Entertainment,, 773-961-2839, $30, for ages 6-up. Runs on PlayStation
2, GameCube, Windows XP, Game Boy Advance, Wii. Teaches: strategy. Review date: 9/1/2006.
Bratz: Forever Diamonds
Players help the Bratz girls compete in the America Rocks Fashion TV show as they search for the hottest, young fashion
designer. They can play as all four Bratz girls. A new figure skating competition lets the player experience skate to try to impress
the judges. The can also adopt a pet that you train, dress, accessorize and showcase in competitions. The console and GBA
version is for one player, and the DS version is has a two-player wireless game sharing mode. Developed by Blitz (PS2, GC) and
Barking Lizard (GBA, DS) for THQ.
Details: THQ, Inc.,, 818-871-5000, $29.99, for ages 8-up. Runs on PlayStation 2*, GameCube, Game Boy
Advance, Nintendo DS. Teaches: spatial problem solving. Review date: 9/1/2006.
Children's Internet, The
The Children’s Internet (TCI) allows online access to pre-approved, live content. TCI works in tandem with a subscriber’s
ISP and costs $10/month. The service, which we did not test, includes "a full range of live Internet offerings, including games,
homework help, keyword search and secure email without the possibility of predatory, pornographic, violent or other
inappropriate content getting in the way of their precious computer time." It was started by Sholeh Hamedani with the help of
her father, Nasser Hamedani, in an attempt to create a separate Internet. TCI maintains a "green" list of G-rated websites. We
asked how many sites and were told "thousands." It was not clear who does the filtering.
Features include the ability to add "Family Favorite" bookmarks and personal password information. There are four age
groups: 3 thru 5, 6 thru 8, 9 thru 11, and 12 thru 14. Each registered child has a homeroom and a launch pad that can be
customized. Instant messaging is handled through an "E-Budds" feature. Once a child creates a personal address book with
the parent’s permission, only those addresses can correspond with the child. TCI was developed by Two Dog Net, Inc. and is
licensed to The Children’s Internet, Inc., for sales and marketing. It is based in Pleasanton, CA. Visit www.thechildrensinternet.
Details: The Children's Internet, Inc.,, 925-737-0144, $10/month, for ages 3-14. Runs on
Internet Site. Teaches: a internet service provider specifically for children. Review date: 9/1/2006.
Cooking Mama
Developed by Taito for Majesco and scheduled for release in Fall '06, Cooking Mama allows players to cook up dishes on
their Nintendo DS. There are 76 different, real world recipes in the game. After mastering the first 15 recipes, you can unlock 61
increasingly complex bonus recipes.
There are over 200 mini-games where players use the stylus as their kitchen tool to chop, slice, mash and so on. Players
can also combine recipes to create their own dishes. Bronze, silver and gold medals are awarded based on the quality of the
players cooking. Nick (age 10) tried this game and thought it was very difficult. There was no choice in levels of play, and you
have to follow a recipe within a certain amount of time. There is a lot of reading, and the directions are very specific.
Details: Majesco Entertainment,, 732-225-8910, $19.99, for ages 10-up. Runs on
Nintendo DS. Teaches: cooking, following directions. Review date: 9/1/2006.
Designer's World
This battery-operated one-player TV game plugs into your television and allows you to use a series of menus to design
your own clothing line, hire models and enter fashion shows in Paris, New York, Tokyo and Milan. Note yet reviewed. See also
Digi Makeover.
Details: Hasbro, Inc.,, 401-725-8697, $39.99, for ages 8-up. Runs on TV-based Game. Teaches:
creativity, imagination, strategy. Review date: 9/1/2006.
Children's Technology Review, September 2006
Page 12
Disney's Kim Possible: What's the Switch
New for PS2, this action fighting adventure lets players can take on the role as either Kim Possible or Shego (the bad guy).
They can smash through obstacles, swing from flagpoles and “grapple” across chasms while battling henchmen and robot
monkies. There are 11 missions, set in locations such as London, Tokyo and the Arctic. You can use six gadgets to attack
enemies 19 different ways in order to unlock bonus costumes and hidden secrets. There are some multiplayer minigames.
Develped by A2M. Coming November 2006.
Details: Buena Vista Games,, 818-553-5151, $call, for ages 6-11. Runs on PlayStation 2.
Teaches: not applicable. Review date: 9/1/2006.
Hamsterz Life
From the makers of Petz comes Hamsterz Life, for the Nintendo DS, planned for release November 2006. The life
simulation will let you raise several breeds of hamsters and build homes for them to grow up in. Look for an upcoming review.
Details: Ubisoft, Inc.,, 415-571-2135, $call, for ages 5-up. Runs on Nintendo DS. Teaches: caring for
living things. Review date: 9/1/2006.
Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi: The Genie & the Amp
This game follows the adventures of Japanese pop stars Ami & Yumi. The story, which requires plenty of reading, centers
around the fact that the girls are behind schedule in recording their new album. They find a genie who helps them as they
explore ten levels on a search to find hidden musical notes. Players can play as either Ami or Yumi, each with different abilities.
This game uses a creative form of fighting--you strum four guitar strings, sometimes in a correct order, in order to defeat
enemies. There are mini-games, and both single or multiplayer wireless modes. Developed by Sensory Sweep for D3Publisher.
This is a rather mindless game that Puffy fans will enjoy.
Details: D3Publisher of America, Inc.,, 310-268-0820 x129, $19.95, for ages 7-up. Runs on
Nintendo DS. Teaches: music, logic, memory. Review date: 9/1/2006.
Coming November 2006, Horsez is another life simulation from the makers of Petz. A newcomer to the series, this is the
first game that allows you to care for your own foal, ensuring he or she grows into a strong adult horse.
Details: Ubisoft, Inc.,, 415-571-2135, $call, for ages 6-up. Runs on Windows XP, Nintendo DS.
Teaches: life simulation. Review date: 9/1/2006.
I Spy Treasure Hunt DVD Game
This is a DVD game where players visit Smuggler's Cove, an oceanside community with pirate history, and try to find clues
and hidden treasures. Exploring the nautical town and playing I Spy riddles reveals pieces of three treasure maps. Assemble the
pieces and follow the clues to discover the treasure. The game includes three treasure hunts, 39 I SPY riddles and 24 locations,
including an island, lighthouse, sailboat, beach, old fort, museum, boat building shop, old inn, candy store and shed. Also
available: I Spy Spooky Mansion.
Details: Snap TV,, 310-309-4713, $24.99, for ages 6-up. Runs on Interactive DVD. Teaches:
problem solving, reading, visual memory, logic. Review date: 9/1/2006.
The iPod is a portable digital music player that can also be used to store lectures (sometimes called podcasts), photos or
movies. The first iPods contained hard disks; later versions were RAM based, with a smaller form factor, less battery power and
more reliable performance. iPod content can only be managed by a computer running iTunes, which makes it possible to
browse, store and purchase digital content. None of these ideas were invented by Apple (there were numerous MP3 players
that used Napster), but they were packaged and marketed extremely well by Apple. Today, a variety of digital music players are
available for children, including the Fisher-Price FP3 and the Sandisk Sansa, the latter including a built in microphone. Another
recent trend is the inclusion of iPod-like factors into mobile phones, calculators and pens.
Details: Apple Computer,, 800-282-2732, $200, for ages 3-up. Runs on Windows XP, Mac OSX.
Teaches: music. Review date: 9/1/2006.
Children's Technology Review, September 2006
Page 13
Lord of the Rings, The: The Battle for Middle-Earth
We're still reviewing this one-player command-based strategy game (like Age of the Empires). You enter middle-earth to
re-live battles from the film as the commander of different armies.
Players can choose to fight on the side of good or evil with heroes and creatures that have never been seen in the Lord of
the Rings films. The game features six types of armies—Elves, Dwarves, Goblins, Men of the West, Isengard and Mordor.
You progress through the game unlocking heroes that can be used to defeat your opponents. Players can also customize
their base by building their own castle with fortresses, anywhere on the map.
Details: Electronic Arts, Inc.,, 800-245-4525, $59.99, for ages 12-up. Runs on Xbox 360. Teaches: strategy,
logic. Review date: 9/1/2006.
On the Farm with Farmer Bob
This animated DVD series features the voices of country music singers Randy Travis, Vince Gill, and Amy Grant, and is
designed to combines literary components with Bible-based stories. Content includes read-along video storybooks where
children see words as they hear them; music videos with characters showing and sounding out letters; tips for parents to
encourage reading and writing; alternate versions of the cartoons where key letters pop up as they are used; and short cartoons
that teach the sounds associated with letters and letter blends. Three titles are available: A Friend Planting Seeds is a Friend
Indeed (Farmer Bob puts the animals in charge of planting a field and when mistakes occur, children see the value of listening,
obeying and cooperating); The Prodigal Pig (Porkshop the Pig leaves the farm to become rich and famous, and discovers that
the things that really matter are his friends and family back on the farm); and Lost: A Sheep Story (Farmer Bob accidentally
leaves Sam the Ram at the beach. He searches the town and won't return until he finds his lost child).
Details: Integrity Publishers,, (not available), $12.98 ea, for ages 4-up. Runs on Interactive DVD.
Teaches: reading, writing, positive values. Review date: 9/1/2006.
Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz
Designed to highlight the abilities of the Nintendo Wii, this party game includes no less than 50 minigames, including a ring
toss, where you "fling" the Wii Remote to toss virtual rings in the air, baseball, and a hurdle race where you "run" by pumping
the two parts of the Wii controller in the air. Of course the main part of the game is the maze-like racing, where you steer by
moving the Wii controller back and forth or jump by flicking the Wii remote in the air. For up to four players. Very easy to play.
Coming Fall 2006.
Details: Sega of America,, 800-275-7342, $call, for ages 5-up. Runs on Wii. Teaches: logic, timing,
strategy. Review date: 9/1/2006.
World Tour Soccer '06
In World Tour Soccer '06, players test their skills in various modes, including Medal Mode, World Tour Mode and
Exhibition Mode, as well as 10 new challenges. Exhibition Mode offers a traditional soccer simulation and features over 70
International Teams with more than 1,500 world-renowned players and 8 international stadiums. World Tour mode takes players
through challenges that emphasize passing, ball control, possession and style of play. Medal Mode pits the players against the
world's best on a quest to dominate the globe. Up to four players can compete using PSP's wireless capabilities.
Details: Sony Computer Entertainment America,, 800-222-7669, $39.99, for ages 7-up. Runs on PSP.
Teaches: soccer. Review date: 9/1/2006.
Redesigned in August, 2006, this is the official online home of the Scooby-Doo gang. It is thick with advertisements, movie
trailers and flash-games. Content includes downloadable mystery podcasts and a place to share pet pictures. There are 19
flash games that include two long-form episodic mystery adventures: Horror on the High Seas and Mayan Mayhem.
Scooby’s Pet Gallery is a place where children can upload their own pet pictures. Each week, children can register to get
a weekly allotment of virtual Scooby Snacks, which they can offer to other pets as a form of rating system. Pets earning the
most Scooby Snacks will be ranked on the site as the “Scooby-Snack Leader.” On a regular basis, a Featured Pet and
Wackiest Pet will be selected to be showcased in the gallery.
Additionally, users will have the ability to e-mail friends from within the site, sending them one of three pre-written
messages about their pet profile. This feature did not seem to be working when we visited the site on August 15, although we
were able to post a pet photo (look for Blacky the cat). Scooby’s Playground is designed for preschoolers. Warner Bros. Online
has plans for their other two other companion sites, including Looney ( and Hanna-Barbera.
com ( The sites have recently added engaging editorial, games, classic cartoons, personalization
tools and interactive experiences.
Details: Warner Bros. Online,, (not available), $free, for ages 2-12. Runs on Internet Site. Teaches:
a promotional site for Warner Bros.. Review date: 9/1/2006.
Children's Technology Review, September 2006
Page 14
XNA Game Studio Express
Microsoft is doing something smart, by following the lead of GarageGames, an authoring system for novices designed in
part by folks like Jeff Tunnell (inventor of The Incredible Machine). The strategy could increase the number of titles by seeding
the platform with thousands of smart, very motivated developers.
Available for free for Windows XP-based PCs, there is also a Creators Club ($99 per year) that will let users test and share
their games on Xbox live, running on an Xbox 360. So this package also has a publishing path. In creating this package,
Microsoft did some homework first, by pulling in two important players in the game development space: Autodesk and
GarageGames. Autodesk (a well known 3-D authoring program) will make it possible for users to incorporate content into XNA
Game Studio Express using an Autodesk’s FBX file exchange format. GarageGames ( has been at the
center of creating novice-friendly game design tools, with its Torque Tools package, which will also be compatible with XNA.
Torque was used to create Marble Blast Ultra, which is one of the most popular games on Xbox Live. It has migrated both its
Torque Shader Engine and new Torque Game Builder 2-D visual game designer to the XNA Game Studio Express platform.
A beta of the software is available as a free download on Windows XP, for development on the Windows XP platform. The
final version of XNA Game Studio Express will be available this holiday season. A second XNA toolset geared toward game
development professionals is scheduled to be available in Spring 2007. Microsoft hopes that XNA Game Studio Express will
liberate anyone with a game idea to create titles for Xbox 360 and Windows XP simultaneously.
Details: Microsoft Corp.,, 800-426-9400, $99/year, for ages 12-up. Runs on Windows XP, Xbox 360.
Teaches: creativity, math, logic, programming. Review date: 9/1/2006.
ZOOOOS Play and Learn DVD System
This remote and DVD package works with most standard DVD players. After you insert the 2 AAA batteries, you must then
program your DVD player by putting in a setup disk and following the instructions. The book comes with hundreds of codes and
brands. Three titles are available for $10 each and include Bob the Builder, San Diego Zoo Animal Explorer, and Thomas &
Friends Rides the Rails. Not yet reviewed.
Details: Funrise Toy Corp.,, 800-882-3808, $24.95, for ages 3-6. Runs on TV based Game. Teaches:
early reading, the alphabet, spelling, reading, writing, classification. Review date: 9/1/2006.
Children's Technology Review, September 2006