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Sunday, April 28, 1996 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Tech Reviews

CD-Rom -- ''Piper''

Seattle Times Database Editor

"Piper" Splash Studios (800) 70-SPLASH Windows, Windows 95 $39.95

Will marvels never cease? With the advanced multimedia software being created today, you can make your $2,000 home PC emulate a $200 color TV!

"Piper," from Redmond's Splash Studios, is a technically stunning interactive movie aimed at 4- to 12-year olds. It features young hunk Jason David Frank, star of "The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers" and a kind of '90s David Cassidy, in an Old West tale based very loosely on the Pied Piper legend.

Splash is trying to create a new genre - a movie kids can watch in episodes, punctuated by interactive games. One moment they watch Piper sing a soliloquy, the next they're furiously clicking their mouse, trying to eradicate villainous giant virtual rats.

Our 5- and 7-year-old kid testers are quite impressed. They still ask to play after three weeks. Children love repetition, so the ability to replay scenes, learn the lines and sing the tunes is appealing.

The story begins in Midas Valley, a dusty old town besieged by a gang of rats and led by a hapless mayor who fritters away his afternoons trying to find a hidden stash of gold.

The rats steal the show, insulting everyone, stealing Piper's pipe and smashing into the school to throw books and fruit at the children. This turns into a fast-moving game of block the fruit and whack the rat.

There are also underground tunnels to navigate, jigsaw puzzles in the floors and endless opportunities to help drive the rats from Midas Valley. The only faintly educational element is a game that involves trying to balance gold bars on a scale.

The video and game engine is terrific, but to this parent, at least, the story and songs are thin and hokey. Given the length of time kids spend passively watching this game, the $39.95 might be just as well spent renting a pile of videos.

Copyright (c) 1996 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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