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Sunday, September 6, 1998 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Tech Review

Tech Reviews -- TV's ''Blue's Clues'' Gets CD-Rom Home Version

Special To The Seattle Times

"Blue's Clues," a show in Nickelodeon's Nick Jr. daytime line-up, is one of the most popular kid's show on TV. Humongous Entertainment, the Woodinville-based software company, has emerged as one of the most reliable names in children's software.

Put them together and what do you get? Two CD-ROM titles, one of which is mostly the TV show.

If are unfamiliar with "Blues Clues," here is a brief description of the show. It features Steve, an average-looking, clean cut, teenage guy (who's actually a young-looking 24-year-old guy named Steve Burns), who lives in a fanciful house with his dog, Blue. Steve is sweet and goofy and wears a green-striped, long-sleeved rugby shirt.

While Steve is real, all of his surroundings are two-dimensional animations that have been created to look like they are made of felt, clay or paper.

The look of the show is purposely low-tech. Nickelodeon does not try to dazzle its preschool audience with fancy computer animations.

The show revolves around Blue trying to communicate with Steve. Since she can't speak, Blue leaves paw prints around the house as clues to things she wants to communicate. Steve then searches the house for these clues and pieces them together.

The outstanding thing about "Blue's Clues" is its interactivity. Steve is a nice enough guy, but he's not completely alert. He stumbles through the house pretending to miss clues, giving the children watching the show the chance to help him. If he walks past a table upon which there is a paw print, kids yell, "A clue!" He stops, walks up to the camera, and says, "A clue? Where?" "On the table!" yell the amazingly large percentage of America's children who watch this show twice a day.

"On the table?" And he goes to look and says, "Oh. A clue." If there ever has been a show that could be considered interactive, it's "Blues Clues."

And because of its interactive nature, "Blue's Clues" has always seemed like a natural to be translated into an interactive educational computer game. In the end, Humongous took the bait.

The first "Blue's Clues" CD-ROM title, "Blue's Birthday Surprise," Windows, Macintosh, $29.95, is so perfectly scripted and beautifully made that it is nearly indistinguishable from the television show.

Like the show, "Blue's Birthday Surprise" places video images of Steve in the virtual surroundings of his house. He sings the same songs and interacts with the audience in the exact same fashion that he does on TV. The only real difference is that the computer game not only interacts, it puts kids in control of Steve. Now kids not only tell Steve when he is near clues, they lead him to them. Using their mouse, kids can direct him through his house and yard, and even into a painting on his wall.

In the television show, Blue sometimes jumps into a painting of a farm.

Seeing this, Steve says to the audience, "Did you see that! Blue skiddooed." Steve then does a little dance while singing, "Blue skiddooed, we can too," then poof, into the painting he flies.

Computer-game skiddooing takes place in the exact same fashion as television-show skiddooing.

In fact, with the exception of nine interactive games, playing "Blue's Birthday Surprise" is just like watching the show. This may be a first, by the way. Both technology and quality problems have generally hamstrung computer versions of movies and television shows in the past, with splotchy video clips and not-ready-for-prime time scripting.

Even so, being so similar to the television show is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, kids who love the show will be happy that the computer game is almost exactly similar.

Parents, on the other hand, may not like the idea of paying $30 for a computer program that is nearly identical to a television show they receive on cable. My personal take on "Blue's Birthday Surprise" is that it is a good product, though not a great one. I like the television show and think it lends itself well to computer media.

I generally expect more depth from computer games than television shows, so I don't think "Blue's Birthday Surprise" completely delivers. On a scale from 1 to 10, "Blue's Birthday Surprise" gets an eight and a pat on the head for good effort.

"Blue's ABC Time Activities," Windows, Macintosh, $19.95, the second release, has a word book full of stories, and Blue wants one, too. The only problem is that Blue doesn't speak or write. Users can help her solve this problem by assisting her as she does a number of education activities directed at preschool-age children.

In one activity, users help Blue find her way through a simple maze. The paths in the maze are marked with letters. To direct Blue, users click on the letters in order from A to Z.

Other activities include rhyming words and matching animals and foods with letters in their names.

Obviously, "Blue's ABC Time Activities" has a more traditional educational approach than "Blue's Birthday Surprise." Though the activities in this product are strictly drill and practice, most kids will be attracted to it because they like Blue.

Bottom line, "Blues ABC Time Activities" scores a solid eight out of 10 because it is sensibly made and sensibly priced. Selling for just under $20, this game costs only slightly more than a video and offers more interactivity, replay value and educational benefits.

Copyright (c) 1998 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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