By – Jarrett Riddle

Zoombinis PC Review

Video games as a medium can provide entertainment in nearly every field imaginable; whether it be story-based, simulation, all-out action, or even educational. TERC’s remake of the 1996 edutainment puzzler Logical Journey of the Zoombinis sets out to challenge the minds of children everywhere while maintaining the fun factor expected of any game, regardless of genre. With updated graphics and a wide range of compatibility for both computer and tablet users, do the Zoombinis stand the test of time or is this a nostalgia piece better left in the 90s?

Being a logic puzzle-based game, the storyline is kept quite simple: The cute little blueberry-shaped Zoombinis were living happy, prosperous lives on their private island in peace and harmony. One day, a race of ruffians called Bloats shows up on their shore with promises of even more prosperity. The Zoombinis, being a trusting folk, let them live on the island only to virtually become slaves to these bully newcomers. Growing tired of being overworked and under appreciated, they sneak out one night with hopes of traveling to a distant land and starting anew.

Naturally, navigating to a new homeland isn’t going to be an easy endeavor. We must guide a large group of our friendly Zoombinis across the land, solving puzzles and logical reasoning quandaries. The stages presented aren’t what you may expect; rather than attempting to teach us what to learn, it educates about how to learn. A theoretical example of what I mean is that instead of requiring the Zoombinis to complete a multiplication table to proceed, the game would have us placing the little guys on boats in multiple numbers of a number or clue given. A puzzle like this makes the player think about and learn mathematical concepts without being bored by a straight-up math problem. This exact stage isn’t in the game, mind you, but is the general design direction for each area that is to be encountered throughout the journey.

Zoombinis PC Review

First of all, however, we must create our party of venturing Zoombinis. We’re given quite a few physical attributes to edit during creation of each spunky little creature: The hair, eyes, nose, and feet of each creation can be changed and must result in a unique little guy. The requirement of having everyone in the group look differently isn’t just for aesthetics; many of the puzzles to come are designed to challenge the player in multiple ways depending on the physical differences between each Zoombini. This opening creation section could potentially take a long while if one cares to manually adjust each group member, but the option also exists to randomly generate them to save time.

Once our travelers have boarded the escape ship, the journey to freedom begins. Remember how I mentioned that some stages depend on different Zoombinis being present? This is seen in a very early area where large, talking boulders block our way from progressing up a mountainside. Each path is guarded by a rock that will only let a Zoombini with certain feet by, while further up yet another boulder waits to judge those who try to pass. For example, a ‘Bini with propeller legs may get a pass through the first path but is then stopped by the guard further up. The player then comes to the natural conclusion that they should send that particular one up the path on the other side of the first guard.

Another memorable stage involves trying to put together the perfect pizza for a creature with picky tastes. Instead of utilizing the different appearances of our explorers, this puzzle instead relies on trial and error, forcing the player to change which toppings they adorn the pizza with based on clues given by the choosy eater. He may remark that one with just sauce needs something else, then complain in disgust when mushrooms are added, narrowing the possible combination of toppings that constitutes what he considers a perfect pizza.

Zoombinis PC Review

Many puzzles have a hidden timer, meaning that if the player isn’t quick enough, only a few of the traveling Zoombinis will be able to proceed. Fortunately, the ones that progress are able to be stored at forks in the trail. When these areas have been reached, the game will count how many have made it. Each fork has a requirement for how many need to make it that far in order to continue. If there aren’t enough, they will be stored and the player will need to start from the beginning with a new group.

Once the needed number of Zoombinis for the fork is met, a path can be chosen to press on. I think this is a clever system, ensuring that the player is learning and getting better at the puzzles while giving them choice in which series of stages they’ll be playing next.  Funnily enough, the first time I booted up Zoombinis and watched the colorful, well-animated introduction movie, I was thinking to myself that this game reminds me of a childhood nostalgia piece from the 90s in the vein of Oregon Trail or Number Munchers. After a little research, I wasn’t too surprised to see that it is indeed a remake of a 1996 game that I never had the pleasure of playing. The beautifully drawn backgrounds and characters, smooth narration, and simple but fun premise shown in the intro are consistent with the rest of the game.

Zoombinis is obviously intended for children, and thus the brightly colored landscapes, comically animated creatures, and wacky contraptions present in puzzles should do a great job of pleasing any young one untainted by the gorefests and zombie apocalypses prevalent in modern gaming. Each new stage looks strikingly different from the last and offers a host of fully animated personalities, taunting or helping the Zoombinis along. The overhead map showcasing different sections of the journey is also nicely detailed and gives the player a good idea of how far they’ve come along and which way they’d like to go when choosing paths at forks. Visual options include selection from many mainstream resolutions such as my 1920×1080 and fullscreen/windowed view modes.

Sound direction is superb, with memorable, cartoon-like jingles playing between areas and fine voicework being heard from all talking characters and the narrator. Exaggerated sound effects are in all the right places as well, from the boooing of objects being bounced around to the whooosh of a living rock face blowing your Zoombinis off of bridges. These help to give much more character and kid-friendliness to the whole setting.  Controls are kept suitably simple, with the mouse being used to control everything between puzzle navigation and menu control. The user interface is easy to see and operate, a must if the developers intended for kids to be playing. Multiple games can be saved and easily accessed with user-entered labels, ensuring different playthroughs won’t be mixed up.

Zoombinis PC Review

Conclusion – Is It Worth Your Money?

Zoombinis is definitely not for everyone; it’s truly an entertaining educational tool for pre-teens that should keep them occupied for several merry hours. For those older than that age group, the game can still certainly be fun and engaging, but that all depends on if the player is willing to accept its cartoonish and childlike nature. Not to say that the puzzles themselves are stupidly easy.  Your average Joe should still have to make use of the ol’ noggin if he wants to beat the game in a timely manner.  If you have young ones, great nostalgic memories of the original, or an inquisitive mind, you can’t go wrong with Zoombinis.

Zoombinis Technical Summary:

Zoombinis PC Review

  • Time Played – 8 Hours
  • Widescreen Support – Yes
  • Windowed Mode – Yes
  • Resolution Played – 1920×1080
  • Bugs/Crashes Encountered – None
  • DRM – Steam
  • System Specs – 3.7 GHz AMD A10-6700, 768MB Radeon 8670D, 8GB RAM
  • Control Scheme – M/KB
  • Saved Game Location – SteamApps\common\Zoombinis\Zoombinis_Data
  • Acquisition Method – Review Copy
  • Availability – Steam
  • Demo – No

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