They’re back and once again, they need our help. Who’s back, you ask? Why it’s our blue friends the Zoombinis, and they need to find refuge away from the evil Bloats. They have now resurfaced, from one of the most successful computer games of the 1990’s to both the iOS and Android markets all updated and fresh with help from TERC and who has now teamed up with FableVision Studios and Learning Games Network. And that is quite a pedigree! Read about the relaunch of this fabulous game here. My kids grew up playing the Zoombinis, and it was such a joy watching them plot, test, and finally, figure out the inherent logic to a particular game. It was one of the first games that truly put kids up to a challenge without spoon-feeding them answers. The outcome of whether or not the Zoombinis were saved was up to them. And in the end, kids (and adults) sat spellbound for hours, all because someone believed that they could do it. Both my sons grew up to major in some form of applied mathematics, and I contribute this inherent love of math to games like the Zoombinis. And now, I am just utterly delighted that these loveable blueberry-like creatures are back to teach another generation how to think. Each Zoombini has his or her own style, sass, and attitude that slowly work their way into your heart. On opening, listen to their plight, and then either create or take a chance on a random set of Zoombinis to begin their journey to a new land. Gameplay centers on taking bands of 16 Zoombinis across 4 different lands until all 400 Zoombinis reach their destination of a new safe Zoombiniville. Tip: The ability to pre-select attributes may help with some of the levels in working through a tough challenge. There are 5 different hairstyles, eyes, nose colors, and ways of mobilizing – from a coiled spring to a propeller that is very endearing. The game is appropriate for older kids – from intermediate school on as little ones may become easily frustrated without 1:1 assistance, especially on the harder levels. However playing the game with a younger child, and demonstrating and discussing the logic behind a task, opens them up to explore possibilities, and they slowly soak up and learn strategies for when it is their turn to play. Each land has 3 different games to work through, and success will lead you to more complex games. The levels: Not So Easy, Oh So Hard, Very Hard, and Very Very Hard absolutely feed into a kid’s sense of adventure and investment in the game. A Practice session helps you work out the logic to each game before beginning and it is well worth going through it. Games begin easily with basic matching, sorting, and categorizing through attributes, then become more and more complex on learning to keep data and applying learned information in an organized and systematic way for easy retrieval, i.e. Venn diagrams, graphs, or classifying information into equation-like formats. By applying logical reasoning and problem solving, kids also work through their ability to self-regulate and tap into valuable executive functioning skills through learning to wait, look, and listen to the evidence. Success and failure are all part of the experience – without judgment or bias because each portrays information and data as to how to proceed. One of the joys in playing this app is the teaching or turning what is seemingly chaotic into order by providing just enough of a key to help kids unlock strategies for success. The map icon tracks progression within the game, and each pathway is colored to identify the corresponding level making it easier for teachers and parents to know where a child may be struggling within the game. Instructions for particular games are on the transitions page, so be sure to take notice. The narration is superb and sounds like it is from the original game. It is over the top infectious and sets kids up to want to partake in the adventure. The Lands and Their Challenges The land to start your quest is “The Big, The Bad, and The Hungry.” It contains 3 games filled with obstacles to overcome before you reach a camping or resting station. The devs have perfectly timed a breaking point in which to take a breath and refocus or a settling point for your Zoombinis to rest until deciding to journey another day. The Pizza Trolls are a particular favorite in The Big, The Bad and The Hungry and one to demonstrate how to graph data system so that one’s answer is sound. They are so hilarious in action and appreciate your culinary skills. From the campsite, you must have at least 16 Zoombinis to continue on the journey or go back to start, select more adventurers, and revisit “The Big, The Bad, and The Hungry” games. Choosing the upper path leads to the “Who’s Bayou”. These are some of the most difficult games to crack, especially in terms of time spent on observing, mixing and matching the Zoombinis in a specific order according to their attributes and patterns. Such skills as visual scanning and observing patterns are reinforced in these games. The lower path brings you to “The Deep, Dark Forest” and the games are pure logical reasoning and choices can be set up in a chart, diagram or spreadsheet. See now what makes the Zoombinis so special? Just look at all the skills learned, by rescuing anamorphic blueberries! These are basic patterned counting games that are Not So Easy. The HotelDimensia takes a long time to figure out in the upper levels, but the payoff is playing Mudball Wall, which is a total delight. Lastly, is “The Mountains of Despair” the final leg of the journey to Zoombiniville. It can be pretty frustrating at times as if your attention is diverted for a second, it's curtains for your Zoombinis. This is where having done the practice section pays off or introducing ways to keep data. The Bubble Wonder Abyss is a game that teaches algebraic thinking, and once the underlying premise is worked out, you can scoot your Zoombini tribe off to paradise in Zoombiniville. With each successful mission, more buildings and fun are added, making this new land “Home.” Love, Love, Love this app. As stated it is meant for older kids who have some degree of self-regulation in dealing with the ups and downs of their performance. In a classroom setting, working in groups may help kids learn to listen and respect the ideas of others and share a joint mission to learn how to build a team. The opportunities to teach logical systematic thinking will last a lifetime and teach skills that touch almost every area of practical life. This is why the Zoombinis are a top pick.
Written by Jo Booth
Jo Booth has been an Occupational Therapist for over 30 years and currently works in Pediatrics with early intervention. She sees kids newly diagnosed on the spectrum as well as medically fragile kids. She loves to move, explore and play every day; so that “her kids” grow up to be healthy independent learners.