- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 28, 2009

Young gamers live the life of a dive-bombing seabird in Puffins Island Adventure (from Majesco Entertainment for DS, rated E for everyone, $19.99).

The player customizes a bird avatar with a name, multicolored beak, eyes and even an Ed Grimley-style hairdo before interacting with his brethren and surroundings. The winged avatar moves around the island by walking or flying. He talks to other puffins to get tips, open new game levels and areas, and occasionally enter burrows.

All challenges are of the minigame variety and involve collecting (feeding on) golden capelin, which are used to unlock bonus content, and receiving a grade/score for success.

Life started at my least favorite type of challenge, racing in the Puffin 500. It’s high-speed flying as four birds fight to the finish in a variety of wilderness courses, with the occasional help of a power-up.

Other games involve drawing circles around edible fish in a tidal pool to get points, rolling an egg back to its mother and feeding puffin chicks by tapping them and the unlucky prey.

In all, eight mini games combined with more than 100 levels of action to dominate the experience as the young puffin must learn the ways of his elders and become a full member of the flock, including getting his own burrow to decorate and start a family.

My favorite challenge was Puffin Plummet. This death-defying diving game is one of the more ambitious as the player turns the DS sideways and uses the stylus to draw a line through targets and jumping capelins. His reward is to watch his avatar replay the flight with three finicky judges grading his performance.

A snappy soundtrack courtesy of Great Big Sea frontman Alan Doyle and his command of bodhran, tin whistle and fiddle complements the Puffin fest for about 15 minutes. Then it becomes an aggravating descent into madness as its repetitiveness will shake the nerves of even the most stalwart admirer of the genre.

After taking part in the story, players can try a few of the games in a wireless online mode with up to three other friends via multicard play.

Learning Time: Use caught capelin to unlock 17 film clips of real puffins in action. Kids see a puffin defend its burrow and take flight, a fluffy baby, a puffin squawking (no sound) and even a greedy one with a beak full of fish. Footage was captured on the Witless Bay ecological reserve in Newfoundland.

Parent and child can extend their education and check out the reserve’s Web site (www.env.gov. nl.ca/parks/wer/r_wbe/), but wouldn’t it have been neater if a link took players right to the site via the DS?

Additional learning moments include following written directions, such as locating areas “just north and east.” Also, reading the occasional Puffin Points entries. These facts about the birds include the tidbit that North Atlantic Puffins beat their wings up to 300 times per minute to stay aloft. Each comes with a photo.

Age range: Grab a 7-year-old and open his eyes to this colorful world of nature that mixes cartoony action with pockets of reality. Parents should be aware at later points in the game, the child’s puffin avatar does get a mate, buy a nest and baby Puffins come along, but, of course, nothing graphic happens at any point.

Final advice: Puffins Island Adventure offers a fantastically priced, kindler, gentler take on the third-person role-playing game that sheds light on one of the odder and more colorful creatures in the animal kingdom.

Joseph Szadkowski’s ROMper Room is a place for children and their parents to escape the world of ultraviolent video games and use that gaming system or computer to actually learn something while having fun. Send e-mail to [email protected]



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