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Review of
Time Warp of Dr. Brain

TimeWarp screen shot Publisher: Knowledge Adventure
Year: 1996
Suggested Age Range: Kid to adult
Glass Wall's Suggested Age Range: 8 to adult
Platform: Mac or PC
Reviewer: Brian King and Megan Murray
Image © Knowledge Adventure. Used with permission.

Is the Game Mathematical?

Of the ten puzzles in The Time Warp of Dr. Brain, four focus mainly on hand-eye coordination (and sometimes time pressure as well), although strategizing is also required. This is a fairly big change from The Lost Mind of Dr. Brain, where only 1 of 9 puzzles is heavily reliant on hand-eye coordination and time pressure. The remaining 6 games involve varying amounts of mathematical and logical thinking.

In Alchemy, one of the educationally stronger puzzles, players use mathematical ideas in arithmetic and algebra to achieve the game goal -- change the properties of one chemical potion to match the properties of another in terms of color, sound or tone, amount or volume, and temperature. Each attribute is represented by a different symbol (e.g., a tuning fork or thermometer which can be difficult to 'read') and there are different machines in the laboratory that change a potion by adding or subtracting various amounts of these attributes. The player must figure out which combinations of machines will result in the correct potion. For example, one machine might change the potion by adding one unit of volume and subtracting two degrees of temperature. Another might change the color, and decrease the temperature by three degrees. The player can also reverse the entire process by clicking an arrow above the machine.

This activity involves planning ahead and keeping track of several different and changing attributes as well as the ways in which the machines will change those attributes. It also requires addition and subtraction with positive and negative numbers, and thinking about such complex algebraic ideas as balancing an equation. This is an interesting puzzle with educational value. However, some players may be turned off by the difficulty of figuring out what is expected of you and how to go about accomplishing it. Although oral directions are provided, they are wordy, lengthy, and given in a "professorial" manner full of jargon that may intimidate or frustrate some players. Also, putting your potion through a machine is not a quick task. The time required to carry out the different processes is lengthy and can result in somewhat tedious game play.

In Spaceshop, another strong puzzle, the player must build a replica of a space machine by choosing the appropriate parts, manipulating (rotating and turning) them until they are oriented correctly, and then placing them in the correct square on one of several 2D grids which serve as a map or plan for building the machine. This puzzle requires spatial and visualization skills in and between 2 and 3 dimensions. It also requires keen eyes, as the parts are quite detailed and are slightly different on different sides. Placing parts correctly -- or seeing that you've placed one incorrectly -- can be quite a challenge. Another tricky aspect of this puzzle is that there are no hints about where to place the replica on the grid. In fact, it is possible to build the correct machine and fail because it is in the wrong place.

Spaceshop and Brain Waves(a game show which provides a set of clues and asks players to use them to fill in a grid detailing what is true and false) are strong puzzles which encourage players to investigate aspects of mathematics (geometry and logic) that are not present in much of currently available game software. The strength of these and all the puzzles in Dr. Brain is that the mathematical thought is the focal point (and the fun) of the games. While there is a narrative, it tends to be superfluous. We can't imagine a player being motivated by the notion that s/he is helping Dr. Brain get back to the present time. Instead each puzzle stands on its own for better or worse.

Is the Game Equitable?

Many of the puzzles in Dr. Brain offer multiple routes to solutions, encouraging the use and discussion of different strategies (if you're playing with a partner). If puzzles are not solved successfully, they repeat, allowing the player to test hypotheses, and not be penalized for incorrect responses. (However, no further progress can be made on that level until that puzzle is solved, which can be frustrating.) Finally, different puzzles appeal to a variety of talents and abilities. Players that enjoy musical puzzles, word puzzles, video game-like puzzles that require hand-eye coordination, mathematical puzzles and logical puzzles will all find at least one puzzle designed with them in mind.

Although the mathematical content in the above mentioned puzzles is quite rich and the game design encourages many players to enter into the mathematics, there do seem to be some thematic issues which make The Time Warp of Dr. Brain less accessible to some players, especially across gender lines. For example, the game begins with a parody screen of the video game Space Invaders, in which the player must shoot different ships (to play a new game, restore an old one, change the language spoken, or quit) while avoiding bombs and invaders which fall from the sky. As mentioned above, 4 of the 10 games require serious amounts of hand eye coordination, another hallmark of video game-like games which tend to appeal more to boys than to girls. Other thematic choices such as building a space station or cars racing around tracks where failure is met with fiery crashes and explosions also seem to designed based on what has proven to attract the stereotypical boy into computer game play.

Is the Game a Good Game?

One characteristic of this game that was bothersome was the narration. Many of the puzzles in this game require trial and error. For example, in Grid Lock, the player must program the intersections of a road system to get all the cars home with no crashes. This involves testing different routes and changing the commands based on trials. Yet after each trial you are forced to sit through repetitive -- and often insulting -- remarks from the narrator that keep you from immediately continuing your game play.

This game offers three levels of difficulty to choose among, from a novice level that is not easy, to a genius level that is extremely difficult (even for adults). Even within a level, the puzzles become more difficult as you have success with the game, increasing the level of challenge over time. This will keep many players motivated, although for some players, particularly those in the younger bracket of the age range (say 8 - 10) it may be a source of frustration, much like the inability to progress past a puzzle you just can't solve.

This game has the potential to engage children over quite a long period of time. In order to finish or win the game, there are ten puzzles you need to complete. In order to do this you must play many rounds of each particular puzzle - the number required depends on the level of difficulty. For example, success with one round of a puzzle played at the novice level contributes 5% of the 100% needed to complete that puzzle as a whole. (One win at genuis level contributes 15%.) Finishing just one of the 10 puzzle areas can take a significant amount of time. Because there are 10 different areas that players can move freely among, it is easy to choose a different puzzle when frustration gets too high. However, the combination of dense instructions, puzzle interfaces that can be difficult to decipher, a level of difficulty that can be quite challenging, and the serious amount of time and effort required to complete an area may turn some players away in frustration.

Note: For a description and review of the third in the Dr. Brain series, see The Lost Mind of Dr. Brain.

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