Been fishing without luck for Amstrad programs to educate your offspring? Reaction has had a good number of letters from parents adrift in this sea.
Piranha to the rescue! - There's a hole in the market, 'observed someone at this 'small but lethal'software branch of the august Macmillan publishing house. Piranha is sinking its teeth into the games market and also taking a first educational venture with Trio, a suite of three learning games by Reid Baird aimed at younger children.
In Sam Goes Shopping the child has to go to the correct on-screen shop and the correct deépartment within it to find a certain item - a handbrush or a singing bird or a plump haggis or a clockwork train.
The task is more than child's play: the instant the instruction screen cleared and I found myself wandering in a streetful of shops, I forgot what I was supposed to be shopping for!
Only the cursor keys or joystick are needed to play the game, other than the spacebar to clear the title page. Instructions appear on screen to remind you of this if you don't do anything after a time.
Children from about age three up will be able to play, since they are not asked to type letters or words, but they will need someone to read the item required and the shop's signboards - though after a while the graphics will be enough to identify the butcher from the baker. The youngest children will learn which shops are likely to sell the item they want.
The pictures of some items within the shops are rather crude. I thought I was buying a â€˜juicy apple' according to my shopping list. 'Bad luck,' said the screen, 'you have just bought a red capsicum'. (How many adults, let alone children, would call a red pepper that? There are a few other obscure items, such as a Batten-burg cake.)
Guide Sam to the right item and the screen says, 'Well done, all correct!' Then comes a bigger challenge: a shopping list with two items. They must be bought in the order given. 1 could never remember the rest of the list after finding my way to the first typical, says my wife. I never made it to level 3.
Computer Snap was my favourite on the Trio package. The colourful graphics -Humpty Dumpty, witch on a broom, lightning flashing - were charming.
There is no reading or writing involved in the game, and only one key to press when pictures match, as in the popular card game. So even two-year-olds can play, without needing even the dexterity to manipulate cards.
One player can compete against the computer or against a second player.
Tables Test, the second program on Trio, is self-explanatory reinforcement stuff that a youngster could carry on using occasionally up to age 10 or 12.
The child selects the 9" table, for example, using the cursor keys and then chooses speed: snail, hare, car, airplane or lightning (I liked the pictures). An insistent alarm-clock jumps up and down if the time runs out.
Type the correct answer (on numeric keypad or main keyboard) and a happy disco-kid presents an apple; otherwise it's a skull from a scary goblin.
One criticism is that correct answers are not given if a wrong answer is typed.
All three programs are written largely in Basic, which has both advantages and drawbacks. It should be possible to alter data lists to suit your household name for red peppers; on the other hand a child could press Escape and crash the program.
All three have music throughout, like a miniature fairground organ, with various other electronic sound-effects.