E.T. : The "Phone Home" Adventure
When my daughter Emily was about 3, she had a friend sleep over and they watched E.T. on video. Emily had seen it before but her friend had not, and he started to cry when E.T. was left behind. "Don't worry", said Emily comfortingly, "he knows his phone number".
As indeed he did, and as indeed he does in this adventure. The trick though on both occasions is building a "phone" that works.
After a cinematic piece in which E.T. becomes stranded and meets Elliot, Michael and Gertie, the game starts in Elliot's bedroom. To build an interstellar telephone, you will need all manner of different bits and pieces, which will be found throughout the house. For the most part you will control E.T. as he searches for the parts that will enable him to "phone home".
It was with my daughter Clare that I set off to look for materials, our first port of call being the doll cupboard. Some of the needed parts will be found simply by looking, but most will be rewarded after the successful completion of a puzzle. Clare was in control of our adventure, and the puzzles were pretty much on the mark for a 9-year-old. Bringing flowers back to life combined shape and colour recognition with a timed element, tidying a bookshelf was an exercise in pattern sequences, and retrieving items from the back of the cupboard involved reasoning in both size and space. Most of them Clare did herself, discussing strategies with me as she went, only asking for help here and there.
Most of the puzzles are analytical in nature, although some towards the end are primarily just fun. Push different sized boxes around the attic to make stairs to get tools, place sets of different sized gears on a machine to make the switches work, and use Elliot to lure would-be E.T. nappers from room to room whilst Michael rescues E.T. Even peddle a bike across the moon to catch a rescuing spaceship.
As you work at the puzzles, one or other of the children will provide helpful insights into the objectives and strategies. This encouraged Clare just to prod and poke until she knew what was going on. Each puzzle must also be completed more than once, increasing in difficulty each time. This meant Clare could learn the "why" of a puzzle at an easier level before applying that knowledge to the more difficult levels.
Mistakes were not harshly punished by the game. For example, to win at the spelling and typing game, each level required you to get 7 objects to float in the air, each correct answer causing one object to float. A wrong answer would result in just one object dropping back to the table. Getting all 7 could therefore be achieved progressively, without having to start the level from the beginning. Similarly, each level of a puzzle was self contained - that is, once you had progressed in difficulty, errors never dropped you back a level.
Overall I thought the design of the puzzles was excellent, especially for a 9-year-old. The game is for ages 8 and above, but I think it is best aimed at children up to about 12 or maybe slightly older. Certainly Clare's older sister Emily, who is 13, found the puzzles easy, although she did have fun when she joined in. Some of the arcade type games also suited Emily more than Clare. And there was a 41 year old who thoroughly enjoyed the little maze games with the ambulance and the pursuing police cars, changing traffic lights and blocking the road with boulders and trucks.
You point and click your way around, and at times you won't even have to do that. Moving your cursor will be enough to pilot E.T. or to operate the puzzle concerned, cutting down on mouse clicks considerably (a good thing). The cursor is of course the famous E.T. finger, and it will light up when you can interact with something. Some interactions are not part of any puzzle but are simply for amusement. If you have a magic finger, why not show off with it?
E.T. is suitably guttural when he speaks (or grunts), and he shambles about as he should, and the children are suitably childlike. Cinematics occur throughout the game, and are of high quality. All the scenes are vibrant in colour, and combined with the musical score, a sense of fun abounds.
You can save at will or let the game do it for you. Hints can be obtained at anytime by clicking on the photos of Elliot or Gertie in your inventory bag, and the manual also contains some puzzle hints if you need them. I actually thought the manual was a bit light on game mechanics, but it's easy enough to work them out. From the main screen you can choose to play in one of 3 languages (English Spanish or Italian) but you can't choose subtitles. You can also watch a trailer of the movie or print an E.T promo page.
The game arrived on a school holiday afternoon, so was perfectly timed. It took about 3 hours to play to the end, but has been restarted a couple of times to play certain games. The ambulance chasing will get a thorough going over.
The final word goes to Clare. "It was a fun game and I would recommend it to other 9 and 10 year olds. My favourite games were giving the candy to Harvey the dog, and typing with Gertie. I laughed when I made a mistake and she called it 'do-do'. Daddy had to help me catch the petals and I didn't like the game with the little balls. It was funny making E.T.'s finger go up his nose".
What more can you say.
Copyright © Steve Ramsey 2002.
All rights reserved.
Windows 95 or higher, Pentium II 233 Mhz (333 Mhz recommended), 32 MB RAM (64 MB recommended), 80 MB disc space, 8 x CD ROM, Graphics card with 640 x 480 resolution and 32 bit colour, Sound Blaster compatible card.