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Wow! Same title, different program! It's not often that the occasionally jaded editors at SuperKids can say that about an updated version of a program they have previously reviewed. But that's what we said when we got a look at the new release of this musical jigsaw puzzle, first reviewed a year ago.
The Nutcracker Music Game is still an innovative, interactive musical education program, built around one of the most popular suites of classical music -- Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite. And it still challenges users to identify the various musical instruments used in familiar classical pieces of music. But unlike its predecessor, it is no longer limited to this single activity.
The new version of The Nutcracker Music Game now includes a challenge/reward theme, wherein the user is challenged to play and solve nine musical games to rescue the Prince who had been turned into the wooden nutcracker. These games range from matching single instruments to the sounds they make, to repeating musical notes on an onscreen vibraphone, to musical trivia. The original core activity of identifying the multiple instruments used in eight different Nutcracker pieces remains, along with a similar activity for Tchaikovsky's Childrens Album.
As with the original version, The Nutcracker Music Game is very helpful to budding young musicians, as well as to those with more of a layperson's interest in music. For those that have never stopped to carefully listen to orchestrated classical music, The Nutcracker Music Game offers a great opportunity to listen and learn. For either, the effect is analagous to a "musical jigsaw puzzle." Instead of trying to recreate that which is seen with the eyes, here the user must attempt to recreate that which is heard with the ears.
The original version fell short, however, in its limited depth and breadth. This version goes a long way toward rectifying those shortcomings, by the inclusion of a variety of educational games, activities, and materials. These address a range of auditory music skills, challenging for most young or non-musicians.
Three minor caveats: First, the activities in the program can be accessed in any sequence, rather in a progression from simple to more difficult -- even though there is a significant variation in the difficulty level of the activities. This makes learning more of a challenge. Second, some of the point and click icons take the user to activities that require reading -- not a problem, unless you plan on giving the program to a pre-reader. Finally, although the program remembers where the user left off, it cannot keep track of multiple players' progress -- a drawback for school or multi-child family use.
Our young testers found much more to like in this program than in the earlier version -- simply because there was more material available to like. The additional activities increased the time they spent with the program, both initially, and in repeat usage.
Installation was simple on our test Windows ME machines, but took a few minutes, because of the size of the program (it requires at least 223.2 MB of disk space). With this greater size, however, comes a vastly improved audio library. Synthesized music has been replaced by orchestral versions that sound good even on small computer speakers.
Program use and navigation remain largely intuitive. Our young testers (ages 5 and 12) had no difficulty finding their way around the program. In addition, the screen frequently displays both a helpful "hint" button, and a "help" button, in case there are questions.
The Nutcracker Music Game is a unique introduction to music program. It would make a good stocking-stuffer or birthday present for parents who enjoy music to give to their young children, and for children who are already demonstrating an interest in music.
PC: Windows 98 or later, Pentium 360MHz or faster cpu, 250 MB hard drive space, 64 MB RAM .return to top of page
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