Review by Orb

I fondly remember, when I was a child, one of the highlights of our family Christmas season was a trip to the famous FAO Schwarz toy store in San Francisco. Wandering through the wide, well-lit aisles, I would be overwhelmed by the unusual colors and sounds. One of the things most consistently striking about these trips was the omission of run-of-the mill American toys we watched advertisements for on TV every Saturday morning. Here there were no Barbies. No Slip and Slides or Milton Bradley board games, no Tonka trucks or Slinkys. Instead, the building was bursting at the seams with strange, intricately designed wonders from Europe, hand-carved wooden puzzles, stuffed Steiff lions and bears, beautiful Madame Alexander dolls with big eyes, luxurious hair, and crisp pinafores, and instructional toys that were at the same time intriguing. It was really just like visiting another planet.

Physicus, an edutainment title from Tivola, evokes these images in my mind's eye. It has the same sort of craftsmanship that is reminiscent of the quality and care evident even to a child in those toys and really makes one feel that the creators understand that a learning tool for children can be beautiful and fun as well as instructional.

Physicus is designed to teach the subject of physics in a fun and easy-to-understand manner. One of the most appealing aspects to the game is the overall look of the game environments. It is a charming, lighthearted version of the Myst style of game-making, which is a pleasant combination as it makes Physicus as enjoyable for an adult as any other adventure game he or she might play.

The story is a simple one. Earth has been hit by a meteorite, which has caused it to stop dead in its tracks, one side in perpetual sunlight, the other in perpetual darkness. By studying and using science materials contained in the game's encyclopedic interface, the player must solve puzzles and progress toward the ultimate goal of getting the rotation of the Earth to begin again.

The game is a first-person adventure, and the player explores every nook and cranny of what seems to be a small village and its surrounding buildings in a hilly, picturesque countryside. There are houses to explore, and municipal structures, and a town square packed with things such as stores, a town jail, and offices, among other things.

The graphics in this game are irresistible, with a sort of old-world European charm reflective of the home of the game's creators, Germany. The environments are very elaborately drawn, and the 3D rendering is as good and well put-together as any adult adventure game—better than quite a few, actually. The endgame is a brief but amusing animated sequence that is also well-executed.

The game screen is simple and well-designed. Inventory is stowed in a machine at the bottom of the screen, and the player scrolls through to choose an item to be used. One nice aspect to the inventory system in this game is that the inventory is usually pretty sparse, and at any one given time throughout the game will only contain a small handful of items.

Physicus teaches the subjects of electricity, aggregation states of different materials, mechanics, optics, and acoustics. The player is given an electronic interface, accessed within the game, that allows the player to research these subjects to solve the problems encountered during the game. The interface itself is well-done, and all subjects have visual explanations, in many instances with animations, and interactive components that are helpful in guiding understanding.

But don't be put off by the subject matter included to help solve the puzzles. In many instances, at least for an adult, they involve common sense and things about physics that most people do have a basic understanding and grasp of. The puzzles, based on the subject matter, are obviously mechanical puzzles, which increases the Myst-like atmosphere of the game.

This is not to say that the puzzles are simple. This is definitely a thinking man's (or boy or girl's) game, so if you are accustomed to solving puzzles through trying everything, or sheer dumb luck, this is not the thing for you. If you enjoy a little note-taking and some research into how things work, you will find the puzzles a fun intellectual change from the usual panorama of slider puzzles and mazes.

Tivola sells this game as something for people from ages 10 to 102, and this is certainly truth in advertising. I had just as much fun with it as any adventure game played just for fun, without the added bonus of learning something. As a home-school parent, I recommend this highly as a supplement to regular science materials. The End

The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: Tivola
Publisher: Tivola
Release Date: 1999

Available for: Macintosh Windows

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System Requirements

PowerPC 166 MHz
System 7.5
Thousands of colors
8X CD-ROM drive
Sound card

Windows 95/98/NT
Pentium PC 133 MHz
SVGA graphics card
Sound card
8X CD-ROM drive

Where to Find It

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