Tonka Space Station, Nicktoons Racing, Lego My World School Skills

Tonka Space Station is for kids aged five and up wanting to create and maintain space stations. There is a range of things for kids to do - harvesting berries and fuel capsules, racing on the racecourse, repairing modules and rescuing equipment. There are sporting arenas, habitats, communication hubs, defence grids, and harvest areas all needing to be built on the various platforms in the station. In order to build more modules, kids have to complete an activity. To upgrade the module, the activity has to be completed again (at a higher level of difficulty).

Each module impacts positively or negatively on the population, happiness and productivity of the entire station. To gain promotions (up to galactic commander), kids have to perform well on the activities and balance the three areas.

There are some nice visual effects and the machinery and settings look quite realistic. The need to balance population with happiness and productivity is engaging for older kids, but might be beyond the abilities of younger ones. This is disappointing, as it is a requisite of the game. An arcade version is available, but doesn't have the full scope of the simulation game.

Tonka Space Station is keyboard- or joystick-driven, another disappointment, as most kids' games are mouse-driven. This leads to some confusion for younger kids who can't remember where a key is, let alone what it does (especially as different vehicles used different keys and functions). This game would be better suited to older kids.

Hold on to your nappies, babies, cuz we're going racing! Nicktoons Racing is aimed at one or two players aged four to eight. The Nicktoons characters have each received an invitation from The Mystery Rider to race for the Krusty Krab Big Bun Award. Kids can choose characters from almost all the Nick Jr shows. The drivers are Tommy and Angelica from Rugrats, Eliza and Darwin from The Wild Thornberrys, SpongeBob and Patrick Star from SpongeBob SquarePants, Arnold and Helga from Hey Arnold!, CatDog from CatDog, Ickis from Real Monsters, Stimpy from Ren and Stimpy while Daggett and Norbert from The Angry Beavers ride together. Last but not least is The Mystery Rider.

If you win the cup at each level, you get to see who The Mystery Rider is. For adults watching, there's amusement in seeing the characters' careful driving habits (such as looking over their shoulders when they reverse). But the main fun lies in the power-ups (one from each show). To get a power-up, kids have to drive through a present, which they can drop to other racers' detriment. Each power-up affects the racers differently. Like Space Station, Nicktoons Racing uses a joystick or keyboard; again, using keys is an issue for younger kids, but the joystick is a good option.

Intended for kids aged three to six, Lego's My World School Skills uses animated Duplo to teach them more about maths, words, music and art in a magical 3D world.

The game is set in an adventure park with a city, castle, prehistoric section and Wild West as theme zones that relate to the four topics. There are also five Lego people to help in each area: Wordy Wanda, Michelle Angelo, Matty Matics, Jim Nasium, and Mike Graphone all have different teaching styles, so each area has a number of different ways to look at the subjects.

When kids complete a game or exercise, two more Lego characters (Clicky and Bricky) appear to learn the game from the kid. This is a great way to reinforce learning. Kids also get magical blocks to play with in a special toy room. Mouse driven, the accent is on learning through play.

Tonka Space Station

Price: $80; Distributor: Ozisoft; Phone: (02) 8303 6800; URL: www.ozisoft.com.au.

Nicktoons Racing

Price: $50; Distributor: Ozisoft; Phone: (02) 8303 6800; URL: www.ozisoft.com.au.

Lego My World School Skills

Price: $29.95; Distributor: Roadshow Home Entertainment; Phone: (02) 9552 8600; URL: www.lego.com.

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