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SummaryA trippy, yet also generic edutainment game
The GoodUnlike most companies from the 90s who specialized in PC games for children, most of Humongous Entertainment's lineup isn't really what comes to mind when one thinks of the word edutainment. The Junior Adventures certainly have educational value, but they're created first and foremost to entertain. It just so happens that the process of solving their puzzles can also be educational to children. And the Junior Arcades and Backyard Sports games can hardly be considered educational in any way. Of all the games they've made up till now, only the Junior Field Trips can really be considered edutainment in the traditional sense. But now we've reached the point where the company gave it another shot with an even more conventional edutainment series, Big Thinkers!.
The graphics are what sticks out the most about this game. They take full advantage of the inexplicable shapeshifting abilities of its hosts, Ben and Becky. They will constantly shift between all sorts of strange forms when moving from place to place. And the activities in particular try to utilize this as much as possible. The backgrounds are also rather pleasant to look at. Some of the sprites are a bit lacking in polish, but overall, the graphics are solid and have a personality of their own.
The BadWhich is more than I can say for the rest of the game. It's basically a collection of educational activities. There is a small hub world to walk around in with some Junior Adventure style clickpoints, but you'll be spending the overwhelming majority of the game with the activities.
For the most part, these activities aren't necessarily bad. But they're rather typical edutainment fare. A few are more creative than the rest, but that's offset by some others that are rather dull and barely even try to conceal that they just exist for educational purposes. What does help keep things fresh is that most of them have three different difficulty levels. You can freely adjust them to your liking or allow them to gradually increase as you play. The latter often takes an almost absurdly long time to happen, though. If you try to reach each activity's highest difficulty through natural progression, you'll be playing them for quite a while. And many of them get old long before that happens. There's just not enough variety to the activities to warrant spending this much time with them. The bird-counting activity in particular is mind-numbingly repetitive on its lowest difficulty level and just keeps repeating the exact same scenarios again and again. The overall number of activities is rather high, but if the developers wanted children to spend so much time with all of them, they should have given them more substance.
On a side note, there is a rather embarrassing oversight in the letter-picking activity. On one occasion, it asked me to pick the letter that makes the sound "k," then told me I was wrong for picking the letter K, because the correct answer is C. The reverse scenario can probably happen as well. This is not a frequent occurrence, but it's still baffling that the developers failed to consider that the letter C might need special treatment, given its lack of any unique sounds.
There is a bit of a meta game as well. Whenever you spend enough time with an activity, you earn so-called SmartStars. Which you can then use as a currency to play a board game of sorts. The better you perform in that game, the more you can progress with a certain number of SmartStars. Making it to the end twice gives you a SuperStar of Smarts, which basically serve as a way of tracking your performance. Like the normal activities, this game gets old after a while, but it is a mildly creative way to reward progress.
Overall, the game suffers from a relative lack of personality. The surreal graphics help a bit, but I can't say the same for Scott Lloyd Shelley's soundtrack. Its lighthearted and playful tone fits the game, but none of the tracks are particularly memorable. And there's not much variety to them either. The writing is also very plain. It has some occasional attempts at jokes, but those are rarely any funny.