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Early Learning Software Reviews

Microsoft Actimates Interactive Barney
and Fun on Imagination Island

For Ages 2 to 5

See also the Summary Rating Table for comparisons with other Early Learning software titles, and the SuperKids Buyers Guide for current market prices of this PC-only program, and the ActiMates Barney device.

Reviewed on:
Imagination Island Shot Pentium166 with 48MB and 12XCD

Microsoft ActiMates Early Learning System, is a fascinating marriage of multiple technologies - computers, wireless radio, television, VCRs, electro-mechanical servos, and stuffed animals. Combine them all, and what do you get? A stuffed animal that interacts with special software, videotapes, Public Television broadcasts -- and children.

By itself, ActiMates Interactive Barney is a cute, purple stuffed animal, similar to the popular Teddy Ruxpin toy of the mid-1980s. But Interactive Barney goes Teddy one better. Instead of just speaking and singing the words of stories contained on cassette tapes, Barney has both a built-in repertoire of lessons, songs, and tricks, and the ability to interact with software and special television broadcasts.

Cover his eyes, and Barney says, "It sure is dark! Peekaboo! I see you!" Squeeze his hand, and he offers to play different games, like counting with your child, guessing an animal name by its sound, and an imagination game. Squeeze his toe, and listen to more than a dozen favorite chldren's songs.

Barney is fun for kids as a standalone toy, but the groundbreaking technology is only demonstrated when he is used with either of two add-on devices: a TV Pack, which adds a radio transmitter to the user's TV/VCR, and a PC Pack which does the same to a computer.

When attached to either, Barney can interact with special videotapes and television shows. Both send radio signals to Barney that enable him to sing-along with the shows, or comment on the action on screen.

Educational Value
Fun on Imagination Island is one of the first software programs designed to take advantage of the ActiMates technology. Similar to many other Early Learning programs for young children, Imagination Island offers a range of fun learning activities. In this program, they include such things as shape and color recognition, counting and number recognition, letters, and memory games. Each of these activities offers three levels of difficulty. But unlike conventional programs, the ActiMates software has a unique advantage -- the ready assistance of Barney, sitting alongside your child at the keyboard. Barney offers praise for correct answers, and hints when mistakes are made.

Kid Appeal
"My 3 year-old son was absolutely mesmerized, first by Barney alone, then by the interactivity," reported one Silicon Valley parent. During SuperKids' month-long trial, our parent reviewers reported sustained interest by children in the targeted age range, 2 to 5. A just-seven year-old girl, however, lost interest after the first week. Interest seemed to closely mirror the children's relative interest in the "Barney and Friends" television show.

Ease of Install / Use
Given the interactive technology of the ActiMates product, installation of the first title in the series is a bit more complicated than a typical software installation - but not by much! Installation first requires connecting the ActiMates transmitter, a small black disk a bit larger than a hockey puck, into the MIDI game port on the back of the PC.

Our reviewers reported one minor installation complaint -- the program does not include an uninstall utility. The user is left on his/her own to track down the various software bits and pieces the program installed.

Best for... / Bottom-Line
ActiMates Interactive Barney is a really impressive technology demonstration, wrapped into a stuffed animal character that young children find irresistible. If you've got a two to five year-old who likes Barney and stuffed animals, and a couple hundred dollars to spare, this is a neat product.

Education 4.5/5.0 Kid Appeal 5.0/5.0 Ease of Use 4.5/5.0
5=Excellent, 4=Good, 3=OK, 2=Weak

See also the Summary Rating Table for comparisons with other Early Learning software titles, and the SuperKids Buyers Guide for current market prices of this PC-only program, and the ActiMates Barney device.

Children's Software System Requirements


Operating System Windows 95 or higher not available
CPU Type and Speed 486SX/66 or faster
Hard Drive Space 10 MB
Memory (RAM) 8 MB
Graphics SVGA (800 x 600) 256 color display
CD-ROM Speed 2X or faster
Audio SoundBlaster or compatible sound card
with MIDI game port
Other Needs headphones or speaker

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