“ Manufacturer: Europress / Genre: Kids Games / Release Date: 2001 „
With the Thunderbirds visiting our television now every afternoon, it is probably no surprise that the two children residing in the household are currently enthralled with International Rescue! From making their own Lego Thunderbird vehicle creations (for, apparently, the new vehicles of Thunderbird 6-12 for themselves and their dinosaur helpers to join in) to this PC game. This was a lucky dip sort of thing, on that we got a load of educational cd roms off a Freecycler, and this happened to be in the stack. I am sure glad it was, as they were not ready for it then, but with their current fever pitch for the show, it has proved to be a hit.
It starts off in true Thunderbirds style with the famous countdown sequence, and onwards to a mission briefing that is typed across the screen. There are several parts to the mission, each with a different goal. The premise is that a volcano is erupting, and International Rescue must locate the area that the distress call is at, then fly a mission to rescue any trapped residents, as well as build walls to help slow the spread of the lava to enable said people to be able to get out in time to be rescued. This is done by flying the different Thunderbird vehicles, so that your child is effectively the pilot and completing the rescue mission, changing vehicles along the way.
It is not necessarily intuitive to play, and children who cannot read very well yet or at all, will need an adult to read the mission brief on the screen. Each mission brief and communique is typed out rather than spoken, but stays up on screen until the mission is started by hitting the Launch button. In the first mission, you pilot Thunderbird One, and locate the continent on the world map that appears in your scope. It will say for example, that it is in Rome, Italy, and you then know you need to locate Europe. This is easier than it sounds, as when you bring each continent up within your scope, the name of the continent appears in letters so you know what you are looking at . Once you have the correct continent, you hit the controls to take off, and on you go towards the danger zone. You have to plot a course using a simple grid, and tell it what course to take to avoid obstructions.
Once there, you find that you need to locate the city, water, and another feature. This is so that you have the things to hand necessary to effect your rescue.You use the keyboard or a joystick to explore the area, and input the locations when you find them, but only in the correct order. Once that is done, you re ready to block off the lava flow so that people can escape, and you do this by building words with letters provided. If you get stuck, you can ask for a hint to figure out what they are wanting you to spell, as some letters are already onscreen. You lose points doing this, however, so its best to not rely on this much if you want a top score. Once the barriers are in place, it is time for Thunderbird 3 to navigate the city, looking for fires and picking up stranded people, taking them out of harm's way before needing tor refuel, which can only be done when dropping off persons.Once everyone is rescued, it's time to congratulate yourself for a job well done, knowing that International rescue has once again done a swell job.
The game is designed so that the keyboard and mouse may used to play the game, and truth be told, its not overly difficult. Your child must be able to understand simple directions, which explain at each stage of the game how to do this. My 5 and 7 year old children had no issues understanding how to do this, so I was at quite a loss when I saw adult reviewers saying how difficult it was. It's a simple case of point and click, typing in a few simple numbers to say go north five squares, and so on, as well as use of the arrow keys to show Thunderbird 1 where to go on a map. It's also possible to use a joystick, and I must confess that as it promises that you can feel the thrust of the vehicles when you do so, my kids are pretty keen to try it. It has repeat playability as well, as the location of the volcanic eruption changes with each game play, as do the maps and locations of the fires and so on. So each time, the main storyline and the game goals are the same, but the game itself is randomised so it is not identical in experience.
Just as in the TV show, International Rescue NEVER fails, so when a mission ends without you meeting the objective, you replay that mission. It will repeat until success is had, so children master each of the concepts along the way and get a feeling of accomplishment. This means that my young five year old who has to have his sister read the messages to him gets as much out of this game as his older sister does. The game's AI is simple as I said before, but what makes it special is the animated sequences, starting with eh countdown intro. It adds to the child's illusion that they are in an episode, and sitting at the controls. Yes, the graphics showing the controls are not as detailed, but it IS a vehicle control panel, not a passive point and click cartoon adventure.This owes more to being influenced by flight sim adventures, albeit on a much more simplified scale for younger children.
Being an older title, your best bet for this will be the second hand market. Do be aware though that a second version of this games exists, called Operation Volcano Highlights. This is not a full game and is basically a taster. seeing as the full game sells for only 50p to £1 more, its best avoided. Copies of the full game are easily obtained via eBay and Amazon's marketplace, so you won't have to search all that hard by haunting boot sales and the like. It plays on Windows 95, 98, and ME according to the box, and we have played it without compatibility issues on XP. All in all, its an ideal, inexpensive game for children aged 5-9 who are fairly confident readers (unless you will read it the communications to them) and that are fans of the Thunderbirds.
Have you ever felt that you have what it takes to become a Thunderbird? If so, now is your chance. In the Thunderbirds Operation Volcano CD-ROM you get to help the International Rescue heroes in a mission--and do some learning at the same time. Billed as an "educational adventure" the idea is that you'll learn a thing or two about volcanoes, as well as maths, English, geography, earth science, sequencing and comprehension as you go along. The learning is designed to tie in with the UK National Curriculum, and is aimed at youngsters aged 7 and up.