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Cold comfort in this fun and games

PAYUTA AND THE ICE GOD CD-Rom for Multimedia PCs and Macintosh, Pounds 19.99 Ubisoft: 0181 944 9000

Payuta and the Ice God is a winter's tale. Taken from an Inuit legend, it is the story of a young boy who rescues his sister from the wicked clutches of the ice god, Kiagnyk.

The ice god keeps the Inuit in perpetual winter. He captures Payuta's sister, Opiak, and takes her away to cook for him. Opiak makes spirited attempts at resistance, while Payuta braves the elements to search for her. In true legendary style, he is set an impossible task by the ice god. With help from the local animal life, Payuta retrieves an ice star from the top of a mountain and spring returns to the land. He then releases his sister and good triumphs over evil.

The story is aimed at four to nine-year-olds and can be read or played with using interactive hot spots. The words are not highlighted as they are read, but in the interactive mode you can click on words to hear them repeated. However, the text is separated from the pictures, which denies children the visual clues to help them read the story.

There are four games, including a puzzle game, matching memory game and one where you position a seal to catch a fish that has jumped out of the water. The fourth asks you to match an animal or bird to a riddle. I was a little puzzled over one riddle - "He sings his love song with the clash of castanets". The answer is "a little penguin" - presumably one that's been on holiday to Spain.

The title includes some advice about how to use the CD-Rom with children. It includes some imaginative suggestions, such as making an igloo out of sugar cubes. The interactive part of the program has some karaoke songs to sing along to. This was fun, although rather difficult, as the tunes were not that simple to follow. The animations are well produced and add an extra dimension to the story, which can also be read in German and French, making it a useful resource for language teaching or bi-lingual pupils.

Payuta is the second of a series of interactive stories from Ubisoft. The first, Kiyeko and the Lost Night, was excellently produced, with outstanding animations. While Payuta has many pleasing aspects, it has lost something in terms of quality, with the emphasis being drawn away from the text and support for reading into interactive games which can only loosely be termed educational. While Payuta and The Ice God could be used in schools as a resource in the book corner or library and is useful for topics covering myths and legends, it will do little to support children's reading skills.

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