When I was growing up, my homeopathic savvy mother used to mix dolomite in my chocolate milk, and brewer’s yeast in my orange juice. Though this affected the flavor to a degree, I had little choice in the matter, and after a while I couldn’t tell the difference anyway. As an adult, I recently ate, nay, enjoyed a hamburger made completely of Tofu, though the discovery was made well after I’d ingested the last tasty bite.
The correlation to these anecdotes and a game called Bioscopia? It seems health food can taste good, and learning can be fun – but there has to be a proper mix or the lining may show and tip the whole pleasure/pain scale in favor of rock powder.
Bioscopia, a game developed by Tivola Entertainment, is an almost perfect symbiosis of education and entertainment. Allowing you a free ride on the fun train while you absorb information, as it were, purely through osmosis. Its primary subjects: Human Biology, Zoology, Cellular Biology, Botany, and Genetics. They can be accessed via a "Brain Center" within or without the game: you can learn all you want or need to know before you even play the game, or you can allow the game to pace you within its structured plot.
In the intro movie, an explorer drops down from her hot-air balloon into the mystery that is Bioscopia, searching for an answer as to what happened to the islands' residence. She suddenly gets sick from exposure to something, and it’s your mission to find the antidote before she becomes a permanent explorer of that other mysterious place.
Interface is first-person perspective, point & click 2D slides, with the pointing finger for navigation, the open-fisted hand for grabbing or using an item. There’s a cylinder of sorts at the bottom right of your screen for inventory items, and a disc at the top right that will take you to the main menu. Like some games in the past, Bioscopia unfortunately wastes a lot of monitor real estate. Full-screen next time please, so we won’t feel like we’re viewing the game through some distant portal.
Intro and ending notwithstanding, there are a few more movies within the game, mostly navigation clips. All these are implemented well, and the pre-rendered graphics are excellent, with a good mix of green organics and metallic technology to satisfy the palette.
Even if you don’t have an inclination for these aforementioned scientific subjects, the way they are incorporated into the game is very clever. Early in the game you receive a card-key. Each door you open uses up segments of the card-keys energy, which must be recharged via terminals scattered throughout the island through a Q & A. Much like Big Brother, Big Brain is always nearby to help you, and will at times have an email from our sick explorer to urge you on.
Other puzzles consist of combining a few inventory items, answering more questions, placing things in the right sequence, matching images, sounds, etc. All of which are extremely fun, yet fairly easy. Subject difficulty is intermediary to middle school.
Much like a test you take in school, the answers are in the book. So reading your assignment will most likely yield the best results. In the case of Bioscopia, our assignment is read to us through the pleasing timbre of Tony Carroll.
I prefer this interface over the one chosen for another of Tivola’s games, Chemicus, wherein it’s up to you to read the screen for the knowledge you are seeking. While the sheer amount of text in Chemicus, might have been narrator prohibitive, the pleasure/pain scale tipped a little with all that reading. I maintain that narration is the better presentation.
There’s very little music in Bioscopia, yet the ambient sounds make up for this lack of soundtrack. Whether in an enclosed room or out-of-doors, the sounds are prolific and add to the synergy of organic and mechanical in the areas you navigate.
There’s also little to no character interaction, with the exception of some bumbling robots that steal a couple scenes. In my estimation, that’s the primary source of apathy towards games of this ilk. Having said that, Bioscopia manages to pull it off without inducing sleep, and this is due largely to well-paced exploration and the knowledge-to-puzzle ratio.
Bioscopia is a fairly short game. I finished it in under seven hours. That’s pure gameplay though, not factoring in the Brain Center shows. Replay value is increased on the basis of the Brain Center alone, though the game itself is very linear.
Bioscopia is a classic, purchase-worthy example of what an edutainment title should be. With the exception of the few things I’ve mentioned, playing a game through the use of real-world logic has never been more fun.