"ItzaBitza," a revolutionary new PC game for kids ages 4 to 8, motivates kids to read while encouraging them to explore their creativity.
Using "Living Ink," kids draw things on the screen using a computer mouse. When they do, the drawings come alive through animation and are immediately incorporated into stories that the kids help to create.
Children experience such a thrill at watching their drawings animate on the screen, that they are greatly motivated to read the words in the game to find out what to draw next. For emerging readers, all of the words can be read aloud in a child's voice by simply moving the cursor over a word. The word turns red, gets bigger and then is spoken aloud.
The idea for "ItzaBitza" incubated in the Microsoft Advanced Strategies unit before it was spun out to be produced by the startup Sabi Inc. Its development team included cognitive psychologists and learning specialists.
The game is made up of five playsets based on the themes of building a home, going camping, visiting outer space, exploring a farm and searching through a haunted house. In each, kids choose to play with a girl or boy, both named Sketchy.
Sketchy sends the player on a series of drawing quests that earn stars. For example, in the "Home Sweet Home" playset, the Sketchy asks you to draw it a house. On the screen, a translucent piece of paper appears on which you can draw.
What is amazing is that the game anticipates what shapes a child might draw, and then magically adds color and detail to the drawing as it brings it alive in the playset. For example, with the requested house, kids can draw a square, a circle, a mushroom or a random shape, and the Sketchy will be adjusted in size to fit that house. Once kids add a door and windows, the Sketchy will use the door to walk inside the drawn house and wave to them through the window.
The reading in the game starts off easy in the first playset and gets progressively harder with each subsequent playset. By providing the reading in an interactive setting, kids can cross reference words with visual objects that they have drawn or actions that they can see.
The magic of this game is how it anticipates what kids might draw and then makes the drawn object fit and animate within the story. Plus every time a child plays the game, the story is different because of what the child decides to draw. Another nice feature is that kids can take in-game photos of their drawings to share with others.
"ItzaBitza" is everything top-notch children's software should be: captivating, original, educational and entertaining; it delivers an experience that you can't duplicate off the computer.
RATING: 5 stars (out of 5) Best for ages 4-8 From Sabi Inc., www.itzabitza.com, $20, Windows.
Jinny Gudmundsen is the kid-tech columnist for USA Today.com and Gannett News Service, and is also the editor of Computing with Kids (www.ComputingWithKids.com ).