This game has such a nonsense title that I must have blanked it from my memory until it came time to write this entry because I had to triple check that what I had written down, The Logical Journey of the Zoombinis, was an actual game, and not something I'd typed horribly wrong.
If I didn't know the name was correct, there's no way I'd guess that it was an educational title that has you guide little blue blobs through logic puzzles on their way to a new village.
The games you never knew existed, eh?
When many of us think 'educational', we think solving maths problems or multiple choice questions, or - should an educational game actually involve gameplay - we think something so simple as to be not worth playing unless you want to learn whatever it is that you're being taught.
We don't often think of the likes of The Oregon Trail - games where the education is hidden or otherwise not prominently featured, and that's just what The Logical Journey of the Zoombinis is.
You start on an island with a character creator, but believe me when I say you might as well hit the random button, because you'll be creating 16 little Zoombinis, and their looks will be important in their upcoming and very logical journey.
The Zoombinis have had to flee their island and you must guide them through the perils of the landscape that separates them from their new home in Zoombiniville. The first threat of the journey are the Allergic Cliffs, two literal cliff faces who are allergic to different aspects of the Zoombinis, be it the colour of their nose, the shape of their hair, their feet (or lack thereof)...
What one cliff is allergic to, the other will accept, and so you whittle down your Zoombinis into groups with matching features, generally speaking, that can safely cross either bridge. Too many Zoombinis sent the wrong way and the bridges will collapse, and whoever doesn't make it across will see... a slow and agonising death? I don't know. It's not mentioned. Sorry guys.
Stage by stage you encounter new logic puzzles that, for the most part (read: almost exclusively) revolve around the look of your Zoombinis. You'll need to line them up with matching features, pair them up with matching features, line them up according to the wants of a giant stone lion...
Sometimes - to break things up - you'll be matching things that aren't your Zoombinis, including sending them across a lily pad covered river on the back of frogs, who only jump on specifically shaped pads, or certain colours, or individual icons.
It's not a graphical powerhouse, but it seems like a lot of time and effort have been put into The Logical Journey in order to keep attention focused on the screen, and in turn the puzzle that needs to be solved. The art is appealing and eye catching compared to 'normal' games, for want of a better word (and a stronger argument, I suppose, seeing as games can look like damn near anything), and they have to be for the amount of time you're probably going to be staring at them.
Generally speaking, once you've figured out the trick behind each stage, you're set for sending the rest of your group to its finish line.
However, there are times where assuming the rules of a stage will result in an incorrect action, which can sometimes mean losing a Zoombini, either permanently, or else kicking them back to a checkpoint so that you can pick them up with your next group.
What next group? There are 625 combinations of features for your Zoombinis, and the residents of Zoombiniville aren't happy with just 11 of them being present, or however many I managed to get there (on the second attempt). No, they want all kinds of Zoombinis to come home, and you can only take 16 of them on a journey at once.
Not only that, but branches in the road require you to have a certain number of Zoombinis in your party in order to progress, and if you don't, you just drop off what you have and collect them with the next group next time you're here - unless you do better next time, and then forget which features you've brought home and which you've left behind in a tree house or a cave or wherever else you can abandon them.
Logical Journey is not a difficult game, per se, but it will punish you for your mistakes, and I made a few. Many of the puzzles are trial and error, certainly to see how they work, but if you try and fail more times than you realise, you might as well scrub your run or make a note of who you've left behind because you won't have a full party by the end.
You ought to thoroughly plan your perilous crossing plan, rather than 'get' the puzzle and chuck guys into it, only to realise how it actually works halfway through, when you can no longer correct for your mistakes...
I played more of The Logical Journey than I thought I would, but when I got to Zoombiville and found out that my task was actually to get more than 600 of these blobs over there, I saw the grind and was left to gesture some kind of 'Oh, come on...' towards the screen.
That said, multiple pathways and puzzle difficulties will mix things up, but when some of them take so long to complete in the first place - even if you're good at solving them - do you want to sit through them for ten minutes each time? The answers will be different each time, by the way, but are you persistent enough to get 625 Zoombinis home?
How about if I said that for every complete group of 16 you bring home, they erect a monument in memory of their journey? No? Still not sold? Me neither.
The Logical Journey of the Zoombinis is a great example of teaching young players how to think without telling them how to think. It's not asking you to fill in the blanks or solve an equation, but asking you to work out why you got one answer - such as a cliff sneezing - and how you can go about getting a different answer in order to progress.
The game started a series and was recently remade for multiple platforms, so there are plenty of Zoombinis to go around, should it sound interesting. I do recommend playing it. Some puzzles are a bit bleh, but others are full of character and actually make you think a little, which is entirely the point - to engage and educate.
Here's to more educational games that don't feel like homework.
The National Science Foundation put up $2m to find out the kinds of improvements - if any - games the likes of The Logical Journey have on children, and whether any lessons learned inside the game can be applied to anything outside of the computer.
The Logical Journey of the Zoombinis, developed by Brøderbund, first released in 1996.
Version played: MS-DOS, 1996, via emulation.