Spoiler Warning for ClueFinders 3rd Grade Adventures: The Secret of Mathra
Hello everybody! Trying something new out today. With the summer slump upon us, there’s not much in the way of TV for me to review. So instead, I thought I’d turn my eyes elsewhere, namely to my laptop.
I’m not going to lie, I absolutely love point and click games. LucasArts and Sierra especially, though of course other companies made some good stuff, too. But I don’t feel like talking about King’s Quest or Monkey Island right now. They get enough attention. I’d rather talk about something that falls into my wheelhouse, but isn’t famous. Something I can make a series out of.
So, let’s talk about edutainment! For the uninitiated, edutainment is a mash up of education and entertainment, usually referring to works of media designed to both educate and entertain at the same time, with education typically but not always taking the forefront as the main objective. Given that I’m twenty three and my youngest sibling is sixteen, I’m not too up to date on modern forms of the genre. I know The Magic School Bus recently got a revival. I’m sure Playhouse Disney and PBS Kids still exist, but I’ve no idea what they’re actually airing. And sadly, I’m currently operating under the impression that my favorite form of edutainment, video games, might be dead. I certainly haven’t seen anything new at the store or on Steam. So I’m largely going to be focusing on stuff from the Nineties and early 2000’s.
Each article in this series will take a look at a different game. I won’t go in order really, so the next article probably won’t be about ClueFinders 4th Grade, but I will eventually cover the whole line if I can. And of course, if there’s a game you’d particularly like me to talk about, please leave a comment below! Now, let’s dive in.
The ClueFinders franchise is a line of video games (and two books if TV Tropes is to be believed, though I never read them) made by The Learning Company. They accompany the Reader Rabbit franchise, which started with toddlers and made its way up to second grade before giving way to ClueFinders for older kids. Unlike other edutainment lines, the ClueFinders don’t generally focus on any one subject the way that, say, the Carmen Sandiego franchise focused on geography. So while math and English are more heavily taught than other subjects, these games do tend to at least do a little to teach all of them.
In terms of story, think of the ClueFinders as a Scooby-Doo knockoff, but with a very educational bent, and the diversity of say, Captain Planet or The Magic School Bus. The games don’t do very much with the races of the cast; no mention is ever made of where exactly our heroes live or if any of them are bilingual, but they do a little bit with gender (emphasis on little, though). Before we get into the plot of this specific game, let’s take a quick look at our ClueFinders, since they’re the same people in every game.
First off we have Joni Savage.
Well…that’s sort of her name. See, having just played three ClueFinders games, there are some curious differences between them. The ClueFinders mostly have different names in the 3rd grade version than they do in the others, as well as accents. I’ve been unable to find a second copy of the 3rd grade version to run, so I’m not sure if there’s just something weird about my copy, but I find it unlikely since my copy has a full set of credits that uses the 3rd grade versions of the names.
Anyway, first we have Joni, or as 3rd grade calls her, Josie (none of the ClueFinders have last names in the credits for the 3rd grade version). I’ll just call everyone by the names from the other versions, since their names are relatively similar and their designs don’t change in any way. In 3rd grade Joni’s voice is very, very British, something that is strangely dropped from 4th grade on, going to generically American instead.
Now, looking at Joni you might see ‘white girl with glasses’ and think that she’s the nerdy one, the one who knows all the obscure facts that help the gang in their journey. Or, you might see ‘redhead with glasses’ and think that she’s the scaredy cat who always wants to wait for the authorities. But no, she’s neither. Joni is very much the leader of the ClueFinders, and when the group splits up she is (at least in the three games I’ve played in the past few days) always a part of the part that you play as. And more to the point, Joni seems to have based her life choices around that great strategist Leeroy Jenkins.
I’m not even kidding folks. Her section on the ClueFinders character page on TV Tropes includes ‘Fearless Fool’ as one of her defining character tropes. Repeatedly in the 3rd grade game you have to solve a puzzle to bridge a gap so the characters can cross. And Joni will always, always try to just jump over said gap, and then need to be helped. And then, once the bridge is built, no matter how makeshift and rickety, Joni will run across so fast she leaves a cloud of dust behind her like Looney Tunes. It gets to the point that in future games, when faced with a gap either Joni will comment that maybe she shouldn’t try to jump across or one of the others will ask her to please not jump.
Normally, I find this sort of character somewhat annoying, but the sheer uniqueness of an American game from the 90’s aimed at children letting the girl be the brash hot head changes things. Call me shallow or easily pleased, but Joni delights me. I don’t know if I would feel the same if these games were longer or if she was a TV character admittedly, but in small doses at least I can’t get enough.
Next we have Santiago Rivera.
Now, there’s an interesting issue with Santiago in the 3rd grade game. Namely, his name in this one is Sebastian, and he has a fairly British (though not as blatant as Joni’s) accent, and the art style is such that his ethnicity isn’t entirely clear. He’s definitely not as pale as Joni, but could as easily be Greek as anything else. I assume this is at least part of the reasoning for the name change. They never do give him a Latinx accent—everyone from 4th grade on sounds fairly generically American—and your mileage may vary on if that’s a good thing or not.
Personality wise, Santiago is a fairly cautious and intelligent guy. He’s not a coward, he never falls into Shaggy Rogers territory, but he is more careful. Admittedly, any sane person comes off as being especially careful when compared to Joni, but still. It is a nice change of pace to see a Latinx boy who isn’t either hotheaded or suave (or at least trying to be), especially in a piece of media from the 90’s. I quite like this, and Santiago is my second favorite of the ClueFinders. Which is frankly kind of surprising, since normally I hate the characters that I see myself reflected in.
Then we have Owen Lam.
Owen is the only human character to have the same name in 3rd grade that he does in all of the others. Going from the art style I think he is supposed to be of East Asian descent, but from the name I’d guess that he was born in the US or the UK or something. I’m not sure why his name survives into the other games when Santiago got a name change that reflects his heritage, but there you go.
Owen is the jocular hungry guy. He’s fairly easy going, likes making light of situations, and the idle animations reveal that he somehow manages to fit a full on sub sandwich in his cargo shorts. Again, it’s a nice change of stereotypes that were so prevalent in children’s media from the 90’s that the character who I’m fairly certain is of Asian descent isn’t the stressed out bookworm who takes everything too seriously. I’m not super fond of surfer bros, but Owen is a fairly okay example of the bunch.
And the last of the humans is Leslie Clark (named Lucy in 3rd grade)
Leslie is a girl of African descent. Going by the generic American accent she sports even in 3rd grade I assume she’s African American, but I’m not certain. I will say though, as a quick aside mostly, that Leslie does consistently have the worst voice acting. She almost never sounds like an actual preteen/early teen, nor does she show emotion very much. I’m not sure whether to chalk this one up to racism, or if it’s because Leslie is the smartest of the bunch, the Hermione if you will, and so the writers gave her lots of clunky exposition.
Leslie is…difficult to pin down. The games I’ve played are the 3rd and 4th grade ones, and one in an amusement park without a specific grade attached to the title. In all of them, she is the ClueFinder with the least screen time. In both 3rd grade and the Amusement Park, the group splits up, with Leslie and one of the guys hanging back and contacting you via video phone as support while Joni and the other guy go off with their floating robot buddy LapTrap (we’ll get to him in a second) to be the player characters. In 4th grade, the gang never splits up, which hurts and helps. On the one hand, she’s usually on screen. On the other hand, the game splitting its attention among the characters means less dialogue for Leslie than the others get in the games they split up in.
Now, given that A) she is the bookworm of the group, the one who knows everything about wherever they are, and B) the games seem determined to subvert stereotypes, I think that they were trying to avoid depictions of black characters as being mostly just athletes and slackers. I think. It’s hard to say, because Leslie has the least screen time (I actually accidentally skipped a cutscene early on in 3rd grade without realizing it and spent most of the game wondering where Leslie and Owen were) and there’s definitely an issue there with the girl of African descent being the one with the least developed character and least time on screen.
Finally, in the recurring character list we have LapTrap.
Not much to say here. LapTrap is a floating robot, one who identifies as a Turbo Turtle. It’s never really clarified who built him, or even how he floats given a lack of obvious turbines or anything. He does have a personality, he’s a coward who’d really rather avoid trouble (so he’s a more articulate Scooby Doo). And yes, he. LapTrap is repeatedly referred to as male, and never objects, so I assume he’s male. Gendering robots (or anything else that doesn’t need a gender) is an issue, but I’m willing to give these games a pass, since they’re for children and the way society works means that children are more likely to enjoy a character with a clear gender. Also, he serves as the interface, letting you look at the map, change the difficulty, exit the game, etc.
Whoo boy, that took a bit. Didn’t expect to spend so many words on the characters, but there you go. No, these characters are not particularly complex, but I’m not about to evaluate a game primarily focused on educating children under the age of twelve the same way I’d evaluate a BioWare game.
Now, let’s get to the plot of the game and the puzzles themselves.
We open the game with a cutscene set in the ‘Numerian Rainforest’ in which the ever excited LapTrap rushes to the scientist, Professor Pythagoras, telling him that yet another animal has been kidnapped by the monster Mathra. I have got to love that the evil monster of this game is called Math-ra. This may be an educational game, but it is not afraid to acknowledge that the worst part of school is math, which just about everyone hates. Also, bonus points for referencing a Japanese Kaiju, even if Mathra doesn’t look much like Mothra beyond having wings.
The Professor tells LapTrap that Mathra is just a myth, and that there’s a simple explanation for all of this (we’ll come back to that in a bit, because it raises some questions). Tomorrow, he and LapTrap are going into the rainforest to retrieve the two keys to the ancient city of Numeria. Before he can elaborate on this, the beast Mathra shows up and snatches him up. As he’s being taken away, he calls out to LapTrap, telling him to call the ClueFinders.
Which…why? A later cut scene states that the ClueFinders have never actually dealt with a monster before, so it’s not like with the Scooby Gang where they’ve mysteriously had plenty of adventures before we ever even met them. I mean, okay the Professor actually spends most of the game being referred to as Uncle Horace since he’s Joni’s uncle, so that’s how he knows them and their intelligence. At the same time, wouldn’t he be less likely to put his niece in danger?
The next cutscene has the ClueFinders traveling into the rainforest in a small plane piloted by a man named Fletcher Q. Limburger…I’m just going to let that name lie. After some awkwardly delivered dialogue Leslie pulls out her book, telling the story of Mathra and Numeria. And in a very nice touch, the exposition is delivered not in the game’s usual art style, but in one that heavily resembles pre-Colombian Central American art, though I confess I’m not well educated enough to say if it’s Mayan or Aztec.
The game as a whole is actually rather nice in this aspect. The majority of the game (excepting one admittedly large area) is very faithful to that art style, with lots of little aesthetic touches and choices, some of which we’ll get to when we get to those puzzles.
The story of Mathra and Numeria is this: long ago, the ancient civilization of Numeria was thriving and incredibly advanced. One day, a hideous monster named Mathra showed up, as if out of nowhere. It started taking the animals of the rainforest every day, until one day the Numerians managed to trap the beast. They put it at the bottom of a deep dark pit but, fearing that one day Mathra might escape, in which case it’d emerge in the middle of their city, they abandoned the place. They then locked the gates, broke the key in half, and hid the pieces on opposite ends of the rainforest, guarded by complex puzzles in the hopes that only the wise would be able to get in.
In a very nice move (though frankly, it’s kind of sad that this stands out as a good thing) the game also points out that the Numerians still live in the cities and villages around the area, even though they have no idea where the key halves are. I call this ‘very nice’ because I’ve noticed a distressing tendency in American made media to ignore the existence of any Native Americans south of the Rio Grande unless they’re making a movie about Conquistadors. The general attitude is that all the natives of Central and South America appear to have been killed off unless you’re making a cannibal movie. To have a piece of media acknowledge that there are Native Americans south of the US-Mexico border is refreshing, sad as it may be that that’s the case.
Once the story is finished, the kids land in the camp from the first cutscene…somehow. The clearing the camp is in is both small and next to a pond, and they’re in an airplane so I’m not sure how they landed, but I guess that’s not super important. They encounter LapTrap, who reveals that the Professor uploaded a map of the area and the two areas where the key halves are located: the Monkey Kingdom and the Goo Lagoon. Leslie and Owen decide that they’ll stay behind and serve as mission support while Santiago, Joni, and LapTrap head off. The pilot noticeably doesn’t offer to help either pair.
Alright, so the game divides into three main areas, with one tiny area between the first two and the last one. You can choose to tackle either the Monkey Kingdom or the Goo Lagoon first, it doesn’t matter.
Since I chose to tackle the Monkey Kingdom first, we’ll discuss it first. I immediately have to wonder whether or not the Professor was ever actually in these places, or if he pieced together the map from other people’s accounts, because being a skeptic in this rainforest seems kind of silly. See, the Monkey Kingdom isn’t just a cute name given to an area full of monkeys. No, the Monkey Kingdom is located in some ruins (possibly Numerian, but that’s never stated) and populated by sentient monkeys called the Monquistadors who speak English for some reason and have a king and queen.
The Monkey Kingdom centers on mathematics. There are five puzzles in the first half of every main area, each of which give you prizes for solving them that allow you to beat the puzzles in the second area. In the Monkey Kingdom, your prizes are called Sneeze Berries. Not because eating them makes you sneeze, but because you get them from plants that literally sneeze them out for you complete with cartoonish ‘ah-ah-ah-choo’ noises. They come in five varieties based on color (red, blue, purple, green, and gold), and we’ll discuss what you need them for later.
These puzzles are fine, none of the monkeys you aid are annoying or anything. And, there are branching paths in the Kingdom, so you’re not required to beat them in any particular order.
But…there’s a certain area in the Kingdom where you’ll find the king and a group of musical monkeys, and they’re going to play a song for you. You cannot stop them from playing this song. Walking into the area triggers a cutscene, beginning with Joni declaring that she doesn’t believe in monsters which…seems odd both because she’s currently talking to a sentient monkey, and because one of the puzzles involves helping the monkey queen figure out if it’s feeding day for her pet monster or not. Either way, the monkey king is equally incredulous at this statement and sings a song recounting the history of Mathra’s previous attack and…oh dear god.
Alright, cards on the table here, I never actually managed to finish this game as a child. We owned it, and I played it, but I never finished it. Not because of hardware issues. Not because I thought it was too difficult or because I found it boring. I never finished it because it terrified me as a child. No, really, this game scared the crap out of me, giving me legitimate nightmares for weeks. And every time I got over one nightmare inducer, I’d stumble across another one. This game is surprisingly scary for little kids. Even now some stuff in it was genuinely unnerving, if not as traumatizing as it once had been.
This song…well okay, it’s not scary anymore, because I’m an adult, but it is the thing that haunted me the most, the one thing that I most clearly remember from this game. I still remember the nightmares it caused. Everything’s red and black, and it shows people and animals fleeing in fear as Mathra attacks, and Mathra carrying off what is clearly a cub in its beak and…oh hell.
Anyways, you get through the song, you wander around the Kingdom solving the puzzles (I recommend doing every puzzle twice so you get two bunches of berries as a buffer) until eventually you find…oh hell.
What is that? Why is it talking? There haven’t been any talking statues before! Why are there so many snakes around it? Why are some of them slithering out of the statue’s eyes like tears? Why, when Joni tries to jump across, does a giant snake from a monster movie appear? Why does any of this happen, what did I do to deserve this? Why is this so unnerving even as an adult? It doesn’t even get you anything, it just lets you pass on to the second half of the Monkey Kingdom area, the Rings of Fire.
Once you solve the bridge puzzle you enter a volcano, where you can see five colored rings inside the lava. You go up to the rings and you encounter a talking stone head, clearly inspired by the famous Olmec heads. I distinctly remember being terrified of this head as a child, but as an adult I can’t tell why. It never gets angry at you, and its voice isn’t very intimidating. Now, normally I’d be a little exasperated here, since this is an educational game and the ClueFinders should be dead if they got this close to lava. However, the Numerians were apparently able to build bridges that could withstand lava and create an AI (possibly several if these heads aren’t all the same consciousness traveling from spot to spot) that could last over a thousand years without maintenance. I’ll just assume they have some safeguards.
Either way, he tells you that in order to get to the key half located here you have to solve the five puzzles of the rings, which will not only allow you to traverse the volcano, but give you clues for the final puzzle in the key’s vault. The puzzles here are fine, working sort of like Battleship. The game gives you equations, but leaves out the operating sign, leaving you to guess if you should add or subtract or whatever. If you guess right you turn over a tile, revealing a letter to spell out part of the larger clue.
Get them all and you find a picture of a Numerian, again in a very pre-Colombian Central American art style, and press parts of said picture. Press the right parts in the right order, you get half the key and are immediately dropped down a trapdoor to wind up back at the fork in the road from the beginning.
This leads us to the second main area, the Goo Lagoon. And…I’m not sure what in the hell is going on here. I mean…what the hell am I looking at?
Okay, so, remember how earlier I talked about how most of the game stayed true to the general art style and aesthetic of being in a Central American rainforest exploring the remains of a lost civilization? But that there was one large area that didn’t do that? Here we are!
I mean…I get the desire to set part of the game in an area utterly untouched by humans. I get the impulse to include living plants. I get that. What I don’t get is choosing to base that area on freaking Liverpool? Why does a game set in Central or possibly South America have a large area of the game based on a very specific part of the UK? This whole place feels like a very strange fever dream.
As a result, this area also kind of frightened me as a child, again, because of the song. Oh yes, there’s another song here. But this one has nothing to do with Mathra. No, instead this area has a bit about how some strange black liquid is poisoning the eponymous goo of the lagoon. And the song is a clear Beatles parody, with odd green and black psychedelic imagery. Unlike the Monkey Kingdom song, this one probably isn’t meant to be scary, but the imagery is rather unsettling in the way that Pink Elephants on Parade is unsettling.
Anyway, once you get over the weirdness of the area, it’s not a bad place, all the puzzles are fine and everyone seems friendly. The Goo Lagoon is focused largely on English, lots of word problems and work with synonyms and antonyms. But there’s also some pattern finding puzzles and a logic puzzle involving figuring out seating arrangements based on clues that feel more like they belong in the math area. There’s nothing about contractions or punctuation here after all, so it’s not like they exhausted the English language angle.
Solving the five puzzles here net you things called beetle bags, really gross looking bags that somehow contain live beetles. I’m not sure where they come from or why. They just sort of get shot out of slimy patches in the ground. Who’s packaging these things? Two puzzles involve giving bugs to predators for food, why don’t they eat the beetles in the bag? The sneeze berries were fantastical, but I got what was going on. Why beetle bags? Is it because the Beatles? Or is this area focused on Liverpool because they came up with the idea for beetle bags and then thought ‘beetles=Beatles’? I just…I don’t…
Once you get the bags (you don’t necessarily need two of every color in this area, it’s entirely possible to beat the final puzzles with one bag each depending on how well you do) you come across what I can only describe as the molasses monster from Candyland’s green cousin. The bridge across its pit is out, though I’m not sure if it destroyed the bridge or if the thing naturally fell apart. Joni of course tries to jump the pit, falls into the ooze, and is rescued by LapTrap. Surprisingly the monster doesn’t react to this, but you can bet I had nightmares about that thing trying to eat Joni/me.
Get across the pit and you find the Goo Falls. You find a set of five walls, each topped by another, different set of talking Olmec heads with a flower beneath it. The wall is covered in squares with different colors and patterns on it. What you have to do is use the beetles from the bags and move them across squares of either the same color or pattern or both. The beetle will eat the flower when it gets to the top, lowering stairs for you to climb and revealing a clue for the final puzzle with the other key half. As you get up the falls, the walls will get more flowers, but never more than there are beetles. The point is, get to the top, use the clues, get another key half, fall down another trap door, wind up in back at the fork in the road.
Once you have both key halves, our pilot friend Fletcher will meet you. See, from the fork you can see the lost city of Numeria in the distance, which…raises a lot of questions in my mind about how this city can still be considered mythical. The problem is that there’s no clear path from the fork to the city, just dense rainforest. Fletcher offers to solve that problem by just flying the kids to the city in his airplane. Joni and Santiago readily agree, and the group sets off. Owen and Leslie are not informed of this in any cut scene, so I’m still not sure what they’re up to.
Fletcher tells the kids that they’re above the city, so they parachute out. Which, considering the fact that neither of them are over the age of thirteen, feels illegal. But then again he lied, and rather than landing outside the city the kids and LapTrap wind up high up in the canopy of the rainforest, so I guess the legality of his actions isn’t that big of a deal for Fletcher. You meet a bat and a bird up in the branches, neither of whom are happy about your presence, and so give you directions on how to get out of here.
This mini area has exactly two puzzles, so progressing is your only reward and constitutes the sole amount of education on geography in this game, a trend that continues on in the ClueFinders series. I don’t know why geography is so barely represented here, particularly given how much the Carmen Sandiego series was able to do with the subject, but oh well. One puzzle involves using the cardinal directions to figure out where you are in relation to the lost city, and the second is helping a travel agency for birds find vacation destinations so they’ll fly you over to the city gates.
One of the nice things about playing this was that everything from the canopy on was completely new to me, since I could never muster the courage to finish this game when I was age appropriate. So lots of surprises, which is nice.
Once you get to the gates, a few things fall together. In the Monkey Kingdom, you found a can of Aviation Oil. In the Goo Lagoon, you found a business card for a large furrier. Both items dropped when Mathra flew over. And, inside the city you find Mathra….just lying on the ground, unmoving. Santiago starts to piece things together (Joni is busy trying to decide the best method of attacking the giant dragon) and Fletcher reveals himself to be the villain, something you probably figured out when he dropped the kids into the rainforest. It turns out that he runs the furrier you found the card for, and has been using the Mathra legend as a way to capture animals without revealing himself, disguising his plane as the creature.
This plan…this plan guys. Whoo boy. Okay, first of all, this is dark. Pretty much everything we’ve encountered in this rainforest, from the birds and mammals to the insects to the freaking plants, is sentient. So it can be assumed that at least some of the animals Fletcher has grabbed with his ‘Mathra’ are sentient as well. He’s not just poaching, he is capturing what amounts to people with the intent to skin them! Holy crap!
But secondly…I have so many questions. How is he controlling this thing? We see at the end that he’s essentially built his Mathra rig like a mascot costume for his plane, because he crashes and the plane just tears right out, intact. There’s no wires or anything, and yet the Mathra rig was able to grab animals (and one person) in its beak with precision and delicacy. How can Fletcher see? Are the two holes in the head of the Mathra rig big enough to be seen from down the neck of the rig and into the body, where the plane is? Why don’t we hear the propeller of the plane when Mathra flies by? Why was this better than straight up hiring poachers? And finally, does he have two planes, or does he have to rush to take off the Mathra rig whenever he has to give a person a ride?
Logistics notwithstanding, upon hearing Santiago’s take on the whole affair—in which he valiantly doesn’t fall down the pedantic rabbit hole I just did—Fletcher proceeds to leap, flying over the kids as he makes his standing long jump all the way to the contraption, landing in the pilot’s seat. Seriously, the leap must be seen to be believed. YouTube it.
Regardless, it’s time for more puzzles as the buildings straight up start talking to you. There’s a canyon just within the city limits that contains five columns upon which the victims of Fletcher wait for you. But to cross the apparently bottomless canyon you need the five colored Snagnets (A fusion of the words snake and magnet). I recommend getting three Snagnets per puzzle due to the frustrating nature of the final puzzles.
First though, we have to do the five puzzles here, all of which are run by individual AI. They run the gamut from fine (a flaming skull), to unsettling (a pair of talking hands) to whhhhhy (a lava lamp that speaks only in Twilight Zone references and paraphrases). All of the puzzles are science centered this time. Classification, identification, biology, cause and effect—all covered here. And frankly, covered well. This is inarguably the best part of the game educationally speaking.
No pit between you and the final puzzles this time. No song area either. It feels like the final area, which is good because it is. You get to the pits and find more sentient Olmec heads that direct your attention to the partial bridge built between you and the column. The partial bridge is made up of stone, held up by solid light (no really). You must line up the stones the head can give you, something similar to Dominoes. One end of the rectangular slab is a verb, the other end is an adverb. Press the verb against another verb, and the adverb against another adverb. Sometimes do the same thing but with nouns and adjectives instead. This puzzle is frustrating because of how quickly you run out of Snagnets. Just moving a piece from the ‘was just spit out’ pile, to the ‘hold for now’ pile takes up a section of Snagnets. You’re going to be backtracking a lot to get extra Snagnets, not every time, but often enough.
Finally, you succeed, saving the animals and the Professor, dear Uncle Horace. However, doing so activates the Mathra trap, and you lure an angry Fletcher onto it. The traps apparently just consists of dropping him into a supposedly bottomless pit, where he will fall for all eternity and slowly die of starvation or dehydration.
Or will he? Yes, after the happy cutscene, in which the Professor gives the ClueFinders LapTrap (which is slavery. I mean, he’s a sentient being, with autonomy and a gender identity and everything, right? Giving him to someone without his consent is slavery) and the fact that Owen and Leslie only contributed when you needed their help, and never gave full on clues, is never addressed, we see good old Fletcher. He hauls himself up, looking rather the worse for wear, and vows revenge. Then he stomps off, and we watch the real Mathra rise up from the trees. It looks around, then lets out a triumphant cry as it breathes fire.
Uhm…did we set free an ancient evil? One that steals baby animals and devours them? One that laid waste to an entire, ludicrously advanced ancient civilization? Oops.
All in all, ClueFinders 3rd Grade Adventures: The Secret of Mathra is a more than adequate edutainment game. Aside from a frustrating neglect of geography, and an utter absence of history, it does a good job of teaching kids how to solve problems and apply their knowledge. It’s not very good at introducing concepts though, think of it as a teaching supplement rather than an actual teacher.
From the story side of things, everything here is fine, at least by the standards of a 90’s cartoon. As a villain, Fletcher is less obvious than most, but not quite as subtle as the best. The twist with ‘Mathra’ being a rig for his plane is neat, though it doesn’t hold up if you think about it. You’ll probably see the twists coming, but none are so telegraphed as to leave you shouting at the screen. None of the characters grate, which is always a crapshoot with these sorts of games, particularly when they try to capture that Scooby Doo magic.
On the technical side of things, the game works just fine. The animation isn’t stellar, but is serviceable. The voice acting is spotty, but again, it’s serviceable. I never found any glitches either, game breaking or otherwise, and it ran just fine on my Windows 8 laptop.
So, if you’re at all nostalgic, either for this game specifically or the genre in general, give it a play. You’ll find a perfectly enjoyable, if not stellar, few hours, one largely free of the cringe factor most 90’s children media has, with a surprising bite to it. I wouldn’t play this game if you have no nostalgia tied to the ClueFinders or to 90’s edutainment games though. Nothing in it is groundbreaking and if you want a point and click mystery there are better options out there. I was impressed with what I found, but I was hoping for good things here, and if you’re not then I can’t guarantee you’ll enjoy yourself.
Did you play this game as a kid? Tell me what you think in the comments! Were you as scared as I was, or am I just a big wimp?