the Andrew Bailey

Yobi's Basic Spelling Tricks

Yobi's Basic Spelling Tricks is a spelling game that came with my family's old Compaq 486 back in the 90s. I'm not sure what prompted me to dig this up. I suspect that seeing a blog that's trying to list every videogame that features Moai jarred my memory, but this isn't listed there (despite Moai being in this game). (I'd like to submit this game there, but I can't find any way to do that outside of Twitter.) After about 3 minutes of searching, I found this game and fired up Twentieth Century.

Screenshot of the TOGETHER level.

From what I remember, an old man stands on the left, and you are a nameless member of a tribe whose village is being flooded, and your job is to go up the river to figure out what's going on. The only way is through a bunch of puzzles, mazes, and tests that require you to spell words correctly. For some reason, I completely forgot that the old man had a parrot that squawks when you pick up the correct letter. After you complete the puzzle, you go to a keyboard and sign where you're quizzed on 3 words, with more as the game progresses. You must complete those words to complete the entire level and progress to the next one.

Each level consists of a map with letters scattered around it, along with obstacles and, potentially, hazards. Because you're in a jungle, there's dangerous animals, and it looks like you're in Africa. Hippos, gazelles, zebras, and elephants are all tame (unlike in reality), and can be pacified with an apple, as can a rhino. Apples won't work for lions, tigers, and alligators, and they will attack regardless. Stone walls, trees, bottomless pits, and the river itself are barriers. Bridges can be thrown across short spans of water, and you can ride a hippo for a bit if you give it an apple. If you walk on mud, you will continue sliding in that direction until you stop. Then there's the demons: fire (will shoot fireballs a short distance), wind (pushes you away), and dart (shoots arrows at you). There's sometimes potions that neutralize a demon's effects. Boulders are movable, will block everything, including the demon's attacks, and can be pushed into water as a temporary bridge.

You're dropped off in a level from your raft, which you must get back to when you've spelled the word. When you need to return to the raft, all animals, bridges, extra letters, and demons are cleared, which makes things easy. However, you might be on the other side of the river. Boulders are still present, and you can push them into water to get back to the raft.

Screenshot of the post-puzzle quiz.

Yobi likes to bang his staff from time to time, but it sounds like it's hitting a wood floor. He's standing in the mud outside his grass hut. Why does the staff make that sound? And for that matter, Yobi is voice acted, and his lips are intricately animated, almost to the point of uncanny valley. The sound quality isn't that great, because you can mistake "fought" and "thought", or "proud" and "crowd".

I remember that the "together" level had me stumped for a long time. (Months? Years? Who knows.) Even back then, I knew how to spell it, but you need to pick up the letters in order, and the sheer difficulty of the level stopped me from completing it. I've replayed the entire game from beginning to end, including collecting the bonus trinkets, and I had to retry that level quite a bit.

I'm not clear on what the point of those trinkets are. They look like a teddy bear, and there's one every 10 levels. At the same time, you need to spell another word in the post-level quiz (up to 10). I would think that a collected trinket would stop the number from going up. Instead, they are merely kept track of on the map at the beginning of the game.

This game was also released under the name Spelling Jungle. Imagine another game that's this one with a Christmas theme, but stripped of all references to Christmas. That's what the sequel, Spelling Blizzard is. It's the same game, more or less, but more difficult with different levels and words in a winter wonderland theme. Even the people standing on the sign are the same, only now wearing big coats (along with everyone else), and Yobi's parrot is still there. (Why does anyone have a pet parrot outside at the north pole? At least he has little earmuffs and a scarf.) The level obstacles are a bit different though, like the abominable snowman that throws snowballs at you that cause you to stumble into a wandering daze for a while. Yobi has way more dialog, but some of the old lines are kept, and it's jarring to hear an old line next to a new one.

These games are designed quite differently from what I usually play. After the initial loading screen, Yobi keeps his presence on the left side of the screen, even during level transitions. These games require a 256 color VGA screen, a sound card, and a mouse to play, which were quite ominous system requirements for PCs back in the early 90s when this came out. (If you try running in high or true color, the game won't run.) It makes me think that they were targeted more towards Macs (which had those out of the box) which sat in many school classrooms back then. These games are about 10 megabytes each, which is a terrible waste of a CD. They could do so much more!

I in no way recommend either of these to anyone today, unless you want to teach your kid how to spell, or show him what edutainment software was. Or maybe you just want to retro game.

Posted under Gaming. 0 complaints.