Nikolai’s Train (Corel CD Home – ages 4-8) manages to combine educational information with plenty of fun. Nikolai and his toy cat Neow-Neow have a train race which serves as the story’s framework. Neow-Neow has many undesirable traits: he hoards toys, tells white lies, wants to win at any cost, and gets into all kinds of trouble as a result. Little kids will recognize this behavior, and draw the proper conclusions, but the moral isn’t heavy-handed, and the story has a lot to offer. Pit-stops during the race give kids a chance to learn how steam and diesel engines work and how to repair a broken train (and how to follow instructions). Click on the night sky to learn about the solar system. The program even manages to build in a lesson about ecosystems. Everything is well-integrated within the story. Play along interactively or have the story read aloud (in English or Japanese). If you want to go to a favorite part, there’s a menu at the beginning with thumbnail views of all 12 pages. Each screen has nifty interactions, many quite original and unconventional (for instance, clicking on a sleeping bat in the coal mine sends it careening towards the screen in convincing 3D). This title manages to educate without sacrificing entertainment value.
– December 1995