Friday, September 23, 2022

Green Phoenix - ClueFinders 6th Grade Retrospective


At long last, we come to the end of my retrospectives with regards to the ClueFinders series.

While I know for a fact that The Learning Company released nine different games under the ClueFinders name, my sister and I only really grew up with and experienced the 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th grade games, so those were the only games I felt comfortable in the immediate to reflect upon.

If I ever find myself in a position where I could perhaps play the other games, then I may yet again visit the series to discuss the "missing" games from my childhood.

The ClueFinders 6th Grade Adventures: The Empire of the Plant People was without a doubt the strangest game in the series in terms of story and I find myself reflecting on the game in a way that is markedly different from any other game in the series with the exception of perhaps Puzzle of the Pyramid.

Thinking on The ClueFinders as a series, I realize that the franchise has always maintained something of a largely mystical and magical mentality behind it. The series relishes and thrives upon the mystery at the heart of their games and when the mystery isn't strong, the series can sometimes find itself floundering. In The Puzzle of the Pyramid, there really wasn't much of a "mystery" except collecting items to eventually unlock and get to the pyramid. Everything else was largely provided in terms of who was the antagonist, why they were doing what they were doing, what they planned to do. The "clues" were thus simple collectibles intended to progress the game but added almost nothing to the underlying story.
By contrast The Mystery of Mathra and The Secret of the Living Volcano were stories that absolutely lived off of their underlying mystery. The identity of Mathra and the individuals involved were easily discernible by an audience based on context clues gathered throughout the game, and the secret of the living volcano, while admittedly out there, is sufficiently implied to make the ultimate reveal of aliens not completely out of left field.
I bring up this contrast between Mathra, the Living Volcano, and Puzzle of the Pyramid because unfortunately Empire of the Plant People bears more similarities to Puzzle of the Pyramid. From the outset, you are made abundantly clear as to what the goals of the Plant People and where your friends are located. The only real mystery, if you can call it that, is the reason for the Plant People's sudden aggressiveness, though that is also fairly easy to deduce based on the very first few minutes of the game. 
What I am slightly surprised of is the shock of our main characters at a society of Plant People living underground when they've seen multiple iterations of living plants throughout other adventures and it would've perhaps been interesting to see the characters recognize the similarities to past outings, even if only for a joke. It's just a weird inconsistency that my brain felt consistently throughout the game.

Beyond the narrative, I was also struck by a general aesthetic that seemed completely monotone and samey throughout the game, leaving this game's general repetitiveness (which is a symptom of the franchise as a whole) far more apparent. I remember the spelling puzzle game if only because of how often you end up doing the game in the process of backtracking, which wasn't really the same issue in other grades. The other games include a shooting game that focuses on math addition and subtraction (with harder levels focused on decimals), a fraction game that acts like a minor intro to chemistry, and of course your usual bout of reading comprehension.

The final games towards the end detail logic puzzles and understanding context clues regarding different environmental pollutants and associating them with specific industrial companies on the surface world. The game actually has a fairly on the nose moral about enviornemntalism that, while it makes sense, is about as heavy-handed as one might expect from a children's educational game.

Don't get me wrong, the game is still immense fun to watch. But I can definitely say that I don't get the same nostalgic feelings from this game. Maybe its the levels focus on Leslie and Owen, with Owen being a little annoying, maybe its the unneeded but completely predictable twist as to who is the Queen of the Plant People. I think that if this game were remade today, some minor variations in the narrative might've been warranted to get it to the level of its fellow ClueFinders games.

I know that may seem disappointing, to end this analysis of ClueFinders by discussing a largely forgettable entry in the series, but the franchise really did kind of end on what I can only describe as a paltry adventure that lacked the colorful characters and exciting mystery of its previous installments. I thus cannot really recommend this game to any younger audiences like I could for 5th Grade. I'm sure someone will get a kick out of it, but it ultimately wasn't for me.

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