Rescue Ecotopia!

Rescue Ecotopia! is a game on PBS Kids Cyberchase website. The Cyberchase website accompanies the PBS Cyberchase television series, which follows kids Jackie, Inez and Matt as they defend their friends and environment against the evil activities of the villain Hacker. The television show was developed for ages 8-11, and the online game Rescue Ecotopia! targets the same audience. The free online game invites players to defend various biotopes against Hacker’s attacks. In order to do so, players must learn about the biotope and the animals that live there. Then, when Hacker captures animals in his helicopter, spreads vicious diseases with a spray gun, or wreaks havoc on the environment’s natural resources, players can choose which aspects of the environment must be replaced in order to offset the damage caused by Hacker.

Though Recue Ecotopia! is not a game with particularly glossy, high-tech graphics, its simple interface is colorful and functional. Upon successful completion of a level, players unlock a new biotope: this process of moving from one landscape to another not only increases learning opportunities, it is also exciting! The plants and animals which inhabit the various biotopes range from trees and fish to storks and orangutans, and are always described using a specific name (i.e. “dawn bat” and “meranti tree” rather than simply “bat” or “tree”). As players advance from one biotope to another, critical thinking, problem solving, and time management skills are all engaged; gameplay gets more and more challenging as biotopes are added to the game’s world, and players must make decisions about how to best satisfy the needs of the various creatures, remembering to place creatures in the biotopes to which they belong and ensuring that there are sufficient natural resources in each biotope for the preservation of a healthy ecosystem.

Though the game appears simple at first, even advancing to level two engages fairly advanced decision-making skills. Not only must players be able to make the correct decisions for how to save the environment, they must do so quickly, before time is up! Furthermore they must be able to navigate the game’s controls and make sense of the icons used to represent various biotopes, plants, and animals. Taking these aspects of game-play together, the game is probably best suited for the lower end of the age-range targeted by the Cyberchase television show. However, children who do not watch Cyberchase will not find themselves at any disadvantage: the game does not advertise the show in any way, nor does it require that players have watched the show in order to successfully play Rescue Ecotopia!

Reviewing the entire Cyberchase website, Common Sense Media lauds the website for being “online education at its best.” Rescue Ecotopia! is no exception, providing an engaging game which simultaneously provides a multifaceted education in healthy ecosystems and environmental protection.
–A. Smith


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