One of the most obscure, underrated edutainment titles ever, Tanager's C.Y.P.H.E.R. Operation Wildlife and Operation US Presidents are two wonderful games designed for kids aged 8 and up that teach a range of subjects in a unique and addictive gameplay that will keep both kids and adults hooked for hours on end. Both games star you as an undercover agent who works for C.Y.P.H.E.R. (short for Courageous Young Partners in Hush-Hush Electronic Radiotelegraphy -- obviously meant to abbreviate to CYPHER ;)), a top-secret organization. According to the game manual, C.Y.P.H.E.R. "...provides its clients with a confidential message delivery system, allowing them to send secret telegrams to one another. A message, called a CYPHERGRAM, is coded and then broken up into pieces before being sent out to the city where the client is located. As an agent, your mission is to located the message pieces, and then decode and deliver the CYPHERGRAM to the client."
Gameplay is a very enjoyable mix of detective games, cryptography, and trivia. You start each mission with 3 "contact sheets, " which contain the locations of contact agents. Their addresses are not spelled out directly, but are clues to the correct location. You must match the contact sheets to the correct district to contact the agents who will transmit a piece of the CYPHERGRAM into your Microscan watch. If you choose incorrectly, you may run into evil agents from L.U.R.K., who will scare away your contacts or even steal information from you. Each contact agent will also give you a clue to the animal (or US President in the sequel) that you must identify. You must identify several animals/Presidents correctly to obtain the entire CYPHERGRAM to decode. This last segment of the game is standard cryptography in which you must deduce the correct letters to decode the message.
C.Y.P.H.E.R. contains many fun tools to help you along in your missions. The FunCyclopedia contains a wealth of information about animals / US Presidents, but you must not use it too often as each use drains your watch energy (i.e. time limit you have to finish a mission). There are also many extras that make the games even better than they are. You can send personal CYPHERGRAM to other agents (perhaps your sibling, or friend who shares the same computer), and they'll get it in undecoded format when they log on. If decoding CYPHERGRAM in standard English isn't challenging enough, you can choose to decode it in American sign language, Morse code, Braille, or even Semaphore. There are four difficulty levels, including Expert which will provide a solid challenge for adults/parents. Overall, both C.Y.P.H.E.R. games are highly recommended to kids and adults alike. You'll learn a lot of fun facts about wildlife and US Presidents, while sharpening your cryptography and related skills. Too bad Tanager never made more games in the series. True classics!
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C.Y.P.H.E.R. Operation Wildlife, Carmen Sandiego: Word Detective, Carmen Sandiego's Great Chase Through Time, Oregon Trail Deluxe, Carmen Sandiego: Junior Detective Edition, Cross Country USA, Where in America's Past is Carmen Sandiego?, Magic School Bus Explores the Human Body
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