Kutoka Kids

What: Rodent-populated kids' edutainment title. Details: The first of what promises to be a series of outstanding learning games is an endearingly clever effort. Throughout Mia's fantastical explorations of the beautiful Victorian house in which she and Granny reside, this game resembles an animated, 3-D movie. The charmingly anthropomorphic Mia quickly develops into a real personality, with facial gestures, offhand comments and good advice. Players guide her quest to earn "sparklies" needed to buy grandma's medicine by navigating the onscreen mouse arrow in any direction; Mia responds by strolling, climbing, jumping, even skateboarding her way through the human-sized house and garden settings. After running afoul of the villainous Romaine Rat, she meets more than a dozen remarkably animated characters, nine of whom provide fresh learning activities with more mental bounce and better sound effects than the increasingly repetitive games of much other software. A Talking Game Board offers a visually delightful, dice-rolling challenge of matching words and pictures; a French-accented, dragon-esque bookend hosts a picture-and-rhyme word game; a mechanical circus-monkey toy runs a word-completion game; and a talking ink bottle posts questions atop stationery and scrolls answers below. One annoyance: Mia requires your machine to run in 256-color mode, forcing you to switch to it to start the game, then change back when you're done. Bottom line: A better mousetrap. -- Don Oldenburg

Win 95-98/Mac, $35, ages 5 to 9

LINKS EXTREME, Microsoft/Access

What: Armed golf game. Details: The concept is simple, yet intriguing: Add violence (in the form of exploding balls) and extreme courses (sea monsters eat unsuspecting golfers from the green) to the oldest Scottish pastime. You can play through the course or play through your opponent, using a golf bag full of specialized balls that guarantee victory. But as cool as options like Deathmatch Golf sound, they're actually quite boring. (This is golf, after all.) Whether you're putting on the Mojo Bay Country Club or Dimension X (a World War I battlefield), this game is visually uninspiring and tediously boring to play. Even the amusingly named Armadillo Al's Demolition Driving Range gets old real fast, and hitting moving targets like flamingos, cows and even other golfers is only amusing for a few minutes. This game just isn't worth the money, even considering its lowball list price. Bottom line: A blown hole. -- John Gaudiosi

Win 95-98, $30

CAPTION: Mia: Nothing cheesy about this.