Good education; Inadequate entertainment.
Review written by
October 31st, 2009
Learning games fit into a very specific crowd. I'd be surprised to hear that many parents would decide to allow video games to teach their kids as a replacement for more conventional learning activities. Oddly enough however, my parents did. I played a few games by JumpStart when I was much younger, and I have yet to find anyone my age who did not at some point play, and enjoy, Math Blasters. These were all on PC and I find it odd that JumpStart games have transitioned to consoles.
Granted, this review will be fairly difficult to write, seeing as I have already learned and mastered long ago everything the game has to teach and make me practice. In order to properly evaluate this game, which was sent to me by JumpStart for this review, I have to look at how my knowledge would have been tested back when I was within the intended range of 5-9 years old.
The focus of JumpStart Escape from Adventure Island is on collecting sand dollars. Get enough sand dollars and the player is given a helium tank. Get twenty helium tanks and the player can inflate their blimp in order to escape. That is the final goal. You start the game by making a character and selecting several customization options, such as hair, facial features, clothes and skin color. Being the person that I am, I tried to test the limits of the character creation by making the ugliest creature I could, resulting in a thing with blue skin, robot eyes, and an enormous, creepy grin.
Gameplay-wise, JSEFAI really only has two learning games, each with two different skins (to give the illusion of four distinct games). This feels fairly lazy, as JumpStart could have more than easily created two more different game modes, but the focus is more on the content. One of the two modes involves the player flying around an open area by means of either a jetpack (in the English skills game), or while riding a manta ray (as in Mathematics skills game). The player tilts the Wiimote to steer and is given instructions at the beginning of each round to find the answers in the field that correspond. The controls initially felt awkward, but I quickly got used to them.
The other mode has the player in a bubble or a round cage, rolling to hit one of four answers to a question. Once the correct answer is chosen, the player must then maneuver through a maze, while avoiding small creatures, to get to the end in a certain amount of time. Both modes get old rather quickly, but they're at least more entertaining than just practicing with pencil and paper.
There are other games around the island which serve no educational purpose, but still show the void of actual entertainment value in this package. Without the educational purpose, the minigames have no pull. Some are very simple platformers, while the others consist of a waggle Dance Dance Revolution clone and a horribly difficult to control game that has you push a giant egg into a nest. These feel very unnecessary and, while they seem to try decently hard, won't end up being very fun for kids in the long run.
JSEFAI does have a very large pond of content. JumpStart has been in the business of making edu-games for a long time, and know what skills to have kids practice and learn, and how to get them to do it. However, this newest game lacks the same level of variety. Each of the few and fairly similar learning games has far too many levels. They get tremendously boring after some time, and I can't imagine that a child's attention span could really last much longer than my own.
That being said, the lifespan of JSEFAI is at least commendable in that the content truly does cover a lot of educational ground. With practice, kids could get good at the skills being taught to them. My only wonder is how long they'd stay attentive.
Perfectly suitable for very young children, the graphics are colorful and the landscapes are varying in goofy and wacky styles. However, sometimes I feel as though kids in this age range do not necessarily need to be catered to so meticulously. Back when I fit into the target audience, I wasn't looking for spastic color choices and crazy shapes, I enjoyed the realism as much as I enjoy it now. Granted, this game probably wouldn't benefit much from any sort of graphical overhaul, as it really isn't the point. JSEFAI shouldn't have to be very attractive, if its goal is education.
Nevertheless, pointing out strengths and weaknesses is still necessary. The game runs on full widescreen, which I appreciated, and the game always appears very active. Unfortunately there was also plenty of slowdown, which began to strangle the enjoyment. Sometimes the text was too small in the answers and would only come into focus once I got very close to them. Textures and polygon detail could have been tremendously better too, as the game sometimes appeared to be of two generations ago. To repeat what I mentioned before, the graphics don't matter as much because the game never once tries to impress the player with graphics as much as actual curriculum.
Sound quality is relatively decent. I could always understand the voices, and I never once heard anything that sounded condensed or degraded. The music is even alright, although all the tracks are on heavy repeat and get tiresome after a short time.
Sound effects, while nothing special, work to the benefit of the game. More sound effects could have helped, as I was sometimes surprised at the lack of sounds coming from actions that should make noise in a game, such as jumping.
More important however, are the voiceovers. Instructions are always explained simply enough for the lowest standard, meaning that those with high enough intelligence to understand directions quickly will have to wait for longer than they may be willing to at some points. The voice work used to congratulate the player every time he or she answers a problem or question correctly gets cycled continually to the point of wanting to stop playing.
It is very hard to deem the value of a game such as this, and not be someone who can benefit at all from using it. I imagine the game has plenty of educational merit, but I'm not the best judge of such. Much of what I complained about will go over the heads of children, who will look at the game with less refined lenses.
This brings me to one of my biggest points that regards the intended age range itself, 5-9 years old. I can understand that the lower ages of that range would be playing something like this, as I did, but children of the ages 8 and 9 would most likely not. Sure, the content is there for those ages, but I can't imagine anyone at the ages of 8 and 9 would ever want to play a game that caters for the younger crowd. I had graduated education games when I myself was that age, save for Oregon Trail, and had moved on to Sim City, 007, and even Tomb Raider. Maybe instead of making a game intended for a broader audience but with artistic choices for the lower end of said audience, JumpStart could have made a more intensive learning experience for the 5-7 year olds.
Escape from Adventure Island has plenty of educational content, but lacks enough depth to prevent kids looking to something more enticing for entertainment.
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