I know what you're probably thinking, why in the world is Zentendo reviewing this? Well, not too long ago Jump Start asked us if we would be interested in trying out their new game for the Nintendo Wii. They made no allusions to the fact that this is entirely meant as a game and educational tool for a smaller set of gamers. To their credit, the game box clearly states what it is, and exactly who it's for. Let's face it, we all start out somewhere, and we probably have a little sibling or cousin, so the question is, how does the title stack up to what it sets out to do?
When I was in school, there were a few attempts at bringing the education system to the modern age. This basically amounted to a weird assortment of titles such as "Number Munchers," "Sticky Bears" and "The Oregon Trail." This was all on ancient computers, mostly Apple machines and floppy discs, long before the days of Windows dominance. Truth be told, they didn't really do much for either learning or fun back then. I learned that movement on a keyboard cramped your fingers, and that the vast majority of people died of some unheard of disease called "dysentery" on the way to Oregon. Well, it's 2009 now, and it's time to see how the education software stacks up today. The title sounded good enough, your airship has crashed landed on a tropical island, and to repair it you have to go out and collect helium tanks from an assortment of challenges. Sounds like the set up to a platformer to me!
The game basically takes place in two areas of the island, along the beach and underwater. There's also a tree house area you unlock later on. Before you play the game, you create your character. Like the Mii system, the basic shape of your avatar is gender neutral and it can be either a boy or girl simply by changing their outfit, hair and face. One might wonder why they didn't just use the Mii's. Well, the fact is the game uses a whole lot more clothing customization, and they honestly look better anyways. Normal controls are pretty basic, you can move with either the nunchuck analog stick or D-pad on the remote. The B trigger makes you jump, pressing it in mid air lets you stomp the ground, and the A button is used to talk to characters and confirm selections. Surprisingly, the title looks pretty nice. It won't win any awards, but it is very colorful, and uses color well. The weird thing is, most of the activities have music, music that is pretty good, but when you are walking around the island or swimming underwater the game is disturbingly silent. Even more perplexing is the fact that there are no sound effects for your character at all. The only time you really hear any audio cue is when you stomp on the island villains, the punk punks, which look like tribbles from "Star Trek" with faces.
Both the island and the underwater area have areas that you access to play different types of games. Each section has a platformer level with various missions to complete, from finding knickknacks to squashing punk punks. These areas are focused mostly on being a straight video game, and less of an excuse to add numbers. Actual learning is tied into four other spots where you navigate using the Wii remote sideways and drive or roll it forward. These include riding a manta ray through rings with the correct answer to a math problem, or flying a jetpack through them on land. Vocabulary is based in a game where you need to roll your avatar in a ball through the correct answer and then through a maze in a certain amount of time. Two other types of gameplay involve pushing a giant pearl or egg, which is as fun as it sounds, and a music-based wagglefest. Music games come in two types. The first is a straight-up dancing game with a bunch of different music types. This section reminded me of the old PSone game "Bust a Groove." The other music game first requires you to dress your character up in a specific way, then strut down a runway and pose for judges. Basically, Jump Start didn't want the girls to be left out of the fun.
Overall the game is kind of neat, offers a nice variety and rewards creativity as well as effort by giving you sand dollars for completing any various game tasks to buy more clothing or customize your tree house. It's certainly lightyears ahead of "Number Munchers" on an entertainment level alone. It does have its fair share of problems. The loading is pretty bad, twice I thought the title had frozen the system. The framerate is all over the place, which shouldn't be a problem with a game that doesn't even begin to push the hardware. Also, truth be told, I was kind of disappointed that there really wasn't that much platforming and that the underwater area was more or less a copy of the game types on the island. I was hoping that the types would be mixed into a single adventure quest or journey similar to the platforming greats. But let's face it, I'm old and I've played a lot of video games. I'm so far beyond the demographic of the game it hurts, so that leaves only one thing to do! Take the game to an elementary school!
For this test a couple of students were selected. They were right in the range of the ages on the box, five to nine. First a boy tried it out, then a girl. After all, Nintendo has done a pretty decent job of getting everyone interested in gaming. The boy seemed to enjoy making an avatar, he put his character in camo style clothing and gave him a bandana. After starting a new game he wandered ever so briefly around the island before sliding down into the underwater area. The first game he tried was the bubble rolling. This type gives you a capital letter of a word and then asks you to roll the remote, "Monkey Ball" style, across the stage into the lower case version of the letter. After that, you have to roll the ball through a small maze to a finish line before time runs out. He played about three stages of that and wanted to leave. Next he headed to the Secret Caverns, which is the platform level of the underwater section. He seemed to really like this level, squashing punk punks and finding stuff. He and the rest of his class really liked discovering the water slide near the top of the level. Moving onto the girl, she seemed pretty interested in the fashion show. She had a bit of trouble navigating the menu, particularly the smaller arrows when selecting the next page on the clothing sub-menu. She also had trouble getting the remote gesture controls right. This tends to be more of a Wii problem than a software specific one though. Despite this she really enjoyed matching the clothing type to the request of the level.
So how did the kids like it overall? Well they wanted to let me know that they really liked it and asked if I could bring it everyday. They also asked where they could get the game for themselves. Sure it's not exactly "Super Mario Galaxy," but when presented as a learning tool, it sure beats an abacus. While the controls and gameplay may not be the most refined or original, kids still get a lot of fun out of it. And in the end, that's what matters most anyways. So next time your mom or aunt asks about a game she can feel safe about letting her kids play, let them know about this one, you can even get away with the old "it's educational" line!
Final Verdict - 7/10
Personally I feel the title could have benefited greatly with a little more polish, but for its target audience, the faults are far less important. If you are a parent or sibling looking for a wholesome and educational title to buy, this is your game.