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My son was bought a leap pad game console last Christmas, along with some different games. Because has an older brother and cousins, he likes characters that are perhaps aimed at slightly older children than the 4 he currently is, so this game was one of the games he got with the console.
This game can be purchased for both the leap pad and the leapster explorer consoles. It is quite widely available for sale. On amazon this game is pretty consistently for sale between £15 and £20. On ebay it is a little cheaper. Playing the game on the leap pad console you can connect your leap pad onto the learning pathway online with leapfrog, and download extra little bits of content which unlocks as you play. This is not something we do regularly, but if I go online and spot something new, it is fairly easy to connect this via a USB port to the computer and downloading is simple.
My experience of this game is that I think this is aimed at the top age range of the leap pads intended audience. The leap pad console is aimed at 4-8 year olds. This game is intellectually quite challenging at points as well as visually being quite challenging in my opinion. My 6 year old loves it, but he can't always play this independently mainly down to his reading level. For his age, my son is quite advanced at reading and in a book he can cope with stuff aimed at 7 year olds, but this is too difficult for him, so I would say 7-8 year olds would find this easiest.
The game starts off with a comic book style montage of scenes which introduce the story behind the game. Dr Animo has escaped and Ben 10 has to try and solve some challenges to capture him again. The comic book montage is where the difficulties first started for my kids, as the text on screen is printed in capital letters. The screen automatically moves on, so before my son has had chance to decipher even one word, then it moves onto the next screen. From a parents point of view, I feel this could be solved in one of a few ways.
-have the text on screen spoken by the character - this could easily be programmed to happen when the child touches the touch screen with the stylus.
- Have the text as you would see it in a book, allowing a child time to read it. Don't automatically move the page on, instead have a page turn button which the child could use when they had read it.
-show the introductory scene as a little cartoon with no words and just the speech occuring alongside the scenes.
To say this is for a childs console, I feel it turns the child off at this stage for me, and my youngest doesn't really want to play it at all.
The game then goes into the levels. There are 5 levels of play, the game is pretty educational but challenging at the same time. For example, Ben is shown getting onto his plane, the Rustbucket III. You are then told he needs to go to a lake in Brazil. You have to direct the plane where to go by looking at a map of the world, and clicking on South America. This is tricky for a small kid. The map is not all on one screen. You need to scroll up and down and side to side to go north, east, south and west. The only hint is a small picture icon near the place showing things like mountains and lakes. To be fair, there are vocal commands to help you a little, but I think the knowledge level expected here is beyond most small childrens knowledge. My two can find England on a globe, and know where some cities in our country are, but as for finding Brazil on a map, I find this beyond them.
There is then a task where Ben needs to assemble a map. There are vocal instructions to find a picture of a building and put it onto the larger map, but it starts using grid co-ordinates with letters and numbers. My eldest child can do this now by himself, but I had to teach him how to do it to interact with the game.
Thankfully the game then does get a little bit easier as you go into a more platform style game. Ben has to move around collecting energy balls and solving little puzzles. There is a little motion pad on the leap pad to go in different directions, then you use the stylus to press an A button on screen to fight, or a B button to jump. There is also an omnitrix signal, which is the watch Ben 10 uses to turn into an alien. Pressing this on screen allows you to choose which alien you want to change into. You can't use them all at first and need to unlock some. There are hints on screen showing a little picture of the character you need to be to complete that particular part.
The little mini games within the levels are mostly thankfully easy, like pairs. There is one really tricky one which is a DNA fixing puzzle. (Again how many children would understand this?) You are shown a strand of DNA on screen, which you then need to unzip into two templates, then match up the base pairs in the DNA. This is not quite as tricky as it sounds as the child is looking at maching up little rectangles based upon their colours, so eg orange must always be matched to blue.
My eldest son seems to persevere with this one, and although he has spent lots of time trying to master it, we are still stuck on the lower levels. I think you have to be quite co-ordinated and used to computer games to master the platform play in this one, and my eldest was already experienced at playing this sort of thing on his nintendo DS. He still finds it difficult and frustrating at times. My youngest is definitely far too young for this game, and will not even play it at all. It is far too frustrating for him so he will not play it at all.
I think the game is good at using educationcal concepts within it, but its almost like a 10 year old should be playing it, and would get most out of it. I think by 10, the co-ordination would be good enough, and the knowledge of the world and the concepts would be there.
If you are thinking of purchasing this one, think about your childs ability level, and if you are willing to spend the time sitting with them while they are playing to help them when they need it. I prefer my children to play the other games we got with the leap pad myself, not because I won't help them, but I think the whole point really is it is meant to be fun as well as educational, and this one is a bit tantrum inducing. There is a lot of satisfaction there when they master something, but it really does require lots of patience - a skill again most young kids don't have.