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The Nintendo DS is a great little handheld that appeals to kids and adults alike because of its ease of use, form factor and interactivity. That said, one of the most frustrating aspects of buying a DS game for pre-schoolers (my daughter is four, going on fourteen) is that there is very little decent information available about them - both pre and post release. In these financially conscious times, most families will think twice about shelling out between £15 and £30 for a game you have to buy with little to base a purchasing decision on.
Hardcore gamers and reviewers would never go near titles such as "Barbie Princess", "Littlest Pet Shop" or "I Did It Mum", which means the only source of information comes from reviews by parents themselves. My daughter is quite precocious and an early developer (a smidgen of unapologetic parental pride creeping in there!) but the chances of her writing a sensible review based on her own experiences is pretty slim - so its left to me to be as objective as possible, with the necessary limitation that I'm seeing things through the eyes of an adult.
A BIT ABOUT DIEGO
Go Diego Go is a cartoon series about a bilingual (English/Spanish) 8 year old kid called Diego Marquez who loves rescuing animals with the hep of his sidekick - Baby Jaguar (we never get a name) and various human and non-human helpers, such as Click the camera, and Rescue Pack - a back pack that seems to transform into almost anything.. The programme, which runs for about half an hour on the Nick Jr. kids channel (Sky channel 615 or Virgin Media channel 318), is a spin-off from the Dora the Explorer series.
I have been subjected to Diego, her younger cousin Dora, his big sister Alicia and anthropomorphic sidekicks like Boots (Dora's monkey companion), Swiper (a benign, sneaky fox) and the Bobo Brothers (a pair of mischief making spider monkeys) for a couple of years now - to the extent that my daughter has a smattering of basic Spanish to her credit (thanks Nick Jr.)
Given her familiarity and love of the series, the "Go Diego Go: Safari Rescue" game seemed just the thing to keep our talkative little moppet silent on car trips and at other times when constant chatter just isn't appropriate. Don't get me wrong, I love that she loves to talk - but I draw the line when my four year old starts saying "Calmate, daddy... calmate!" - in Spanish when I start getting annoyed.
PRICE & AVAILABILITY
I ordered our copy from CD Wow via the Nectar website (www.nectar.com), using 4,900 of the many Nectar points we have accumulated to get it for free. However, a quick search around the usual web sites reveals that, as of today's date (24.05.09) it is immediately available from Amazon.co.uk for £12.99 (reduced from the ridiculous £29.99 RRP) and CD Wow direct (www.cdwow.com) for the much pricier £24.99 (both sites will deliver free). Delivery times when ordering through Nectar are similar to when ordering direct from CD Wow, and the game arrived by first class post around three working days after I ordered it.
The game comes in a standard plastic DS game box, which includes a basic instruction booklet and not an awful lot else (not that it's needed, as the booklet is more for the benefit of the supervising adult than the intended target audience). A quick flip through was all I needed to settle down on the sofa with my little princess and play it with her. The gift was a total surprise, and I was quite pleased at her initial delight when the splash screen came up, showing Diego and his sidekick Baby Jaguar.
SUMMARY OF GAME PLOT
This is pretty simple and basic - Diego and his buddies have to find a magic drum to locate a and rescue a herd of elephants who are all missing, courtesy of the baddie mystically named the "Magician", who has cast a spell on them.
STARTING THE GAME
When you tap the colourful START symbol with the DS stylus, Diego (voiced by the same voice actor as the TV show) enthusiastically says "Let's Go!" and asks you to "select a profile". The game has four save slots, represented simply by a tiger, a giraffe, a zebra and an elephant (with disconcertingly long eyelashes!). There is no need to enter a name or anything like that - a task that would probably frustrate a pre-schooler in any case.
After selecting the profile, you can choose three options: (a) Start Safari; (b) Safari Book; or (c) Play any Game. The first takes you to the game proper, whilst the book shows you animals you have encountered and taken photos of during the journey. The last option takes you directly to a collection of 20 mini games which you encounter on Safari anyway - so there is no need to play through to unlock content. Again, this is a nice option for kids of this age group who usually have quite short attention spans.
We proceeded to "Start Safari" and were asked to say "Jambo" ("Hello" in Swahili in case you were wondering) into the microphone. Successfully done (Diego acknowledges this by praising the child in Spanish - "muy bien!" meaning "very good!"), the view then changes to a telescope, and you use the stylus to hit the on screen arrows and shift the view up/down/left or right until a mountain comes into view.
You move to the next stage by tapping on the mountain with the stylus (the DS buttons are largely superfluous - everything can be done with the stylus). Diego's rescue pack then morphs into a hot air balloon, which you are instructed to inflate by blowing into the microphone.
Each successful action is praised with a big splash screen featuring Diego and the words "Muy Bien!" In bold letters. Once you arrive at the mountain, you are put on the safari track, which is essentially a linear trail with directional arrows, on which the six or seven types of mini-games - as well as various wildlife - regularly pop up on the way to your goal.
These mini-games involve a series of other activities, all involving directional arrows and tapping the touch screen with the stylus to make things happen. It seems most things, like clearing debris, digging, blowing up balloons, or playing a drum to give a zebra back its stripes etc need to be done three times to complete the task.
In games where you are asked to clear rocks, branches, and other obstructions, a useful template is provided at the bottom of the screen, onto which the child must drop the corresponding item (big rock on big rock, small branch on small branch and so on).
Progress is periodically interrupted by the Magician, who appears flying overhead, directing the child to a mini-game that involves choosing the best place to hide. After successfully evading the baddie, you are returned to where you were on the safari track.
Whenever you come into the general vicinity of the various wildlife, you are encouraged to take a photo - with "Click" the camera - by centring the animal on the lower screen using directional arrows and tapping the creature with the stylus. You don't have to be totally accurate, it seems as long as a majority of the animal is in view, the game allows you to take the photo. This picture then gets filed in the aforementioned Safari Book. When you take the picture, the animal disappears from the main screen, so it's easy to tell the ones that are left. You don't need to get all the animals photographed to finish the main story.
There is no real difficulty to completing the tasks and they get quite repetitive for older children (and adults - I was pining for the tedious, if hypnotic, monotony of Baby TV at one point). I would imagine kids over the age of five would get bored quite quickly. A lot of verbal and visual guidance is given throughout (for instance, directional arrows tell you where to go within the mini games and Diego always tells you what to do, so there is not much in the way of independent problem-solving)
There is a fair bit of Spanish used throughout (counting to ten, colours, etc.) but it is almost always accompanied by its English equivalent. The game is also interspersed with various factoids linked to the mini-games. For instance, when Baby Jaguar gets too hot at one point in the game, Diego tells us that elephants use their ears to keep cool, and the game segues into a mini-game where you have to blow into the microphone to cool Baby Jaguar off. Some of the games also use shape matching to help players along (as mentioned above).
We completed the game together in about half an hour, as my daughter wanted to photograph every animal along the way (you can ignore them if you want) but the main story can be finished in less than 20 minutes. Since then, my daughter plays this every now and again, dipping in and out of the mini-games, but showing no inclination to complete the adventure from start to finish. As such, as we hold all the DS cartridges - for fear of her losing them - it hasn't served its intended purpose. It barely holds her interest for more than ten minutes, before we are invariably hassled for something else in our little games library.
In comparison to games aimed at this age range, we have found it to be poor value, as there is limited re-playability and our daughter has got bored of it quite quickly since the initial shine wore off it. In contrast we have two or three other titles she adores and plays all the time, and, even allowing for her preferences, this comes a poor and neglected third.
That said, it's probably a fairly decent first game for a three year old, as it doesn't require any reading skills and the game basically plays itself with limited input from the player. However, the idea that someone could pay almost £30 for this is laughable and a little obscene. I think under a tenner would be about fair value for it.
© Hishyeness 2009 - previously published on Ciao.co.uk under the same username.