Product Type: 505 Games Nintendo DS games
Newest Review: ... get all five answers correct to earn the gold star. The gold star is important because it helps make a child feel a sense of achievement. ... more
I Did It Mum! Makes Spelling Fun
I Did It Mum: Spelling (DS)
Member Name: Hishyeness
I Did It Mum: Spelling (DS)
Advantages: Educational, fun and well designed.
Disadvantages: Graphics could have been bolder and better
Given the dearth of decent professional reviews of kids games on the Nintendo DS, as a parent it's difficult to know which titles deserve my hard earned cash and which should be given a wide berth. Unfortunately, given the lack of readily available and objective information (some excellent reviews here on DooYoo notwithstanding), the success rate is usually more miss than hit - the only saving grace being the relatively modest prices charged for these games (£9.99 to £14.99 is pretty standard) should they turn out to be complete duffers.
However, there are now at least one or two franchises emerging that are proving their worth, making buying titles from them less of a gamble. One of these is the "I Did It Mum" series for the Nintendo DS and DSi, which, along with the original game, which featured differently crafted versions for boys (blue) and girls (pink), also spawned a successful sequel (the imaginatively named "I Did It Mum 2") in the same format. Over time, I have acquired both of these titles for my (now 5 year old) daughter and both have proved to be enormously popular and great value.
When I learned that the publisher, 505 Games, was to release three more titles in the series - "Doll's House" (aimed firmly at little princesses), "Spelling" and "Picture Book" (which are aimed at both sexes), I decided to treat my daughter to the "Spelling" game, especially as it promised to be a fun way to ply her with some educational content.
So - was my new-found confidence in the franchise well-placed? Or was this yet another shameless games cash-in designed to dent the wallets of hard-pressed parents?
I Did It Mum: Spelling is a collection of mini-games designed to encourage reading, spelling, writing and alphabet skills for kids aged from three to five years. The game includes over 300 three to eight letter words in its "dictionary" which appear randomly throughout. It is usually available from most recognised e-tailers (such as Amazon, Play.com and CDWow) for between £12.99 and £17.99 so it pays to shop around, although, at the time of writing (February 2010) very few seem to have it in stock.
Your "host", for want of a better word, is "Puppy Dog" - a cute looking dog of indeterminate breed who greets you on the opening screen with an invitation to play and promises to teach you how. The instructions are delivered in writing and verbally (as you would hope in a spelling game where the player may not read very well) and gameplay is accompanied throughout by a lively electronic soundtrack (think of Kraftwerk in Kindergarten) and various sound effects (ex. Puppy Dog enthusiastically pants when you get things right).
First time players will be asked to create a profile by entering a name of up to eight letters by using the stylus to tap out the letters on a simple alphabetically arranged "keyboard" on the lower touch screen of the DS. After choosing a save slot (there are three available, allowing for multiple players on the same DS) you are taken to a pictorial menu with four available games. Five more unique games - as well as tougher versions of the original four (described below) are eventually unlocked by playing through.
Each game follows a similar format. Successful completion of each task is met with various hearty praises (You're right!, Fantastic!, Good Answer! etc.). Failure is met with a subtle buzzer, however, you continue playing until you select the right option. After around five turns (it varies from game to game) the game ends and the player is rewarded according to their accuracy.
For instance, five correct first time answers nets a gold star, four gets a silver star, and three gets a bronze star. In the earlier games, there doesn't seem to be a time penalty - the emphasis is on getting it correct rather than finishing quickly. However, in the harder versions, both speed and accuracy seem to count toward the final star rating, although the speed is not timed in any obvious way.
THE STARTING MINI-GAMES
> Capital Fish (Three available levels)
The player is asked to select the capital letter that corresponds to the lower case letter shown on the upper screen. The letter appears on one of a number of coloured fish that swim across the interactive bottom screen and all you have to do is touch the correct one. A very helpful touch is that, to help non-readers, the Puppy Dog speaks the letter phonetically rather than just state its name (ex. "E" is pronounced "eh" rather than "ee").
At higher levels, the number of fish swimming around significantly increases, as does the number of times you have to find the correct letter. The lower screen can get quite crowded at a higher level, and with some fish swimming behind and/or obscured by others, it can be something of a challenge to find then all.
> Star Words (Three available levels)
You have to find the word on the lower touch screen that starts with the letter(s) displayed within the star on the upper screen. The player is given four choices with the words varying in length. In the early stages, the words are no more than four letters long, but as the player moves up the levels, the words get longer (up to eight letters) and the player is asked to identify words that start or end with two letters rather than one, making it much more challenging.
> Shape Up/Puppy Dog's Pencil (One level each)
This is a simple tracing game. A line or circle is drawn in a random direction on the bottom screen by the computer. The line then fades and the player has to trace over it using the stylus. A directional arrow stays on screen to provide some guidance, however, a fair bit of precision is required, which may frustrate less patient kids. Puppy Dog's Pencil is the more advanced version (unlocked when you get a gold star in Shape Up) which concentrates on drawing more complex letters (such as X, T, R) rather than lines and circles.
> Flying Letters (Three available levels)
The top screen displays a word with a missing letter alongside a pictorial representation of the word. Puppy Dog also reads out the word. The lower screen has flying butterflies, each carrying a letter and the player has to chose the letter(s) that complete the offered word correctly. Although the same words appear fairly often, the missing letter(s) change from game to game, so it doesn't get too repetitive. At more advanced levels the displayed word will have two or more missing letters and much longer words.
THE UNLOCKABLE MINI-GAMES
> Alphabet Sheep (Three available levels)
The player is asked to identify the letter of the alphabet that follows the one displayed on the sheep on the top screen. A number of sheep bound onto the lower screen bearing letters and the player simply selects the correct one. On more advanced levels, the player is asked to identify the letter that appears between two others (ex. "A" and "C") in the alphabet, and it gets more challenging still when the gap between the letters is widened (ex. "B" and "F") to allow more room for error.
> Spelling Bee (Three available levels)
The top screen displays a picture representing a word, which Puppy Dog also repeats verbally. The player then uses the a QWERTY keyboard on the lower screen to spell out the word. On the most basic level, the correct letters are already highlighted - the child simply has to get them in the right order.
As it gets progressively harder, the words get longer, the pictures eventually disappear, the whole keyboard (not just the right letters) becomes available, and then finally, only a cryptic clue as to the word is given (ex. For the word "tie", Puppy Dog will say the word, but the screen will display "something you wear with a shirt" instead of a picture).
This is the hardest game in the collection without doubt. The touch screen is quite sensitive and you only get one shot at getting it right - you can't go back and change letters if you realise you've made a mistake halfway through "kangaroo" for instance. That's a shame, as it can get quite frustrating if you accidentally press a letter twice. It would have been better if there was a way to make changes and then "enter" the word, but I suppose the developers had to find the right balance between simplicity for its young target audience and overall playability.
> My ABC (One available level)
This is a simple repetition and memory game which helps young players familiarise themselves with the alphabet. Puppy Dog states a series of connected letters in the alphabet in strings of three or four (to start with) -i.e. "a-b-c" - which then appear in the order spoken on the bottom screen, and the player taps them in the right sequence with the stylus. There is only one level, but the game remembers the players previous achievements and "intelligently" makes the strings longer the more the game is played.
> Duck Parade (Two available levels)
Two ducks appear on the bottom screen and the player must touch the correct spelling of a word. The word is neither spoken nor represented pictorially, which makes this quite a challenging game - and almost impossible for kids who have never seen the word before. The higher level simply introduces a third duck (and therefore three variations of the same word).
> Odd-One Owl (One available level)
This the very last game that can be unlocked and is a subtle variation on "Duck Parade". The player is presented with three different words, and is asked to choose the one that is spelled correctly. As with its related min-game, "Duck Parade" there is no pictorial representation of the word, so the player will have to be familiar with the words being presented. There is no teaching element per se, so it's more suited to reinforcing existing learning rather than as a way to teach new words.
At the bottom of the mini-game menu screen, there is a sticker book icon. Touching it takes you to the game's "Sticker Book" where the player can keep track of the number of stars of each kind they have achieved. In addition, playing and re-playing the mini-games earns the player stickers - representing letters, pictures or words - in various categories (such as "what to wear", "garden", "school", "colours" etc.)
Unfortunately, there does not seem to be a specific way to earn these - they are awarded frequently but randomly as you play along. The idea is to encourage re-play, but given that accumulating them doesn't seem to unlock anything, or reward the player with anything other than the satisfaction of completing the book, it seems a bit pointless. My daughter has certainly not shown any particular excitement or inclination to collect the three hundred or so available!
The graphics are simple but effective, although at times, it can be hard to tell what a picture is supposed to be if you can't read the words. The colours and pictorial representations could have been bigger, bolder and more distinct to avoid ambiguity. The sound effects and repetitive soundtrack can also be quite grating for adults, although my daughter has never complained about them. That said, it would have been simple to either offer a varied soundtrack from the outset, or work in a way for the player to "earn" and unlock new ones.
The games themselves are well designed and thought through. The whole game is controlled with the DS stylus, making it simple for young children to play. There is a fine line between challenging and frustrating game play but this title seems to strike a good balance between the two. If anything, the relatively narrow age band suggested for this title on the conservative side, as - at least in my view - the latter stages of the game could easily tax the reading abilities of a six year old.
Children will get a sense of achievement through the good (if slightly limited) reward system and continual positive encouragement. The escalating level of difficulty allows the game to intelligently grow with my daughter's developing skill and learning. Above all, it has taken the pain out of getting her to practice her spelling and writing, mainly by making it seem like fun rather than "school".
On the down-side, the penmanship games take a pretty steady hand, which, given the confines of the screen, the stylus and the DS's primary purpose as an ultra-portable handheld games machine, don't make for a particularly successful combination. The accuracy required is fairly high, so it is a mini-game best played on a flat surface (i.e. not a moving car!).
All in all, this developmental spelling game has proved both an excellent learning tool and great value for money. Each of the mini-games has something useful to offer, but, as with any collection, some are far better than others.
However, the game does have some niggling faults, with the main criticism being that at higher levels, there is less teaching and more reinforcement, with the game assuming a certain level of learning. That said, it is very likely that a player will have seen the words used in the more challenging levels when playing the more basic and developmental games, especially as there is a limited lexicon of 300 words used throughout and a fair bit of repetition.
My daughter will happily dip in and out of this title fifteen minutes at a time, playing a few games, earning a few stars and stickers and then moving on to something else. The fact that she still retains an interest in it almost three months after she received it speaks volumes for its longevity and variety. In conclusion, to answer my own question, despite some of the minor niggles with one or two of the mini-games, my confidence in 505 Games stand-out "I Did It Mum" series seems very well placed.
© Hishyeness 2010
Summary: A great spelling and writing game for pre-schoolers.
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