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In the last six months or so Little Man has shown a real interest in my Nintendo DS. Initially he was quite happy pressing the buttons and pretending to play, but recently he has got savvier to technology, and after he wiped my Zelda file that I had been working on for ages it seemed to be time to get him some games of his own!
As he is obsessed with all things Thomas, I decided to get him Thomas and Friends Hero of the Rails game. He loves the film that the game has been based on, so it seemed to be the best choice. The game is suitable for ages 3+ so it seemed to be perfectly suited to Little Man.
When you load the game in the DS it comes up with the Hero of the Rails logo, and plays the Go, Go Thomas song which seems to have become a bit of an anthem in our house! You have the option of choosing the Story Mode or Games Mode.
Story Mode is made up of 8 chapters which play out the Hero of the Rails story. The story is read by Michael Angelis, the narrator of the television programme, accompanied by still pictures from the film. Each chapter has a couple of mini games built in, which breaks up the story nicely, and each chapter is less than 5 minutes long (depending on how long it takes you to complete each mini game). The whole story lasts less than half an hour, but you can work through it a chapter at a time so you don't have to sit and watch the whole thing in one go. At the end of each chapter you are returned to the menu so you can choose whether or not to continue. Sometimes Little Man will sit and work through the whole thing, and at other times he will cherry pick his favourites chapters.
The Games Mode is made up of 8 mini games based on the ones scattered throughout the story, although some are played out with different characters. The games are all played with the stylus, which is great for us as Little Man seems to struggle with using the D-Pad, but is quite good with the stick as he calls it (even if he has lost half a dozen since he started playing!). The games are:
Paint Thomas: Paint a grey Thomas by scribbling with the stylus completely filling him in with blue paint, then do the same thing again only with polish to make him shine. A very simple game than Little Man really Likes.
Percy and Thomas race: Make Thomas race Percy by using the stylus to draw circles on the bottom screen as quickly and evenly as possible. You can see the two engines on the top screen so you can track who is winning. Little Man struggles a little bit with this one, which I think is a combination of getting distracted by the action on the top screen and finding it quite difficult to draw even rhythmic circles on the bottom one.
Wash Thomas - Very similar to Paint Thomas, only this time you have 3 rounds of scribbling over Thomas' body applying soap, water and then drying him off. Little Man loves this one, especially when he covers Thomas in bubbles.
Part Sorting: Help Victor by sorting out various train parts. The parts come along a conveyor belt and need to be placed in either the red, green or blue boxes depending on the colour of the part. This is Little Man's favourite mini game.
Match: 12 cards are placed face down and you need to use your memory to find the pairs of matching cards. I have really seen Little Man improve at this game going from frantically tapping the cards randomly to methodically looking for the pairs.
Shunt: Draw circles on the bottom screen at the right speed to shunt the truck into the lit box outside the shed. This is the most difficult of the mini games, and I struggle to get this one right. This is not really a favourite.
Snap: As the title suggests, this is the card game where you tap the screen when you make a pair. This is another game that Little Man struggled with initially, but is now playing like a pro, and has given him an interest in the actual card game too which is great.
Fix Hiro: Drag the part to the right place on Hiro and then hold each piece down to weld the piece on. This is another of Little Man's favourites as he loves to pretend he is fixing his toy engines.
Although the game is never going to win any awards for great graphics, they are definitely adequate for the game. The stills and moving footage are on par with an episode of Thomas and the games are simple so do not require any special effects. The sound is good, with no distortion at any point.
I really recommend this game. Although it is quite simplistic, it seems to be at a perfect level for Little Man, and I have seen lots of improvement in his concentration and hand eye coordination since we have started playing the game. I only let him play on it for a maximum of 30 minutes which is the whole story, but he rarely plays it for that long in one sitting unless he is playing in the car, as he normally likes to go off and get a few trains and do play out his own scenes with them! He does not seem to have tired of the game at all yet even after a few months, although I would say it has a limited shelf life as it does get quite repetitive. However, as he is still at the age where he can watch the same thing over and over, I can't see him tiring of this anytime soon!
I got our copy from Amazon for £12.99 delivered as I had some vouchers, but I believe you can pick up a used copy quite cheaply from places like Game or Ebay.
My parents are very generous with my children when it comes to buying them gifts, particularly at Christmas time. They bought my youngest son a Nintendo DS console, and one of the games that came from Santa was Thomas: Hero of the Rails, which is appropriate for children of 3 plus due to ease of playing and also content.
At Christmas my son was only 2 and a half, but this game appealed to him immediately as he is aware of the Thomas branding, and he liked that he was able to get on with this game on his own.
It is not the best game i have ever seen in my adult opinion, but it is ok for a younger DS audience who are just learning how to use the console, and in particular the stylus, which is pretty essential for this game.
The game is split into 2 sections. Part one is a story based adventure, and Part Two is a series of 8 games for the child to play.
My children definitely prefer the games section, and in fact rarely bother with the story based section as i think it is a little long winded and boring for them, so for the purpose of the review, i will start by explaining the games section. I will do this in detail because these games also appear in the story section, so it will help that part of the review make more sense.
Game One: Thomas needs a new coat of blue paint. Use the stylus to go over all of his body, and then when you have painted him, the icon changes to a cloth. You then must polish every bit of him to get a shiny engine.
Game Two: Thomas and Percy have a race. On the bottom screen of the DS is wheel. You must use the stylus to draw around the circumference of the wheel. The faster you go, the faster Thomas goes, and the music gets faster too. You can also toot Thomas's whistle. This is actually a very hard game for a small child so i have had a lot of practice at it.
Game Three: Thomas is dirty and you need to wash him. This game is fairly similar to the first game in that you must use the stylus to go over all of Thomas's coat. First cover him in bubbles, then squirt them off with water. Finally dry Thomas.
Game Four: This is a colour matching game. Items go along a conveyor belt, and there are three coloured boxes; blue, red and green. Match the objects colour to a box.
Game 5: Pairs. This is a game most adults will be familiar with. There are 12 cards turned upside down. Turn over two at a time to try and find a match. This is excellent for making small kids concentrate, and i was amazed that my boy could do it at the age of 2.
Game 6: Shunt - You are again using a wheel on the bottom screen to help Thomas push a truck along, trying to get him to end up in an exact spot on the top screen. Even as an adult, this particular game is tricky so it is not that popular with either of my children.
Game 7: Snap - On the top screen 2 cards are turned over to show pictures of 2 of the engines. When you see two of the same, press the large snap button on the bottom screen. I am not convinced myself by this game. While it works fine, my two have a tendency to just press snap every time. Also if you keep your finger or the stylus on the snap button without moving it then you will get every snap without trying.
Game 8: Fix the engine - There is a broken engine. You have to move the part on the screen to where it needs to be put, and then draw round it or stroke your pen on it, and the part is welded to the engine. There are 3 parts that need to be fixed.
The story mode is quite nice in my opinion and also true to what children would see on an animated cartoon. The screen switches between different pictures while a male narrator with a Liverpudlian accent tells the story.
The story is broken into 8 chapters which you access on the screen so you can do them all in one go, or just one part.
Each chapter also has 2 or 3 of the games from the games section but this time slightly changed to fit the context of the story. Altogether it takes about 25 minutes to work through all 8 chapters in one go, which is a bit too long for most children.
The plotline is that Thomas discovers an abandoned and broken engine called Hero. Hero is scared he will be scrapped if anyone finds him, so Thomas decides to help him by finding parts for Hero. The only trouble is, they are trying to keep it a secret from Spencer as they are worried he will tell the Fat controller and Hero will instead be melted down.
The story is ok, but by adding in all these little games it starts to get a bit repetitive. My littlest boy actually says he is fed up now and wants to go onto the games section.
In terms of graphics, i can't fault this game. There are a good selection of their favourite engines. Thomas, Percy, Gordon, James, Mavis and Spencer, as well as the new engine Hero. When you are moving the engines around the island of Sodor to the different locations, the scenery is interesting and relevant to that point of the story. Eg, the docks, the quarry, the repair shed.
The music does begin to grate during the story. There is a lot of repetition of the game where you make an engine move, and although it is a different engine and a different whistle sound, the music is the same, and it gets into my head and sticks there.
This game is good for helping a small child get used to how a DS works with a stylus, and the content is appropriate, but it does get a bit samey. If your child plays with this for more than a few minutes at a time, then i would be surprised.
It is a game they keep going back to, but it will not have an appeal for very long because it is an easy game and Thomas is definitely aimed at the pre-school market.
I am glad we have a copy as it has helped my son develop his skills so he can tackle harder games, and holding the stylus will no doubt help him when he comes to learning how to hold a pencil for writing. However, i do wince a bit when they get it out to play with and the inevitable cry of 'Mummy, make Thomas move please' is only a minute behind.