Children’s games and WiiWare – a coupling that hasn’t really been explored. Well, that was the case until Lexis Numérique released Learning With the PooYoos Episode 1 on the WiiWare service. Designed for children between the ages of 3-6, this game set out to captivate the minds of the youngest gamers, but did it succeed?
The first thing that struck us when learning with the PooYoos first loaded up was just how sharp it looks. Now, we know there is not a lot going on in this title, but the standards of appearances are simply fantastic. This is exactly the sort of vibrancy and colour that appeals to the target audience, and even those younger. In fact, insofar as appearances go, this is to a much higher standard than a lot of the TV shows aimed at this audience. By the same token, the audio narration in the game is of high quality; likewise is the soundtrack, which is full of catchy music (especially the bit where you dance with the rabbits!)
Probably the biggest mistake Lexis Numérique could have made when crafting the PooYoos experience would have been to make this more of a game than a piece of children’s entertainment; in the 3’s-6’s age group there are very few budding young gamers out there, and thus many games are rendered unplayable by children. Thankfully, they’ve avoided this trap. What has been done to achieve this is that the level of interaction required has been brought down significantly when compared to your conventional console game. That’s not to say the game is not engaging and doesn’t encourage activity, it’s just that a lot of the actions aren’t essential, or at least require only loosely accurate moves.
Obviously the episodic content of this title (and the fact that it only costs 500 points) means that there’s not an overly exhaustive amount of content here. There are two themes in episode 1: water and air. Water features an elephant as the playable character; land, a rabbit. Each of these themes consists of three activities: water has a balloon popping game, a dance and a sailing boat trip; air has a cloud shape-matching game, a different dance and a hot air balloon ride. Both sets of activities will take the child around 15 minutes here, so we essentially have 30 minutes of content; however, children have the desire to want to play things over and over, so longevity in terms of the 500 points-worth shouldn’t be viewed as an issue.
As previously mentioned, learning with the PooYoos has a control set designed for children, so is easy to get to grips with; although you can choose between ‘little’ and ‘big’ PooYoo, which does affect the complexity of controls. If you had one of the younger gamers playing this one, you’d set it to little PooYoo so that the actions required are minimalistic, but if you wanted it to be more challenging, you’d set it to big PooYoo – e.g. in the bubble pop game, all a little PooYoo needs to is shake the Wiimote, but in the big PooYoo game, you must point at the bubbles and press . Essentially, it is this and the cloud game where there is any significant difference between the control difficulties – the dancing and balloon/boat ride games do not actually require any actions; various on-screen effects are caused by the actions (confetti falls when shaking the Wiimote, and different objects appear on-screen when pressing buttons), but none are essential. Ideally, this is the sort of game you’d want to play with the child – helping them and joining in with the activities (the game insists you dance with the PooYoos) for a truly rewarding experience.
The three activities in each theme are repeated a few times during each playthough (which, considering the target audience here, is pretty ideal), and during the breaks inbetween he learning aspect of the game kicks in through a series of questions (what colour were the bubbles? How many PooYoos were dancing? What colour is the cloud?) These are nice additions, and we can see how they could facilitate learning, but after playing through the episodes a few times, we noticed that the events in the game follow a predetermined path: the bubbles will always be green, there will always be three PooYoos and the clouds are always white. A more random system of generating what is learnt would have probably made it feel less like Distractions with the PooYoos.
Learning with the PooYoos Episode 1 is a strong step in the right direction for children’s titles. The visuals are truly fantastic, the characters are something that most kids (and adults, for that matter) will find eminently likeable, and the audio is of a very decent quality. With 30 minutes of content, this title will rely a lot of the child’s enjoyment of repetition, but the same can be said about most TV shows. The only true fault we can find here is that the learning aspect of the title is weak; with a few select words being taught and no variety each time through, there’s not that much capacity for the audience to learn. Nevertheless, this is a strong step in the right direction, and a title the developers should be proud of. With further episodic content on the way, a few tweaks here and there could make the PooYoos a breakthrough in the children’s market. A good investment for 500 points if you’ve got the right audience for it.