Review: 4 TRAVELLERS: Play Spanish (DSiWare)

Demasiado aburrido para las palabras

Playing board games on a long trip is hard when the pieces tend to go flying at every pothole. Agenius Interactive's 4 TRAVELLERS – Play Spanish, however, promises travel-friendly fun for all ages as you learn over 240 different words in Spanish. By studying via the two quiz modes and playing the board game against friends or the CPU, the words you'll pick up have been specifically chosen for their potential for use while travelling abroad. The only problem you'll face is remaining interested in the game long enough to actually learn anything from it.

Though the Board Game feature is at the top of the list, you'll want to start with Word Quiz in order to familiarise yourself with what's going on. Choose from any one of 18 different categories, from numbers to words used at mealtime, and you'll be presented with a stack of flash cards to flip through, each showing you the word in English and Spanish, accompanied by a voice speaking it aloud. When you feel you've got the first set of words down, you're ready to Start Quiz, which puts you in front of what is supposed to be a native speaker of Spanish. He or she will give you the English versions of the words you just learned and will go down the line – randomising the list of words would have exercised your brainmeats a bit more, but there's no helping that now. You must use the on-screen keyboard to type in each word's Spanish counterpart, complete with accent marks when necessary. If you get the word right, the person on the top screen will smile and 'ooh' or 'aah' in encouragement, but if you get it wrong, they'll give you a look of confusion as you're shown the correct word and the one you input side-by-side for comparison. The quiz will continue until you reach the end of the pile of words you had been given, and if you got them all right, you'll earn a medal. Choose the same category again to see that more words have been unlocked for you to study and quiz yourself on. Each category has three medals to be earned, the gold signifying that you've mastered all that particular category has to teach you.

When you're comfortable with your skill in at least one category, it's time to try the Board Game. You can play against up to four other players or CPUs, though if you choose to play against other people you'll be trading off the DSi between you for each turn. Choose the category of words you'd each like to stick with, and you'll be presented with the board itself, a big figure-of-eight track laid out over a hotel. The goal in this mode is to talk to the five different characters residing in the hotel, typing out the Spanish counterparts to the English words you're given on the screen, and if you give them three correct answers, they'll become your friend, offering you coins and other bonuses. The coins are what's important, however, as they'll go toward the purchase of a camera, a passport and a suitcase; whichever player manages to buy all three first wins the game.

As you make your way around the track, you'll land on various coloured tiles. Some allow you to change the words you'll be asked for by prospective friends in case you're stuck, and others provide you the opportunity to earn extra coins, challenge your opponent or take shortcuts to other parts of the board. It's a simple enough board game – perhaps too simple – and the game will provide hints in between each move you make, but there's no tutorial, so be sure to read through the manual before giving it a try. Note that there's also no way to turn off the hints, so experienced players will have to live with the constant interruption.

Once you've earned yourself a few medals, played through the game a few times and are feeling confident in your Spanish skills, you might be ready to attempt the Mega Quiz. You're presented with every single Word Quiz back-to-back in random order, and the goal is to see how far you can get. You have three chances to make a mistake, and upon making the fourth you'll be taken to a results screen showing you how well you did. Mega Quiz mode would have been great if you were allowed to choose which categories you wanted to play through in which order, but as it stands, you'll have to master everything Word Quiz has to offer before you'll be able to get anywhere with Mega Quiz.

Agenius provided incentives for you to keep playing in the form of Achievements, but the ones for both Quiz modes are simply awarded for various levels of overall completion – they're redundant considering the medals and encouragement provided already. That said, the Achievements for Board Game mode add some challenge to the mix, though they still won't be enough to keep your interest for long. Your overall goal in this game is to have mastered all 241 available words, at which point you'll be on the same level as a two-year-old Spanish-speaking child, which helps to put things into perspective – Play Spanish is a somewhat interesting diversion, but in no way is this any kind of substitute for classes, study programs, or the total immersion method. You'll learn key words but won't be able to properly conjugate them or put them into sentences, and there's no way to use this game as a quick-reference dictionary, which really would have been useful.

Listening to the recorded voice as it says each Spanish word aloud is probably the best part of this game: in fact, it's the only advantage this game has over just buying or making yourself a set of flash cards. Other than the spoken words, there is no other background noise except for the light ticks that accompany each tap of the stylus on an available button and the occasional wordless sounds of approval or confusion from your prospective hotel-dwelling friends; if nothing else, at least the developers managed to keep their priorities firmly in place. To keep the focus on the words at hand, goofy-looking CG humans and icons reminiscent of The Sims are most of this game's visual fare. The fonts are crisp and clear, and the menus easy to understand and navigate with your stylus. As simple as it is, the visual theme works for what Agenius has tried to do here.

Conclusion

4 TRAVELLERS – Play Spanish is fun to mess around with at first but grows boring all too rapidly, and without something to keep you coming back, you won't be able to exercise what little knowledge you've gained. The novelty of being able to hear the words you're seeing on the in-game flash cards is great, but the lack of a quick-reference feature really hurts this game's usefulness during actual travel. Save your points for some actual games to play on the plane and pick up a travel dictionary from your local library if you're really interested in learning some useful Spanish terms and phrases.