Learning a foreign language is hard work. There are gendered nouns, verb conjugation, sentence structure, idiosyncratic phrasing, funky pronunciation and, of course, seemingly countless words to memorize. There are ways to facilitate the travail, but beyond the most basic education, playing a game isn't one. Maybe the titular travellers should have learned this when they went to Spain, but instead they've returned to DSiWare with the exact same flaws as before.
4 TRAVELLERS – Play French is the perfect game for a family that's going on a holiday to the land of romance and crepes and bringing children who are much more likely to play their DSi than you are to study your pocket translation booklet. They won't learn how to order a glass of water, but at least they'll be able to say "serveur" and "eau."
The educational basis is the flashcard method. You'll learn words and a few simple phrases by studying the original and its translation, along with a vocal recording of the French version. These are sorted in 18 different sets, all of which seem geared towards the tourist. There's over 240 total, but still with plenty of limitations; while the game included a large sampling of common words, there were still plenty that we never encountered. And if you're at a restaurant, there's six relevant categories (table, food, drinks, fruits, restaurant, meals), so which do you use? The developers also split them up into three difficulty levels, but there really doesn't seem to be much of a difference between the medium and hardest sets.
The cards themselves are also quite limited in their usefulness. To learn French, or any Romance language for that matter, you'll have to know the gender of each noun. It's the only way to know how to properly use it in a sentence. You will not do so here, nor will you learn any etymological or structural tips. You're pretty much at sea.
There are three modes: Board Game, Word Quiz and Mega Quiz. The second involves picking a category, viewing about four or five flashcards and then a passing the test of a French person giving you an English word for which you're to type the translation. There are no hints or concessions for slight errors, however, which could frustrate beginners. The third removes the preparatory stage and throws you right in as you see how far you can get, progressing through the quiz one category at a time. There are achievements to earn, somewhat extending the replay value.
The first mode is the main draw, and it's pretty average. No one should come into an educational game for fun alone, of course, so we won’t bore you with the intricacies or gameplay features suffice to say that you move a figure about a board with die rolls. Certain tiles have different effects, though there’s never anything that really stands out. The goal is to buy items using coins that you earn by making friends, which you accomplish by translating words in the same method used in the other modes’ quizzes. However, after you befriend someone, you’ll get a steady flow of currency and winning becomes a piece of cake. Additionally, certain squares basically reward you coins for no reason – in fact, the instruction manual introduces them as tiles that you can use "if you don't feel like learning." You'll encounter a very basic subset of the larger database of words in each match, and because of the ease in accumulating coinage, you're not even encouraged to learn them. Overall, it’s a very generic board game and an extremely inefficient way of conquering a language.
The dull presentation is a definite drawback. Instructions are sparse and somewhat oblique, making a read-through of the manual a must. After you've done so it's not difficult to understand, but at first you'll feel like you're awkwardly playing a physical board game, complete with a complicated how-to booklet. The beauty of doing something like this on a video game system is that a developer can elucidate any complex progress by walking you through it, utilising fun animations or, well, almost anything. Here, however, the advantages of the DS seem quite neglected.
The MS-DOS-esque font and the complete lack of a soundtrack make immersing oneself in this program a tough experience, even if it’s less a game than an educational tool. There's a few sound effects here and there, and the potential friends' monosyllabic reactions to your translations are quite amusing, but overall this area is a letdown. Finally, the flashcards themselves are about as simple as they could get. There's no illustrations, hints, tips, or much of anything at all to expedite the learning process. The spoken words, however, are quite helpful.
The game just gives the feeling that something's gone wrong upstairs. Here's one last example to illustrate this – there are three language options: English, Spanish and French. Surely, you think, using the latter means that you'll have to type in English translations instead of vice versa. No. Your goal is to translate the French word into French... as in, just re-type the word that the game already provided. It's just confusing that no one realised how pointless this is, and it's far from the only lack of logic you'll experience in 4 Travellers.
Play French is barely educational and only mildly fun. Use it to learn enough words to get by while visiting a French-speaking country. Want to actually learn the language? Take a class instead. While not downright awful, it's far too expensive at 800 points. Why not just buy a translation booklet? It would be much simpler to navigate and have all the same positives, if not more. Hearing the words spoken out loud is helpful, but not enough to recommend this cheap and basic word book.