Review: Did It Myself ABC123 (DSiWare)

Baby boon

Toddlers: they're everywhere. Don't believe us? Next time you're on a busy street, just play a little game that we like to call "Spot the Toddler". Some estimate that about 130 million babies are born every year, making them more popular than iPods! But these trendy tots are more than just a fashion statement. They need food, physical contact and, most importantly, downloadable video games. The DSiWare catalogue's been bereft of anything suitable for this milk-gulping market, but here comes Did It Myself ABC123 to fill the void and give it a good burping.

This mentally stimulating toy has everything that a child of about the age of two or three could want. It includes five activities corresponding to some of the more prominent preschool educational categories: letters, numbers, colours, music and drawing. It's wonderful that the developers included the latter two as many consider art and the fostering of creativity to be just as important as the more traditional basics.

The alphabet section displays a letter on the top screen, and you click the matching character below. Selecting a letter triggers a delightful soundbite of a child reciting it, and when you pick the correct one, it transforms into an animated object that proceeds out of view. You're able to pick just what this animated item is at the mini-game's beginning, so whether your child prefers cars, trains, horses, birds, fish or dinosaurs, there's something here for everyone.

The numbers game displays one of the above listed objects, again of your choosing, travelling in a group across the touch screen. An amount of outlines decorate the top portion; you click these objects, thus filling the latter, each time with another cute recording of a child saying the number. You're able to alter the highest numeral that the game is allowed to count to on a scale of one to ten, so you can adjust for your own child's particular skill level. The colours game operates almost identically, requiring the child to identify the correct object for reward.

The music function displays a single octave xylophone, complete with the corresponding letter of the music scale written on each bar. The top screen displays a music scale on which each note appears in the colour of the key. There's an option to play freely, the symbols appearing on the top as you utilise them, or to tap along with one of five common children's songs.

Drawing mode allows you to paint with the stylus, using the directional pad to pick your colour and brush size. You're limited to a circular brush, nine hues and eight spans, and your paints overlap each other like watercolours. After your child is finished, he or she can export their creation to the DSi Photo Album.

The presentation is spectacular, with bright, attractive colours and a smooth, charming style of illustration similar to that of a children's book. The music is pleasant and catchy, though it only plays on the menu screens. Transitions from one thing to the next run smoothly and quickly, squeezing in the charm without delaying the fun. The sound effects are delightful, including the array of vocal samples and those that accompany the object sets utilised in the letters, numbers and colours exercises – honking cars, growling dinosaurs and the like. These you can play repeatedly to your heart's content, as toddlers are prone to do, by pressing A, B, X or Y.

Navigation's a cinch here, with each game represented on the menu by an image rather than a title and the ability to exit any activity at any time by pressing Start or Select. You can either play these one at a time or mixed together in Shuffle mode, which definitely comes in handy – we even caught ourselves having a bit of a hard time putting it down as it smartly switched from one activity to the next. You're also able to customise the amount of rounds per game, games per shuffle, and general speed (slow, medium, fast or ridiculous).

We did find that the programme had some flaws, however. There's no way to up the ante in the colour game so that the square on which the name is printed does not match the hue itself, and while hearing it spoken out loud, we felt that more could be gained by this challenge. For example, "orange" will always come on an orange card, and so on, which is fine for the very youngest, but it would be nice to have the option of switching it up for more advanced learners. It would also add a level of quality to the letter game if it included a picture of something that begins with the character rather than the character by itself. We're not saying that this method is flawed as it would still benefit the target audience, one that barely knows what a letter is, but the option would still be welcome. There's also no way to learn from this game the order of the alphabet. Finally, the painting mode is fun but could stand to gain from an added bit of complexity.

Conclusion

This program is the next best thing to Sesame Street that you can get for 200 DSi Points. While slightly limited in some areas, it includes a great amount of simple, fun activities that any toddler could enjoy, presented in an attractive and entertaining style.