After four entries in the Successfully Learning Mathematics WiiWare series, Tivola is now turning its attentions to studying English, and this time Freddy the Vampire flies – at night, of course – over to DSiWare instead. It’s time to start a new class, but will this help young gamers learn their ABCs?
Successfully Learning English: Year 2 follows the same basic principle as its WiiWare brethren. A number of exercises need to be completed by the pupil to gain the reward of some relaxing time with a bonus game. The concept of rewarding study with play-time is a good one, ensuring that children earn the right to access the fun on offer. It’s simple but effective.
The exercises themselves, as suggested by the title, target young children who are still learning the English language. Ten different themes are available to play through, each consisting of two sets of exercises with around thirty questions each. If an enthusiastic student completes every exercise they will answer in excess of six hundred questions. They are simple, quick queries, but that’s still quite a lot of content.
The themes available include subject matter divided into categories like "At School" and "Animals". The questions follow the same pattern in each exercise; a voice asks the student to identify an object, such as a rabbit, and once the correct picture is selected on the touch screen the student can move on. Questions also involve identifying the odd one out in five pictures, as well as colouring objects a specific hue. Although the same question types are used repeatedly, they encourage deductive skills as well as learning the language.
There is only one exercise where we feel the challenge is unfair on young learners, and that's the "At School" category. The book, folder and pencil case images all look very similar, meaning that even if you know the answer it’s difficult to get it right first time. Generally the pictures are clear enough to give the right answer, however. Hopefully Tivola will avoid instances like this will in follow-up titles.
In terms of challenge, this title finds a good balance. If the student's first three attempts are wrong, Freddy, on the top screen, will shake his head and show the answer. It’s a simple way for children to effectively learn the correct words for objects. The lack of a hint mechanism may bother some, but short of saying "furry animal with floppy ears," the system as it stands will indeed help young ones build their vocabularies. Like previous entries in the series, this awards up to three stars at the end of each exercise, also giving those who have done well more time in the bonus game – achieving thirty stars across all themes and exercises allows unlimited time here. It’s good incentive for the student to play through every theme and to achieve good scores.
There is only one bonus game, which is a letdown. Perhaps more disappointing is that it isn’t even a creative and fun way to continue learning. It is a clone of Snake – owners of some of the earliest mobile phones will recognise this immediately. You navigate the reptile around the screen to pick up, in this case, bags of fish and chips; each bag makes the snake longer, and you need to avoid hitting any walls or your own body. We don’t know why a snake would eat fish and chips, but that makes about as much sense as this choice of game. The main problem is that it controls far too stiffly to remain fun for long, and the experience is exacerbated by its overly simple execution and annoying background music. It seems out of place, gets old quick and is poorly executed.
Visually, the collection of simple images is for the most part well-drawn, though the overall presentation is bland and unexciting. We’ve highlighted the issue with some of the "school" pictures, but these are a minor blip. In terms of sound, the learner is treated to the patient voice of a female teacher during the exercises, the recordings generally clear and easy to understand. The voice does, however, make old Freddy the Vampire nothing but a picture in the top screen, rather than an actual educational aid. He plays no substantial role and you never hear him speak, which is a shame considering that a few messages of support from everyone’s favourite undead educator may have gone down well with young children. In our opinion, it’s an unfortunate oversight.
Successfully Learning English: Year 2, achieves its objective of teaching very young pupils the basics of the English language. It’s all simple and easy to follow, with lessons that teach vocabulary words as well as some skills in deduction. Unfortunately, the presentation is bland and the reward for doing well is a sloppily executed Snake mini-game. It may educate young learners but it'll likely fail to hold their attention.