Tivola’s series of edutainment titles keeps rolling on, Successfully Learning English: Year 4 representing the third entry in this particular DSiWare series. In our review of Successfully Learning English: Year 3, we observed that the classroom was unchanged from Year 2; does graduation to Year 4 bring exciting change or more of the same?
Well, dear students, you will once again be sitting in the same old classroom with the same old teacher. This is more than likely due to the close release schedule of each title in the series, and the identical appearance and structure throughout these games so far could be argued as either suitable for a consistent learning experience, or too repetitive. Whatever your viewpoint, this title's methodology of completing exercises one by one and unlocking play time in the Bonus Game does work well; the developer’s motto seems to be ‘if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it’.
Controls couldn’t be easier for the young target audience, with the learning exercises being navigated solely with the stylus. As before, there is a significant amount of content for students to work through. Ten categories with two exercises each amounts to well in excess of 600 questions. The categories remain the same, such as ‘At School’ and ‘Animals’, and the exercises demonstrate a genuine increase in difficulty. In addition to identifying correct images and items, students are required to complete sentences and fill in missing words. This is the first time that pupils have been asked to think about sentences, spelling and capital letters in this way, so there is a noticeable progression in the series’ curriculum.
While working through the exercises we did encounter a couple of categories and questions that may, unfairly, trip up young children. One particular instance was in the ‘Where I live’ category, which asks you to identify pictures of countries. The images show the land mass with a letter representing the country name, though when the instructor asks for ‘Spain’ and ‘Germany’, the correct pictures have ‘E’ for Espana, and ‘D’ for Deutschland. For pupils that haven’t yet learned a great deal of geography, this seems unfair. Another, more humorous, example is when the game asks you to select the picture of the ‘cassette player’. Being grizzly old gamers here at Nintendo Life we remember cassettes, but we believe that quite a few modern-day children won’t be able to identify a cassette tape any more than they would a Betamax. Time to update your educational material, Tivola!
Gold stars provide the incentive to perform well in exercises, with three stars representing the highest score. Strong performance equals more play time, while amassing thirty stars allows unlimited access to the Bonus Game. Continuing the retro feel of the title, the Bonus Game is a simplistic clone of a game that would have been found on, amongst other platforms, ZX Spectrum cassettes in the 1980s; Lode Runner. Controlling a policeman with the D-Pad, your job is to run around a small level collecting treasures. There are thieves trying to stop you, with your main methods of escape being ladders and a slightly clumsy jump with the A button. As well as treasure there are some items that, for example, make you temporarily invincible or give you an extra life. Once you amass enough treasure you can grab a key and move to the next level. This game may pose a bit of a challenge for young gamers, though with only three levels it isn’t particularly long. As a Bonus Game it is functional and relatively fun.
The overall presentation is the same as earlier titles in the series. As a result the menus are clear, but unexciting, while the Lode Runner style bonus game has particularly simplistic graphics. The same soothing female voice guides students through the exercises, so Freddy the Vampire is once again a mute mascot. A brighter and more interactive presentation would have lifted the overall experience for young pupils.
Despite the negative aspects, such as bland presentation and the occasional out-of-date exercise question, Successfully Learning English: Year 4 delivers what you would expect from the title. There is a noticeable increase in the complexity of the exercises, ensuring that pupils moving onto this new entry will learn new skills such as sentence structure and spelling. It’s just a shame that the developers haven’t been able to emphasize the entertainment part of edutainment.