Tivola’s campaign to help young DSi owners master the English language has reached its finale, with Successfully Learning English: Year 5 bringing the series to a close. It’s time to pack up your pencil cases, give the teacher a farewell gift – if you’re a gold-star student – and take your new English language skills into the big, bad world.
For those who have followed every academic year in this series, this being the fourth entry, then this particular classroom will be getting particularly boring. Once again, continuity is maintained with this edition featuring the same layout, categories and teacher. Pupils must earn their gold stars in order to have play time in the title's Bonus Game, at least fostering a sense of reward for their efforts. It is the same strategy that was employed in previous entries, and is a sound 'edutainment' idea.
Every aspect of this title can be controlled with the stylus, ensuring that it is a simple, intuitive experience. Regular attendees of the Successfully Learning School will already know the ten categories that are on offer, two examples being ‘At School’ and ‘Around the Year’. Overall, there is enough diversity, with two exercises per category, to keep students busy for a good length of time. The exercises follow the same methodology as the Successfully Learning English: Year 4 entry: phrases are matched to illustrations, some deductive thinking is required, and sentences need to be completed accurately. The level of difficulty is slightly increased, but it is a fairly minor advance in the curriculum. As a whole, it does its job of introducing new words and phrases in a reasonably thorough manner.
The content of the exercises has a couple of quirky moments, though on the whole stays relevant to a modern day child. Some of the illustrations will raise a smile, particularly in the ‘Animals’ category; one example is the ‘walking bear’ image, in which a happy teddy bear is strolling through the woods. It’s safe to say that images like this should not be taken literally by young students, but are humorous enough. Modern trends in communicating with friends are included, with exercises making references to emailing and messaging chums with plenty of ‘smilies’. If any powerful executives from social networking sites are reading, there hasn’t been any product placement, so no need to bombard developers Tivola with lawsuits.
As suggested earlier, the primary mechanic for encouraging students to learn, and score well, is the promise of play-time in the title’s Bonus Game. The best performance earns three stars and four minutes of play, while collecting thirty stars allows unlimited play-time. Unfortunately, the reward for achievement is not worth your efforts. Whereas previous entries in the series produced a simplified clone of an old-school classic, the Bonus Game in this iteration is entirely different.
Your ‘character’ is a bouncing basketball with goggle eyes, and your goal is to stop the ball from falling off tiles, simply staying alive until the timer reaches zero. You control the direction of the ball by tapping the stylus on the ball via the touch screen, with each tap changing direction. Items appear that add more tiles for navigation, take tiles away, provide lives or add ‘opponent’ basketballs to the grid. There are many problems with this mini-game: the ‘opponent’ ball doesn’t chase you but rather falls to an immediate doom, the tempo of the action is slow, and the timer takes a long, long time to go down. In the case of the third level the timer disappears completely, meaning that you are left to play until the end of time with no actual objective. Previous Bonus Games in the series have been modest but serviceable distractions for students, but this entry is easily the worst. It is redundant and tedious, and a serious let-down to the overall package.
The presentation values for this entry are adequate. As we’ve come to expect in this series, the template is exactly the same, with a clear user interface that isn’t as vibrant or colourful as it could have been. Freddy the Vampire is the mute mascot once again, while a friendly woman’s voice guides students through the exercises. There is nothing wrong with the presentation as such, but it is a bland and uninspiring design.
Successfully Learning English: Year 5 shares many common traits with the series predecessors. Solid educational material is presented in a clear fashion with intuitive controls. Presentation is somewhat dull, but is not a game-breaker considering the goals of the title. Unfortunately, the Bonus Game is a disappointing and ill-advised inclusion, minimising the sense of reward for students and arguably taking away motivation to complete all of the exercises. As a result, this entry receives a lower grade than earlier years in the series, a damp squib of a final lesson.