It seems that Tivola is keen to make the humble DSi the definitive language learning tool of the 21st Century. Perhaps that is an exaggeration, but Successfully Learning German: Year 2 has arrived to help young German speakers improve their language skills. Freddy the Vampire returns as the series mascot, and we’re once again led back to the classroom.
The edutainment principles outlined in the Successfully Learning English series are carried over into this new title. In fact, the entire structure is almost identical, with the main interface itself the same except for the background colour. Pupils complete exercises, earn gold stars and, as a reward, receive play time in the title’s Bonus Game. It’s a simple idea, but a sensible approach nonetheless, assuming that the content is enough to motivate the pupil.
For the young students using this title, it is navigated very simply and intuitively with the stylus. With ten categories of two exercises each, there is plenty of material to work through; around 400 questions. Much like the WiiWare version, it is important to clarify the kind of exercises that this game contains. If you are planning to learn German as a second language, then this will be of no use to you. Just like the Successfully Learning English series that preceded this one, the goal is to help children develop skills and fluency in their first language.
With that in mind, it must be said that the exercises on offer work very well; categories such as ‘What Rhymes’ and ‘Word Building Blocks’ are valuable for improving basic understanding of the language. There is variety in the tasks, as you will not only use the stylus to identify words and phrases appropriate to an image or spoken word, but also more practical exercises such as identifying appropriate break points in sentences and which words should be capitalised. At no point is the process rushed, and the student will always have a couple of attempts before being shown the right answer. For young German children, or children elsewhere with a good starting knowledge of the language, these exercises have undoubted value.
The reward for achievement, and picking up those valued gold stars, is playtime in the Bonus Game, with 30 gold stars unlocking unlimited play time. In the English series these had a sketchy record, but it must be said that this entry is off on the right track. It’s a puzzle title, in which you have a grid of multi-coloured objects and the goal of removing items to clear the screen. If there are multiple matching items in a single row, a tap of the stylus will remove those objects and cause the relevant columns to drop down a row. The goal is to get every column below a blue line, and remove as many objects as possible once that goal is met; once no more items can be removed, you either progress to the next level or it is game over. With each subsequent level there are more varied items thrown into the mix, as well as the blue bar target getting much lower. Simply tapping objects at random will cause a quick demise, so it is necessary to approach with strategy. In fact, our record so far is level eight, so it is safe to say that children playing this game will feel challenged, and will have to develop their puzzle strategy skills.
The least successful part of this title is the presentation, which is a problem in a release that is supposed to encourage learning. The menus and user interface retain the same style as the English series, meaning that they are bland and unexciting. On top of that, Freddy is once again the quiet assistant in the background, nodding or shaking his head depending of the answer given. As a mascot for the series, he does very little, and reflects the overall approach to the presentation of the title; the bare minimum. It is all functional and intuitive, for which the developers deserve some credit, but it is unlikely to stimulate young pupils to learn.
Successfully Learning German: Year 2 is a good entry in Tivola’s edutainment series on DSiWare. In fact, due to the standard of the bonus game, it's the best in the series on this platform. In addition, the exercises are well executed and designed to improve a variety of areas in the young student’s language. The overall package is hindered by the relatively low quality of the presentation, which is lacking in colour and stimulation; Freddy does nothing interesting, and when this is combined with the flat feel of the menus, this title fails to grab attention. It's competent, but could do better.