Successfully Learning German: Year 4 has arrived, looming on the DSiWare landscape with a sense of inevitability. The decision by Tivola to convert a retail release into multiple downloads means that fans of edutainment titles have been spending a lot of money on their DSi. Moving on from Year 3, Freddy the Vampire pledges to help young student continue their education in the German language in a fun way; an oft-repeated promise.
For those who have played any of the six preceding Successfully Learning titles on DSiWare, the overall setup and presentation is exactly the same. Work through exercises, strive for gold stars and ‘play time’, and unwind in the bonus game once the work has been done. Work and reward is a sensible approach for education software, and this entry maintains this tactic effectively.
As before, navigation of the title is done with the stylus, and on the whole it is easy and intuitive. Some exercises necessitate dragging boxes, while most of the time the pupil only needs to tap on relevant areas; it all works just fine. It is just as well that the controls are competent, as this particular entry is one of the most comprehensive, with one exercise including over 60 questions. There are easily over 600 questions on offer, and students working through every exercise will be working for a long time. There is also a noticeable step up in the level of challenge, befitting the fact that pupils should be a year older than for the last instalment. As a result, children who are too young or those for whom German is not their first language may become unstuck.
For those who do have the required grasp of the language, there are a number of useful lessons to be learnt. Categories include the easier exercises such as ‘Punctuation marks are important’, where the correct punctuation should be selected for sentences both on the screen and in audio clips. On the other end of the scale there is the snappily titled ‘This is how I keep getting better’, a category that focuses on grammatical understanding of the language. Questions such as ‘Which two comparatives belong with the adjective’ may confuse some pupils, so parents beware. Overall, the exercises cover a wide range of skills and areas important to improving language skills, and certainly represent a higher level of learning than the earlier series entries.
The Bonus Game, as always, is an important part of the package. As a reward for hard work the pupil receives play time, and the included game is another reasonably good puzzle challenge. You take control of a ball in a maze, with the objective of navigating your way to a portal and progressing to the next level. Although movements can be made with a swipe of the stylus, it is far more responsive to use the d-pad. Movements need to be planned so that you direct the ball into walls, and avoid pitfalls and gaps in the maze. As the levels progress the mazes become more intricate and additional dangers and aids are brought into play. At the beginning seven levels are available, with a steady progression in difficulty. With each crown achievement, requiring golden stars from the exercises, there are seven additional levels. That means 28 levels overall, a decent total and plenty of incentive for the pupil.
As stated earlier, the origination of this series as a bundled retail pack means that the presentation across the titles is practically identical. As a result, the same complaints from earlier reviews must be repeated here. The menus and user interface are bland and unexciting while the series mascot, Freddie, is devoid of any significant input. This lack of interactivity is a missed opportunity, as the experience would be lifted with a more dynamic and interesting mascot and interface. Sound is generally fine, though spoken audio clips can be difficult to hear properly without the use of headphones.
Successfully Learning German: Year 4 continues the trend of providing a competent edutainment experience. Positives include the volume of educational content, as well as a thoroughly decent bonus game. On the downside, this entry and the franchise as a whole suffer from dull and uninspiring presentation, which would be better served with an active Freddy the Vampire mascot and a more colourful, dynamic user interface. On the whole, it gets the job done, but won’t win any teacher of the year awards.