A good pocket translator can cost hundreds of dollars, so it's no surprise that some smart software studios would see an incentive in offering DSi and 3DS owners an affordable alternative. So far we've only seen the average 4 TRAVELLERS – Play Spanish on the service, so it's good to see a challenger appear. But is this a helpful introduction to a beautiful language and culture, or will it just give you Montezuma's Revenge?
Let's get the important bits out of the way first: both this and 4 TRAVELLERS are primarily intended to give you a basic understanding of the language through building your vocabulary, but while the competition features around 240 words, this includes over 700. That alone makes this the better choice as they're even in some other areas – for instance, both succumb to the stupendous flaw of barely focusing on word gender or verb conjugation. The previous game has the advantage of at least showing you the accompanying article when quizzing you on individual nouns, whereas here you'll have to go without. Still, this includes plenty of phrases and conversations to learn as well, so you won't find yourself completely at sea when trying to put a sentence together. Neither title is intended to teach more than a tourist or beginning Spanish student would need, though, so don't expect to come out of either with the ability to pass as a native.
From the main menu, you can access Common Places, Everyday Language and Family Album, each of which let you play in either Learn or Play Mode and contain a number of subcategories. The first option shows you one of six settings, such as a doctor's office or a restaurant, generally full of people interacting with each other, frozen in time. Everyday Language switches from settings to groups of illustrations and lists of phrases about them in nine categories, and Family Album has you look at photos of four different families to learn words like "madre," "hermana" and so forth.
Learn Mode lets you either click on objects to see the English word and its Spanish equivalent or, in Common Places, switch over to click on people and see bits of conversation in both languages, allowing you to continuously tap again for different examples. Everything is said aloud in Spanish, an extremely helpful feature, and you can also press a button to have the speaker read through every sample without your having to click between them. Play Mode gives you a word in Spanish and three tries to click on the corresponding object or person, deducting and adding points to a tally that the game keeps track of in one of four save files. There are no individual leaderboards for each mode, just the one score record, which is just as well as this will keep you in mind of how you're doing overall.
One big advantage that this has over 4 TRAVELLERS is the fact that you actually see the object as you learn the corresponding word, which helps immensely in language learning. But Play & Learn suffers from a few problems of its own – the phrases under Everyday Language come in a list enumerated "Phrase 1," "Phrase 2" and so forth, whereas actually seeing some clue of the content before clicking would make this immensely more practical as a tool for translation on the go. The conversation bits in Common Places suffer a similar problem: if you're after a specific sentence, you must tap through until you find the one for which you're searching. The Family Photo section is also nearly useless in Game Mode as there's no way to tell the difference between the "hermana," (sister) "chica," (girl) "hija" (daughter) and so forth. Also, when you make three mistakes in a row in this mode, the game simply shows you the object you should have clicked on without letting you know the English translation; when a hand gripping a wad of cash is supposed to represent "loan," this small oversight goes a long way.
Besides that, the game has a serviceable presentation with settings that are easy on the eye, simple animations and menu controls that are a bit on the cryptic side at first. Additionally, when you click on an object the game attempts to centre it on the screen, but it almost always does a poor job of it, generally arranging it correctly vertically but not horizontally. The speech samples are easy to understand and at a good enough pace to tell the words apart, though there is no option to make them play more slowly if you're having trouble.
Play & Learn Spanish includes over 700 words and phrases and an easy way to study them, making a good tool for beginning learners or tourists, though it's let down in a number of other areas including the very big oversight of not including gendered articles for vocabulary words. It's a better option than its counterpart, 4 TRAVELLERS, and allows you to listen to audio samples and see the objects you're translating on-screen, however, so all in all this is a useful but somewhat flawed application.