Successfully Learning German: Year 5 Review
Posted by Thomas Whitehead
The end of an era?
Another week, another instalment in the venerable Successfully Learning series from Tivola. Successfully Learning German: Year 5 is on DSiWare so young German speakers have another opportunity to return to Freddy the Vampire’s classroom. It’s the final instalment in the series, so prepare to graduate and say goodbye.
How does the series end, any exciting changes or variations to keep students on their toes? None at all, it is simply more of the same. We know that this series originated as a full retail release with all four entries together, but some amendments to add variety from one download to the next would have been nice. The ‘edutainment’ structure remains in place: complete exercises, earn gold stars and unlock play time for the Bonus Game. As with the previous entries in the series, it’s a good principle that works just fine.
As before, all control and navigation can be done with the stylus. It all works reasonably well, responsive enough that young pupils won’t be undone by incorrect inputs. This ease of navigation is backed up by plenty of content, with twenty exercises spread over ten categories ensuring that students will have to work hard to complete all exercises.
In general, the learning content is well put together. As the final instalment in this series, there is a noticeable step up in challenge. Some exercises can just about be completed by those with limited knowledge of the language, one example being ‘Hard and soft consonants’, where a good ear and basic common sense can be enough to distinguish the correct sounds and earn a pass. Others, such as ‘Can you figure it out?’, involve working with figures of speech and full sentences, so if German isn’t your primary language there is very little hope of progressing.
There are, it must be said, a couple of categories that are troublesome from the perspective of curriculum and execution. Sadly none of our team are trained German teachers, but we came across one set of exercises called ‘Knowing foreign words’. Questions where the task is to identify the foreign word are fair enough, but the exercise also asks you to look at foreign words, which come from a few different languages, and identify the German equivalent. You’re also tasked to link meanings, in German, with assorted words. Even for young German pupils, this could be troublesome if they don’t recognise phrases in English, French or otherwise. To finish the pupil off they even have to listen to some of these foreign words in an audio clip and identify their meaning. The poor quality of the audio makes this difficult in this exercise as well as others where audio is involved.
Of course, the goal is to score well in exercises and earn play time. The bonus game on offer, like its predecessors in this series, is another competent effort. Faced with a series of coloured blocks in a square area, you are tasked with matching up blocks of three, viewed from an angled top-down perspective. Passing a level involves clearing a certain number of blocks within the time limit, but because of the semi-3D perspective this can be quite challenging. Once you get into the flow and to grips with the puzzles, it is quite enjoyable. Different kind of blocks add variety: some are wedges that lift a block up, others are see through blocks that change colours to force a match, as well as a handy bomb to clear blocks in a hurry. Seven levels are available initially, with bronze, silver and gold crowns, earned with stars, unlocking an additional seven levels each. We do recommend using the D-Pad and A button for moving blocks, as the stylus controls are awkward and inaccurate. Overall, a decent puzzle game with plenty of levels to keep the grey matter busy.
In terms of the presentation, it’s the same as the previous entries: bland, uninspiring and lacking in imagination. Considering the target audience of these titles, a more attractive user interface and a version of Freddy that actually interacts with the pupil would have been nice. We’ve repeated these complaints in every review, but that’s the consequence of Tivola releasing parts of the same retail package as individual downloads, without any effort to give each entry a sense of variation. With the sound, we’ve highlighted the disappointing quality of the audio clips. For anyone who wants to hear these properly, the best chance of any success is to wear headphones.
So that brings our 8th Successfully Learning DSiWare review to a close, not to mention that WiiWare has its own share of releases in the series. This title does very little different from the previous entries, and as a result the conclusion is the same. Although we have our doubts about a couple of the exercises, we’re not necessarily qualified, as teachers, to pass judgement. Overall, it’s another Successfully Learning title that helps students with a subject and offers a reasonable bonus game. As before, though, it misses opportunities to provide a better learning experience.