A few decades back, when kids wanted to document their daily accounts or their innermost thoughts, they had to put a pen to paper or tap away on their Talkback Dear Diary. Yet in these modern times, where it’s common for most people to carry numerous electronic devices, there’s less and less of a reason to scribble into a physical notebook, Doug Funnie style. Not only can we write whatever we want in our cell phones, tablets and/or computers, but thanks to software like Magical Diary: Secrets Sharing even a DS or a 3DS can be transformed into a personal record keeper. The question is: is there enough reason to invest in this option over the others?
Essentially, Magical Diary serves as virtual stationary, allowing for many pages of text to be compiled and stored. Holding the console like a book, the touchscreen contains a keyboard, while the main screen is where the paper and typed text is displayed — you’ll have the option between left or right handed formatting. There are three types of diary entries to choose from: Daily, Free, and Exchanged. Daily and Free are basically standard diaries, while Exchanged allows multiple people that each have a copy of the game to connect to one another to collaborate on an entry. We weren’t able to test this feature ourselves, but it sounds like a nice addition for siblings or friends that have both invested in the game.
One of the things that Magical Diary gets right (to an extent, at least) is customization options. The design of the paper can be selected by the user, and not only can stickers be placed to add flair to the presentation, but music and animations can also be incorporated to inject more personality to the page. While these options range from cute to tacky, there are so many to choose from that the duds can easily be overlooked. When starting out the choices are limited, though the more that’s written in the diary, the more decorations that can be unlocked. Employing this sort of effortless unlock/reward system is a nice touch that entices participation.
While much of what Magical Diary does is harmless and gets the job done, there are a share of blunders that diminish the potential for it to be an easy recommendation. First is that the UI is confusing and too cluttered for an application aimed at a younger audience. Not only did it take us a while to learn our way around, we still felt a bit sluggish navigating the selections even after hours of use. Another possible issue is that the touchscreen keyboard is formatted alphabetically and there's no option to switch it to QWERTY; we understand that this decision will only affect a small portion of the audience that's attracted to this software, but for anyone that's learning or has learned their way around a keyboard, it's a tad disorienting.
Perhaps the biggest of all concerns comes in the form of odd presentational choices. For one, while the stickers and animations are a nice touch, they can quickly turn a journal entry into sloppy, unreadable mess. What’s more is the formatting of the text. Instead of pushing a word to the next line when there’s not enough room for it, the text continues on, leaving word fragments separated without even working a hyphen into the mix. This can make re-reading entries less than accommodating. When you then consider that each entry is limited to two pages of text, well, there's not all that much space for any substantial writing.
Taking into account the pros and cons, Magical Diary seems best suited for elementary school children with basic reading and writing abilities. Anyone older that has access to at least one electronic device with writing applications will probably see this to be a unnecessary tool. We think that, even despite the shortcomings, many kids could still get enough use/enjoyment out of this, but due to the issues we've highlighted that could vary a great deal depending on the child.
Magical Diary: Secrets Sharing does what it advertises, but there are design missteps that keep it from being as intuitive as it should be for its target audience. If you have a child of elementary school age that has developed basic reading and writing skills, they might still be able to have some fun with what's on offer here, even if it's just to express themselves creatively with a few stickers and emoticons. Anyone else, however, should stick to smartphones or computers for their personal writing needs.