So, the Successfully Learning series continues its relentless march onto WiiWare, with Successfully Learning English: Year 4 being the third entry in this particular run. As we've come to expect it's much of the same thing, but with a notable step up in challenge for its young pupils. Freddy the Vampire is starting to get serious.
That said, we mean serious in a cuddly, friendly kind of way, as once again exercises are wrapped in a kindly package of a soothing teacher's voice and an enthusiastic Freddy. The edutainment principles remain: take on a set of questions, receive a grading of one to three stars and receive play time in the Bonus Game. It's the same schtick we've seen over a dozen times in the series, but that's probably because it makes a lot of sense.
As with the previous two entries in this WiiWare series there are ten categories, and this software's roots as a bundled retail package are evident in the fact that they're the same categories that we've seen before. Once again pupils will learn correct words and phrases for topics such as school, home, family and times of the year. As we've already mentioned, there's an increase in difficulty this time with longer phrases, basic uses of logic and primitive early grammatical exercises, such as filling in gaps in sentences and ensuring correct usage of capitalisation.
In general the exercises have less cringe-worthy or strange moments. There is one slightly peculiar cross-over where a picture of a teddy bear is used in separate exercises, once to reasonably represent a cuddly toy but in the other instance an actual brown bear; remember kids, don't hug real grizzly bears. The exercises get increasingly difficult and also longer — a benefit considering the DSiWare version has twice as many exercises — though the last category seems overly long, and had some apparently unrelated questions about currency values thrown into the middle. Those examples aside it's solid, if unexciting, educational material.
The Bonus Game, meanwhile, is a very basic Breakout clone. The early levels are painfully slow, even for young children, while later unlockable levels speed up a little, introduce tougher blocks and rain down power-ups like they've gone out of fashion. The intention is good with this one, particularly with the items that allow your paddle to fire rockets or turn the ball into a rainbow coloured sphere of destruction, but even in tougher levels it fails to engage the player. The problem is that a simplistic approach has led to a zoomed-in perspective, tying the developer's hands in terms of how many blocks can be put on screen. In an age where young children are good at video games, this is likely to bore them after a short period.
In terms of the presentation, it's the same bland template and setup as the previous entries in the series. While menus are colourful and friendly voices coax the pupil along, the experience is lacking any imagination to retain interest. Exercises become repetitive tasks of pointing and clicking with the Wii Remote, and this title reiterates that a new, more creative structure is needed in this series. That said, it's all functional, and as always three save profiles mean that if you have multiple children who may benefit from this, at least they won't overwrite each other's progress.
Successfully Learning English: Year 4 continues exactly where its predecessors left off, but does bring a welcome boost in challenge for young pupils. The exercises are all competent, and the Bonus Game provides a brief distraction even if it's lacking the good design needed to make it compulsive. Overall it does little wrong, but also highlights that this is a series that would benefit from a fresh approach.