Call us pessimistic, but we think it's fair to say that travelling abroad can be a pretty stressful experience. Sure, the exotic locales and sunny weather is always worth it in the end, but making the trip often takes no shortage of patience and more than a few embarrassing attempts to drag up half-remembered phrases in the native language once you're there. Nintendo's handhelds have been helping to pass the time on any number of planes, trains, and automobiles for decades now, but thanks to the release of Talking Phrasebook, the 3DS is finally up to the dreaded task of helping to translate for you as well.
Operating more as an 'app' than a true game, Talking Phrasebook offers a service that stands out as unique on the eShop, and helps expand the downloadable library beyond simply gaming on the go. Essentially, it's a multilingual resource for common phrases that you'll need to use on your travels, all ready to access at any time right on your 3DS. You'll be able to choose from seven different languages, including English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, and Dutch, which cover a variety of popular tourist destinations within Europe.
You'll be able to swap in and out of different languages at any time, but the language you've defined for your system's menus will be chosen as the default 'base' which the app will translate for. For example, if your 3DS displays in English, choosing phrases from any of the remaining six languages will always translate them into English. If you want to change this, you'll have to go into the 3DS system settings, and while this is a slightly clunky solution, it's one which we doubt many people will need to opt for in the first place.
There are over 780 different phrases to learn, divided up into a broad range of categories to cover sight-seeing, accommodation, dining, shopping, the sheer joy of navigating airports, and much more besides. It's no exaggeration to say that a plethora of common situations are well-covered by the app, which even helps with more obscure banking requests and emergencies. "Would you like to swap addresses?" is a particularly good gambit for starting up a little holiday romance, trust us.
Each translation comes complete with an audio reading to help you learn pronunciation, which is a great addition given how daunting it can be to read aloud from a standard phrasebook. Though the voice can sound a little robotic at times, it's always clear enough to get the point across. You can also create your own folder of favourite phrases to draw from in a pinch, and this can carry over between different languages. Slotting in the basics here is a good tactic for someone who might be inter-railing, or travelling between several different countries in quick succession. There's only room for one favourites list at a time though, so choose carefully.
The menus are simple and entirely functional, making it a snap to move between categories and subsections using either the touchscreen or physical buttons to navigate. There aren't any fancy animations or effects, save for a few floating images of your destination on the top screen, so it's a shame that loading the translations can sometimes take just a little too long. Generally it's fine, but you won't really be able to zip between translated phrases without giving the app a couple of seconds each time.
What's so great about Talking Phrasebook is that it doesn't require an internet connection to function, so you can confidently bring your beloved handheld anywhere you like knowing that you can check for translations as they're required. It's a killer selling point against similar apps on other mobile devices, eliminating the need for roaming charges and solid reception. Translations for numbers, months, and other random tidbits help you adapt to suit situations that the app might not even directly cover, helping you learn along the way. This app won't necessarily suit those looking to fully learn the language, but it teaches enough to get by in each country.
The small filesize and low price of €4.99 / £4.49 make this an appealing purchase to keep handy on your 3DS, though it's only available on the European eShop at the time of writing. Worry not, as it's been confirmed that an American release is in the works, hopefully in time to suit those 2015 vacation plans!
Diversity is a very good thing, and Talking Phrasebook fills a welcome, if very specific void on the 3DS eShop with an informative app that's a must-have for travelling Nintendo fans. With a huge bank of phrases to choose from either ahead of time or while abroad, the fact that everything is accessible without relying on an internet connection gives this title an edge over using your smartphone. The menus can be a touch too slow to navigate around, and choosing from only seven languages might feel a bit limited, but we consider this Phrasebook a real winner at what it sets out to do.
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