Get your kids learning without them even realising it.
Most kids simply don’t want to learn. I mean, there are always exceptions to the rule. But for the most part, learning is way down the list of fun things to do. They only tolerate school because they have no choice. But you will have more chance of getting a kid to tidy their own bedroom than you would getting them to willingly do something educational outside of school.
So when Junior Brain Trainer 2 turned up, I figured I had two choices. I could either imagine myself to be an eight year old (no great stretch) or find a youngster to give their opinion. After some serious negotiating, I managed to get my Niece to give the game a try. It only cost me a bag of Haribo, a Disney princess magazine and an undisclosed sum of cold, hard cash. She drives a hard bargain.
I return after a couple of days, armed with a pen and pad, ready to record her observations (old school, y’see). Firstly I receive an earbashing from her mum. Apparently giving an eight year old an entire large bag of Haribo is not a good thing. Then I sat down with her and discussed the software.
We will get onto how the game was received by an eight year old in just a minute. So Junior Brain Trainer 2 follows the standard formula, offering a variety of different puzzles designed to improve maths, English and other fundamental skills. Being that the title is aimed at the age group of six to eleven years old, incentives have to be offered and carrots need to be dangled. Basically, the young gamer has to participate in a number of these puzzles each day, in order to get their reward of a mini game. Depending on the age of the child, they can indulge in a progressive mode which gradually ramps up the difficulty as time goes on, or a pot luck mode which will offer random exercises of varying difficulty.
It is at this point that I am going to pick holes in the title, as I see them. First up is the amount of content. Although there is quite a lot packed into this title, and even a fair amount of variety, when that content is divided amongst the age groups, the total applicable to each age is not actually that much. Kids learn so much between the ages of six and eleven that I think Avanquest Software have spread themselves far too thin, trying to cater to such a huge audience. A six year old could attempt eleven year old puzzles, but will likely get frustrated, and an eleven year old would get bored with six year old exercises.
Something else that I found annoying was that when I buy a game, I want the whole game. Youngsters can only unlock one mini game every day, which makes it feel like you are buying the game on credit – “You can have the full game in 30 days, as long as you keep up the payments of exercise completion!”. I understand that it is an incentive, but surely a better idea would have been to only let the child play the games after completing the exercises, but having them all unlocked and available to choose from.
The puzzles themselves are all very basic and easy to understand. The mini games offer a nice variety of classic games and modern twists, with the likes of Snake, Solitaire and Whack a Mole. Whilst these may be slightly underwhelming for a generation that have been raised on games that offer far more depth and high quality graphics, they offer simple, fun gameplay.
The entire package is well put together, with easy to navigate menus and bright, colourful graphics that are pleasing to the eye. The music however, is amazingly annoying and needs to be crowned out by something more pleasing to the ears, like a dentist drill, for example.
But these are the opinions of an adult (and I use that term loosely). The game is not aimed at me, so what I think is kind of irrelevant. The important thing is actually what my eight year old niece thought.
To my surprise, she really enjoyed the game. A lot of the puzzles she did find to be beyond her level of education and required the help of her mum. But the easier puzzles seemed to satisfy her and made the reward all the more worth while. I was surprised to find that she did not mind only unlocking one mini game each day and that the game had actually become almost part of her routine. Even the annoying music did not seem to bother her.
Kids have a notoriously short attention span, so I am not sure for how long this sneaky extra dose of education each day will appeal to her, but in the sort term, she got a lot of fun from this title. I guess that goes to show exactly how much our view of things changes as we get older.
I am still not sold on the longevity of Junior Brain Trainer 2 and, even though it made an eight year old happy, there still seems to be a lot of issues that could be improved upon. But the reality is that no one has yet to crack the “edutainment” formula to any degree of success. With that being taken into account, Junior Brain Trainer 2 is not a bad attempt at trying to sneak a bit more education into your young ones lives.