Monday, May 31, 2010

Vtech Mobigo Review

I have always been skeptical of gaming consoles for kids. They're either too complicated (which leads to crying) or too simplistic (which leads to boredom). I have seen kids (and adults) addicted to the Nintendo DS and Sony's PSP as well as other gaming systems which are great fun, but really fail when it comes to education. Frankly, I thought no one could get the right mix of playability and education into one box. And then we tried the MobiGo by Vtech.

Let me begin by voicing loudly my biggest complaint. We were only provided one MobiGo to review and now my kids (5 and almost 3) fight constantly to play with it. In the last three days the MobiGo has had to go in time out a good five times while they figure out how to take turns.

At first glance the MobiGo seems like all other portable electronic gaming systems. It's got a 4-directional button on the left, a screen in the middle, and a big button on the right. It's got a cartridge on the top. Seen it. Done it. Yawn.

Ok, fine. So I plug in the "Touch & Learn" cartridge and turn on the thing. It wants you to put in your name.  Seen that before too, right? Oh wait the whole screen flips up to reveal a full QWERTY keyboard! (Those who play with a Sidekick or other flip phones know what I'm talking about). OK that's pretty cool, but come on my kids are 5 and 2. Seemed a little excessive for me at first. But I'll get back to that later.
So then I get to select different games to play from the Touch & Learn cartridge. I can immediately tell there are letter games, number games, and other games to try out (actually 6 games in all). I tried to select one with the directional button but it didn't work. I have an iPod Touch, so my instinct was to touch the screen. It worked! The entire screen is touch sensitive! It turns out that (duh) the Touch & Learn cartridge relies heavily on the touch screen.

So the technology is there, but I was still skeptical about playability and educational value. I tried out what I call the "Squirrel game" first. In this game you simply use the touch screen to help a squirrel get nuts. The game directs you to basically connect the dots to move the squirrel. Pretty simple, but very intuitive especially for a 2 or 3 year old. The graphics are fantastic and the squirrel makes a cute noise every time he reaches a nut.

I moved on to the letter game. The goal of this game is to shoot rubber ducks with a water gun. Each duck has a letter on it and you shoot by finding the letter on the QWERTY keyboard. This is great! After about 10 minutes my 5 year old had a pretty good grasp of the location of many of the letters on the QWERTY keyboard. This game was actually both fun and educational. My 5 year old was reviewing her letters and was learning about the QWERTY keyboard all while being sucked into the fun graphics.

I like music so I had to try the music game. I was shocked to realize that this was Rock Band/Guitar Hero for little kids (except instead of Megadeath, you play Oh, Susanna). The guitar (or more aptly ukulele) has only four strings and a little note falls down each string for you to "pluck" it at the right moment. Brilliant! As I played more, the sophistication of the system revealed itself and you can also play piano and drums.

OK the technology is great, the games are fun and educational, but my last concern was would it hold the kids' attention for more than a day. Each game has an "easy" or "difficult" mode. The "Easy" level was easy for my 5 year old on some games (the squirrel game) and adequate on others (like the letter and number games).  If you do well on the easy level, then you're invited to play the difficult level. Frankly, the games are so much fun that both kids are still having a great time and my 5 year old is really learning her keyboard. She's even making distinct progress with her numbers, something we only recently realized she needed to work on.

The system is marked as being good for kids to 3-8-year-olds. The "Touch & Learn" cartridge supplied with the console won't keep the attention of the older kids for long, but VTech is releasing a large array of affordable games ($20 or so)  to go with the console.We only played with the original cartridge which didn't use any of the directional buttons on the console, but we're beyond impressed with the technology and functionality of the system and we can't wait to test out some of the other games.

So, in short, great game console with amazing potential. I love the fact that some of the mini-games are harder than others so that the kids have something easy to fall back on when they get frustrated with the more challenging tasks. The fact that they've still gone back to try the more challenging tasks after speaks volumes. The fact that they haven't stopped playing for the last three days and have made noticeable progress with numbers, letters, and problem solving speaks even higher to the quality of the educational content of this game system.

Pre-purchase the MobiGo at Amazon for $59.99. (Release date is supposed to be June 7th, though the date there says July 1st.)
Or Purchase the MobiGo at ToysRUs now for $59.99 and games for around $20.

Please note, I did receive a MobiGo console from VTech for review (and we get to keep it thank goodness or there would be a mutiny) however the opinions contained in this post are mine and mine alone, except for the parts written by my husband who was so taken with the device that he felt the need to write this review. His opinions are his and his alone too.

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