Reviewed: November 11, 2009
Released: November 17, 2009
For nearly 20 years now, the Knowledge Adventure group has been releasing educational learning-based gaming software; always in line with their company slogan “Have fun, Get smart.” Generally the Knowledge Adventure titles are released as PC-based learning activity packs under the JumpStart brand.
Other than a couple of one-off titles for the GameBoy and PlayStation, the JumpStart series has avoided the console gaming arena. But with the massive popularity of the Wii, and its ability to mimic PC mouse input – the company recently bridged the gaming gap with JumpStart Pet Rescue in September and more recently, the subject of this review, JumpStart Escape from Adventure Island.
Escape from Adventure Island arrived at the office with a disclaimer/request reminding us that the game was intended for children ages 5 to 9 years old, and asking us if at all possible to test the game with children this age prior to casting our critical judgment. This was a fairly bold move on their part – but ultimately a smart one, because while Adventure Island is definitely not going to win any GOTY awards with its elementary-school level language and math play, the title was (and still is) a huge hit with the young group of gamers we tasked with the title.
Escape from Adventure Island starts with a cutscene in which the gamer’s character, riding in a steampunk-inspired airship loses its precious helium and crash lands on the titular Adventure Island. Once safely on the ground, an aussie-tounged kangaroo explains to the gamer that the island has enough helium tanks scattered about to get the ship back in the air, but the tanks must be purchased using sand dollars – the primary currency of Adventure Island. These sand dollars are earned by mastering a series of tasks found by exploring Adventure Island’s far reaches (well, maybe not all that far). The tasks come in a few different flavors.
Math and Language tasks are fairly similar in nature and generally come in the form of simple matching games in which the gamer floats about a space (either flying in the air, of swimming under water), going through a series of rings that meet (and shooting those rings that don’t meet) whatever criteria the game has put forth for that trial. For instance, one early language skills game has gamers flying through rings with objects that rhyme with “Can” – so rings with pictures of a fan and a man would be floated through, and rings with dogs, cats, doors, etc. would be shot.
If it sounds pretty simple, it is – almost like Brain Age meets Superman 64 and Rez, but with better graphics, and easier flying skills. The game also has a handful of mini-games with players rolling around Super Monkey Ball style, navigating hamster-like mazes, answering questions by bumping into landscape switches. The controls are all motion based, and take a bit of getting used to at first – but Wii Sports Resort wakeboarding veterans will get the hang of Adventure Island’s navigation without a hitch.
There are also a series of for-fun games scattered about, that range from a passable Dance-Dance Revolution motion based rhythm game knockoff, and a frustratingly addictive Katamari-like egg rolling exercise. It’s pretty obvious that these were added to provide filler between the successive learning sessions, and each is relatively enjoyable in its own right, and the kids spent just as much time trying to earn their elusive sand dollars from these than the others.
The kids we tested were aged 5 (boy), 7 (boy), and 8 (girl).
While the five year old (a young 5 at that) boy had some trouble understanding the controls and some of the requirements – he did have a great time simply exploring the island, which was visually reminiscent of an early PlayStation-era Spyro environment with the bright and colorful palette laid over the pseudo-sandbox central hub.
The 7-year-old boy – a slow reader – enjoyed the icon-based matching games, and got a great deal of humor from the fairly extensive avatar-based character creator, which delivered a great deal of unlocked features, clothes, and accessories at the outset, with more to be unlocked by playing through the game. The characters are a bit more proportional than Nintendo’s oddball Mii's and EA’s bobble-headed MySims – but still with the overall cutesy appeal.
The 8-year-old girl really took to the game, and had quickly mastered all of the motion-based controls. She had no issues flying through the educational games, and really took a liking to the simplified Dance Dance Revolution themed minigame, which was notably less difficult than the standard DDR game, but perfectly suited for kids.
One major benefit to both the 5 and the 7 year olds was the fact that the game features full voice acting for all aspects of the game – from the in-game NPC interaction, to the minigame directions – all is delivered in concise and clear voice acting, making it great for those pre-reading gamers.
Really the biggest downside to JumpStart Escape from Adventure Island is the fact that while the game boasts 150 different games, most of those games are just the same game using increasing more complex words and math problems. Much like the aforementioned Brain Age title, veteran gamers will likely grow bored with the repetitive gameplay – but for the intended audience, this repetition is all part of the fun.
I said it before and I will say it again – JumpStart Escape from Adventure Island will probably never win an award from any of the critical masses. But the game is a big hit with the intended folks, and is a surprisingly solid learning game.