CodeSpells

Game review by
Seann Dikkers, Common Sense Media
CodeSpells Game Poster Image
In-development programming game can frustrate or fascinate.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this game.

Positive Messages

The core quests involve helping people, building things, and protecting the village by fending off the river monster. Positive messaging isn't overt, but players are generally asked to do productive and helpful tasks. Given that the game is about programming, there's an implicitly empowering message that playing is creation.

Positive Role Models & Representations

There's very little characterization at this stage of development, but the main character performs helpful acts.

Ease of Play

The game's controls are not intuitive or comparable to other games. Part of learning to play is figuring out how to move, which can be frustrating. Much of the problem is that the game lacks a tutorial or help option so figuring out what keys do what on the keyboard is trial and error. The map is also hard to read, and some of the quests are a bit unclear. Moving from beta to final release should clear up most of these problems. 

Violence

There's no graphic or visualized violence; however, some NPCs have blood and band-aids on them, and some characters could be scary for younger players. Touching the river awakens a monster that resets the player or "kills" them. Players learn to set boxes on fire or extinguish them using a spell. 

Sex
Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this game will be confusing for novices, but very compelling for young players that have an interest in learning to program or making games. The exposed JavaScript opens up the hood and encourages tinkering; for certain kids, it'll be fascinating. Kids may need adult help in the first half hour while learning and struggling with the controls, but its compelling concept and free price make it worth showing to children curious about coding. 

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What's it about?

In CODESPELLS the player is a young wizard who arrives in a village populated by gnome-like creatures. The villagers don't have magic abilities and seek help from the player with various tasks around the village. Using his/her spell book -- essentially the programming tool -- the player uses magic spells -- bits of JavaScript code -- to complete quests and earn rewards.

Is it any good?

CodeSpells is still in development, but its unique approach to learning to program makes it worth exploring now. The game is family-friendly, challenging, and provides a valuable portal into programming languages for interested players. Some kids may be frustrated quickly, but others will geek out on the ability to see how games work and to design new interactions with it. This is also a great chance for players to have access to a game's development team and to participate in the process of test and offering feedback on an in-development computer game. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why it's important for kids to not just consume media but create it themselves.

  • Let your kids know that this was a game built by student researchers at a university. Get them to think about and explain how game creation might be a valuable learning experience, or identify what the students who made the game were hoping to research by making it. 

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