A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this game.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this is Leapfrog's next educational gaming system, meant for kids that have outgrown the Leapster. It combines gaming with educational content and permits families to customize the content by plugging the system into a computer and then connecting to the Leapfrog Connect website. When playing Didj games, kids earn Bitz, currency to be used on the Leapfrog Connect website to customize their games.
What's it about?
For kids who've been weaned on Leapster educational video games, there's a new system for them when they outgrow the Leapster's content. It's called the DIDJ CUSTOM GAMING SYSTEM, and it brings educational gaming to kids ages 6 to 10. The Didj games look like the handheld games that you might find on the Nintendo DS or Sony's PSP, but unlike those other handheld games, the Didj games weave educational content into the video gaming. The Didj is smaller in size than the Leapster but retains some of its familiarity by using the same button setup with a multidirectional button, Home, and Help buttons, and the two \"A\" and \"B\" buttons. But, it adds upper right and left buttons, a configuration that is similar to the PSP.
What's interesting about this Didj system is that you can customize some of its content. The games cover math, spelling, and language arts skills for grades first through fourth, and for each game, you can select what skills you want drilled. For example, if the game is drilling multiplication, you can choose which numbers you want drilled, or if the game is covering spelling, you can choose which words to practice. You can also customize other aspects of the gameplay, depending on the game. You might be able to change the look of the background in the game or the in-screen avatar. Perhaps you can add special powers to your in-game character. Each Didj game is different, and offers its own customization. To use customize, you must connect the Didj to the Internet using a USB port after uploading the system software.
Is it any good?
Leapfrog has made its name by creating fun ways for kids to use technology to learn, and Didj continues this mission. As kids get older and more savvy about technology, their expectations about what games should do also increases. They want better graphics, and the Didj does that with clean, crisp visuals. They want faster-paced gameplay, and the Didj delivers that as well, particularly in the Didj Star Wars: The Clone Wars game (sold separately for $29.99) where you play as Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker and wield your lightsaber as you fight evil droids.
But Leapfrog made some tradeoffs when designing this system. Unlike the Leapster, this system does not have a touch-sensitive screen. Instead, the Didj reverts to a complex button-pushing system, typically found in earlier game systems. The question of how good this new system will be ultimately depends on how good the games are that play on the system. Jet Pack Heroes, the free game that comes with the system, is just average fare. It plays like a slow-moving Mario-type side-scrolling game where the educational content has been placed on top of the gaming experience. You stop the gaming to answer educational questions. Educational content works better when it is baked into the gameplay and doesn't feel like an add-on. But what's worst in Jet Pack Heroes is that the game does not allow you to save your progress as you play through the 15 side-scrolling levels. That's a real turn-off.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about whether playing a game while learning makes the learning more fun? Unlike the Leapster, this screen is not touch-sensitive, do you miss it? When playing Didj games, you earn Bitz points. Does earning this currency motivate you to play the game more than once? Which items did you choose to purchase with your earned Bitz?
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