Archive for December, 2009

LeapFrog Didj


My daughter has been a Leapster2 player for a couple of years, but she’s at the upper age range for the bulk of the Leapster games, so I did a bit of cherry picking, in terms of purchasing Leapster games, and started looking for the successor to the Leapster2. The successor had to be a serious educational platform as well as being a cool and engaging game device.

When I say, “serious educational platform”, I’m speaking to the ability to track or measure progress, and ideally customize content.

While the Nintendo DS might be good choice as a successor to the Leapster2, there is no facility to track progress or customize content, so we stayed with LeapFrog and purchased the Didj.

The Didj comes with one starter game, Jetpack Heroes, a math game for grades 2-5.

The other math game titles available for the Didj are:

  • Android Invasion
  • Indiana Jones
  • SpongeBob Squarepants: Fists of Foam
  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars
  • Super Chicks

What Have We Here?
In terms of form factor and appointments the Didj has a lot in common with the original Game Boy Advance, with its d-pad, “A” and “B” face buttons, two shoulder buttons, and a screen in the middle of the system. As with the GBA the game cartridges load into the top of the system, and it has a power On/Off slider, a volume slider, as well as a backlight slider. All of the sliders are inset making accidental changes rather difficult. All-in-all the system has a solid feel and the buttons perform well.

The Didj is powered by four AA batteries (called LR6 in some countries), distributed in compartments on either side of the device. The compartments are accessed by pressing a coin into a slot at the edge of the compartment. The coin depress a latch that allows the compartment to slide off. Removing the battery compartments is a bit of a pain, but it’s designed to prevent children from “exploring”.

The Didj must be configured before your child can start playing. The configuration process includes, setting up the Didj handheld (by selecting a country and creating a profile), installing LeapFrog Connect  on your PC or Mac (from the included CD), and finally connecting the Didj to the computed (on which LeapFrog Connect is installed) to finish the configuration and download the Jetpack Heroes mini game.

Once you power up the Didj you’ll notice the customization options, which include player name and grade (for up to 4 players), and screen color combinations for the menu screens, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Once LeapFrog Connect is installed and you access the Didj Home Page, which presents four additional tabs: Micromods, Didjerator, Skill Selector, and My Didj.

With respect to the initial Didj configuration you’ll be most interested in Didjerator, Micromods, and Skill Selector (not necessarily in that order)

The Didjerator is a part of the Didj LeapFrog Connect Application where Didjis (avatars) can be selected and customized, or created from scratch. These Didjis can then be transfered to the Didj handheld to be used in games. The Didjerator can store up to 10 Didjis.  If you want to create a new Didji after having already saved 10, you will need to delete one of the old Didjis.

Didjis can only be used in non-licensed games such as Jet Pack Heroes and Super Chicks.  Didjis are not available for use in licensed games such as Star Wars or Disney Cars.

The Micromods page is where your child can “spend” the Bitz he/she earns by achieving goals on the Didj handheld to “purchase” customizations to enhance the gaming experience such as, additional backgrounds, weapons, power-ups, new background music, Didji costumes, and additional character animations for games.

After playing a game, Micromods for that game will become available. Once downloaded, Micromods are set to automatically download to the Didj handheld the next time it is connected. Ensure that a Micromod is set to automatically download, navigate to the On My Didj page and look for the associated game. Make sure the check mark next to the game is checked.

Skill Selector
The Skill Selector page allows parents to customize their child’s gaming experience, by incorporating a unique targeted Skill Set (curriculum, if you will) and tranferring it to the Didj handheld. Weekly spelling lists can be added to a game. That said, you can only add words that are already in a predefined database database. Depending the games you have, you’ll see more skill options, including language arts, math, and math facts.

Note: A parent account must have been created and information provided about who plays a game using this a given player name.

A Bit of Frustration
Once my daughter got her hands on the Didj she quickly put down the Leapster, but after a day or so she came to me saying she couldn’t save her Jet Pack Heroes game. I started to look into the matter, and found that she was right. I kept digging and found that Jet Pack Heroes is considered a mini (starter) game, designed with levels that can be completed quickly, and as such will not allow the state of the game to be saved. This was particularly frustrating for her in that is impacts her ability to acquire Bitz and customize the game. I wish I’d know about that when I purchased the Didj. Had I know I would have purchased another math game when I purchased the Didj handheld.

MangaHigh: Transtar

TransStar_kids_math_gamesTranStar is a transformation game in which you guide the TranStar entity through the perils of deep space, as it searches for the mysterious core. Use the awesome power of exotic space transformation phenomena to reflect, rotate, translate and enlarge TranStar into the safety of the StarGate.

I found and played more than a dozen transformation games, to give me a bit of context for what the MangaHigh team accomplished with TranStar. The objective of most transformation games seems to be the establishment of a cursory understanding of the concept of geometric transformation. In contrast, the ManagHigh objective for TranStar is for the player to take away a more in depth understanding of the concept of transformation and how the different types of transformation can work in concert to inform the orientation, position, and size of a shape.

The MangaHigh team crafted the presentation of the transformations such that they are cumulative. That is to say, that once reflection is introduced, it can be presented along with any transformation that follows. So right from the outset, the MangaHigh team had a more substantive approach than most who have tried to create a game around this subject.

TranStar plays very much like a puzzle game, where you have a piece that has to fit into a hole, but to get it into that hole, you have to use the transformations available to you. In contrast to the pace of “Save Our Dumb Planet”, it feels as if the player is much more in control. In “Save Our Dumb Planet” I often felt as if I was waiting for the game, but in TranStar it felt as if I could move things along. The game play was absorbing without the math test feel of “Save Our Dumb Planet”.

MangaHigh correlates game achievements to lesson objectives, for each game, but that’s to be expected if one is going to be GCSE compliant.

In TranStar, as with all MangaHigh games, the math is laid bare for the player use, manipulate, and enjoy.

Kudos to the MangaHigh team!

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