Computer games, if you believe the Daily Mail, are all about death and carnage, or parents are ogres because they let their kids play computer games. Sound familiar? Well Leap Frog want to change all that with the Leap Frog Leapster 2. So can they? We get playing to find out.
The Leapster 2 is a handheld games console designed specifically for kids from 4–8 years. It's large (but smaller than the first version released in 2004), bulbous, bright green and comes with a fairly large touchscreen that isn't the crispest you've seen, but is ample for the types of games your child will play.
However where the system betters the first version (it is back-compatible so the games will still work), is that you can connect it to a PC or Mac, download data from the console and see how your child is doing. You'll also be able to see what games they have been playing and where their strengths and weaknesses are just like an end of term report.
The console itself has four main options: connect it to a PC, access games on the console, access the SD card you've slotted in to it or play games from a cartridge.
Aside from game controls and changing things like the volume (don't panic there is a headphone socket) or brightness you can also pause the menu or games with the pause button and there is a help button if your child gets confused to help them out.
Games, which cost around £20, vary in subject and age but most of the kid-friendly characters from Disney and Nickelodeon are available. Everyone from Sponge Bob and Sonic to Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Wall-E is here and all revolve around "edutainment", i.e., making learning fun.
Whether that's counting rings floating in the air or flying a dragon into clouds to spell a certain word you get the picture - it's learning, playing games, not killing anyone.
As with the original Leapster system, the Leapster 2 auto-levels, i.e., it adjusts the games to a child’s particular skills and progress. In reality this means that players are appropriately challenged and games are approachable, fun and educational rather than them being stuck after the first level.
But you've been able to do all this before, what about the connected bit? Well it's all fairly simple. You install the software (yes Macs are supported) and then sign-up for an account.
Once you've plugged your Leapster 2 into your computer you can monitor your child's performance, download more games or allow your kids to see the rewards they have got. For some random reason you can also draw pictures using the onscreen art package, although you can't then transfer these to your device to show your friends. Disappointing.
The "Learning Path" advises what your child is up to and makes recommendations (in the US there will be a buy button) as to which games you should get next to continually improve skills.
The rewards come in the form of certificates or pictures to print out and then colour in and overall while your kids, if they knew about worldly matters, would say it's all a bit Big Brother, you'll find it ingenious.
While the Leapster 2 isn't a touch on the creative or graphical powers of the Nintendo DS, you can be sure that the games will be geared towards cramming your child’s head with words and numbers while all the time they haven't got a clue to your master plan.
On that front, apart from a new nicer looking form factor not much has changed from the first version, however the inclusion of the connected element here means that you can actually see what they are up to and then using that information, hopefully steer them in the right direction.
The Leapster 2 is due out in August.
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