How do you get children to learn while at the same time coming across as a cool parent, aunt or uncle? The usual root is to make a game of it and that’s exactly what LeapFrog is hoping to do with its new handheld console the Leapster.
Designed to look like an over large Game Boy Advance, the battery powered console offers a colour touch screen, backlit (for those under the sheet moments) and swappable cartridges so you can get more games to play later down the line.
We tested it with the game cartridge that comes in the box, simply entitled “Learning with Leap”, and the six mini games aimed to teach us maths and reading as well as shape and colour skills all in a fun light. In fact when we tested it out on our token four year-old he really didn’t grasp that we were actually making him do maths sums alongside the having fun bit.
The reason for the cunningness is because rather than offer problems in a typical textbook scenario, problems are hidden within games like Frogger for example. Here not only do you have to get from one side of the river to the other without falling off the logs, but you also have to solve sums at the same time. Step on the number five then a plus sign and then a number four and unless you step on a number nine you’re not going anywhere. Parents reading this in horror will be happy to know at any point you can press the hint button, at which point the game stops and a bumble bee-come-spark of light called Edison comes on and explains all. Once explained, the game continues and hopefully all has been explained and the game can continue.
Most of the games that we tested involved using a d-pad and a/b buttons, however some involved using a pen (that’s attached by a string so it won’t be lost) to control elements on the screen. Our test subject (the poor little bugger) thought this was great fun, while we the geeky grown-ups couldn’t but help see the similarities to a PDA - ahh getting them ready at such a young age.
We’ve only got complaints about its size. Aimed at ages 4 - 8, the unit to us seemed big and heavy, but then how else do you get a big screen.
The Leapster is excellent for a number of reasons, firstly it's battery powered and handheld making for a great companion to keep them quiet in the car on long journeys (don't worry it comes with a headphone socket) but also because you can get different game cartridges to go with so you can keep expanding as your kid outgrows the games. Titles already available include the enigmatic Sponge Bob Square Pants and Nick Jr's Dora the Explorer. Top Marks.