Game: Learn with Pokémon: Typing Adventure Review
Developer: Genius Sonority
Available on: Nintendo DS Only
Educational games are traditionally not so good. Whether it is Captain Novolin teaching sick kids about diabetes, or Rayman being shoehorned into a dodgy learning game, most kiddies games of this ilk will have your youngsters fiending for something a bit juicier and less preachy. Kids want to play games to escape from reality, not hammer home the crushing realisation that they have to learn stuff and grow up.
There are a few exceptions, like the frightening, yet still magical BBC Micro classic Granny’s Garden, where messing up was met with the terrifying visage of the craggy old witch on your screen. Now that was a game. I can remember sitting in junior school, determined to get the right solution to the puzzle so I wouldn’t get merked and have to face this pixellated Grotbags. Learning through fear. More recently, Once Upon A Monster showed us that, as we have always suspected, giant furry muppets with googly eyes are far better at entertaining and teaching wee bairns than humans could ever aspire to. And let us not forget the Nintendo DS, home to a plethora of games aimed at children. Sure, there is a ton of shovelware, but I would not hesitate to sit one of my kids down with a bit of Nintendogs, a good Kirby puzzle platform game or even a Professor Layton.
Which brings me nicely to the subject at hand – Learn With Pokémon: Typing Adventure. Marketed as an educational tool, it quickly becomes apparent that like most Pokémon games, it isn’t solely for kids. This is a charming game that comes in a winning package, and will appeal to gamers of all ages.
Known by the slightly more edgy moniker “Battle & Get! Pokémon Typing DS” in Japan, this game is something of a Pokémon-themed spin on Smilebit’s loony 1999 cult hit The Typing of The Dead. In case you haven’t played it (and you really should), TTODD was what you would best describe as a mod to the lightgun shooter The House of the Dead 2, with the gun replaced with a QWERTY keyboard. As you stalk through the Venice streets and attempt to avoid being made to suffer like G did, you dispatch zombies and other nasties by typing words that appear on the screen as quickly as possible. It sounds like hard work – and it is – but it is also incredibly compulsive and often uproariously funny due to the absurdity of the words and phrases you have to type. It did well enough in Japan for SEGA to produce an arcade sequel based on the third House of The Dead game, but never saw the light of day in the Eurozone.
Typing Adventure isn’t as snooker loopy as its SEGA forebearer, but it is a lot of fun. The whole package is fun. So what do you get for your money? The game comes in a winsome oblong shaped box, which houses a standard DS game clamshell containing your game cartridge, a beautiful white Bluetooth mini-keyboard, and a little stand to sit your DS on when you are playing. They even include the two AAA batteries needed to get it working, which is a lovely and unexpected touch. The keyboard is of excellent quality, light enough to be truly portable, but solid and sturdy enough so as not to feel cheap. The buttons are responsive and feel great, and the Bluetooth functionality means that you can also use it with your other ‘Tooth enable devices, not just the cartridge which houses its own Bluetooth sensor. If I was going to criticise the thing at all, it would be because of the lack of tabs or similar on the base of the keyboard to allow you to tilt it at an angle. I am used to typing on a keyboard raised by about 35 degrees, not laid flat on the tabletop. But this may just be me, and it certainly isn’t a deal-breaker, I was soon happily typing away on the blighter.
The game itself is simple in its premise. There is a bit of a story, which involves you taking the role of a recruit to the Elite Typists Club, as opposed to the more traditional Pokémon vocation of Trainer. The characters you encounter have some groan-inducingly pun-tastic names like Paige Down and Professor Quentin Werty, and the game involves visiting various locations to capture as many Pokémon as possible using your evolving typing skills.
After a brief seven part tutorial, Pokémon hop, bounce, fly and crawl towards you on the top screen, and it is your job to identify them and then type their name in as quickly as possible in order to capture them. To begin with this is extremely easy. In fact, at the start you only need to hit the first letter in their name to trap the Pocket critter inside a typing Poké-ball. But then things start getting tricky. The game will tell you what to type, as it would be a frankly cruel ask to expect anyone to memorize the appearance and name of all of the 400+ monsters in the game, but it will take a few moments for the name to appear on the screen. This means that you can score big points if you can actually identify the Pokémon before the letters pop up. The time you have to type before the Pokémon disappear gets shorter the further you progress, or they become more difficult to identify to the point of actually hiding. There are bronze, silver and gold ranks for each stage, and gaining the elusive gold medals can be extremely difficult and will require that you memorise different monster types on each stage, repeatedly attempting each level numerous times before you are deft enough to type the names out like your RSA-trained secretary at work. There are also “boss” stages featuring fabled Legendary Pokémon, such as Pokémon White mascot Zekrom.
VERDICT: There is something here for everyone. When the game arrived, I was excited, like that N64 kid on Youtube, or a dog waiting for you to throw the ball back. And my excitement was validated as soon as I started playing. It is an excellent game, that is right up my street.
Youngsters (and me) will like the excellent, colourful graphics and the fun of working through the levels, perhaps to attain a bronze or silver standard. Gold medals may be a bit tricky for younger players, but anyone over the age of 12 should have the nous to get their Poké-typing skills up to the necessary standard to gain them. Even if you are not a fan of the series, adults will love the quirky gameplay which makes a refreshing change from a lot of games on the market, with a gimmick that works well and is genuinely entertaining. Proper Game Freak die-hards, on the other hand, will lap up the multitude of virtual beasts to capture, and the top notch presentation we have come to expect from the franchise. It is questionable whether there is any real educational value to the title (given the fact that no child is going to be using the fictitious names of videogame monsters in everyday life) but it definitely works as an aid to typing dexterity, and is a game that can be enjoyed as a family, as kids try to out-type their old dears for big points. A superb package, which shows that the Nintendo DS still has the ability to delight.