The game play in Elmo's World: Elmo's Big Discoveries is right on target for preschoolers and its educational content appropriately explores letters, numbers, colors, shapes, patterns, size comparisons, counting, and music.
Kids join Elmo in exploring eight educational activities presented in two modes: as Learning Adventures or as games in the Learning Zone. The Learning Adventures transport kids to four locations: a barnyard, a circus, underwater, and in a music hall. At each location, kids play games with Elmo and the silly Mr. Noodle. For example, in the barnyard, an animal is hiding but making a sound. Kids are presented with four animals, each with a different colored button underneath. By pressing the corresponding colored button, kids choose the animal that made the sound. Elmo then teaches kids the beginning letter of the animal's name and they play a side-scrolling game to collect the first letter of that animal's name.
The Learning Zone games cover the same concepts as those presented in the Learning Adventure Mode, but they use the VSmile's four colored buttons to create multiple-choice questions. For example, kids will select a shape to complete a pattern, or choose the correct number that corresponds to the number of creatures shown in an aquarium.
This software works so well with preschoolers because Elmo is a great teacher of both game mechanics and educational concepts. Elmo responds to every button pushed on the VSmile controller—he will move, giggle, dance and do silly stuff. With Elmo's verbal instructions, preschoolers quickly learn how to use a joystick to make Elmo walk sideways to collect beginning letters of words, specific colored bubbles, or numbers floating in the air. At times, Elmo will direct the player to push the big "Enter" button to make him jump; and if this is not done, he falls down, giggles, and explains that the object is in his way. The software builds on this jumping skill to teach the player how to make Elmo jump up to grab something.
Elmo never makes children feel that they have failed, even if they select the wrong answer to a multi-choice question. Elmo simply tells them to try again. And a "Help" button triggers Elmo to be more talkative in explaining how to find the correct answer. The activities can be played on two levels of difficulty.
This software has a few drawbacks. At times, Elmo's high squeaky voice is hard to understand and his lip-syncing is off. And unlike the L-Max games (VSmile's competiton), when this game is played on the VSmile Pocket while plugged into a TV, the handheld controller does not show a picture. A picture on the handheld makes it easier for children to figure out which button to push. But those quirks don't keep this being an excellent way to introduce preschoolers to educational activities in a gaming setting.
All tech products are judged on a five star scale by looking at the following factors: fun, education, ease of use, value, and technical.