Reader Rabbit Kindergarten from Graffiti Entertainment retains the charm, fun, and educational content of the original The Learning Company computer game, but gives it a facelift appropriate to playing the game on the Nintendo DS. Reader Rabbit Kindergarten has an engaging story, easy-to-use stylus controls, and eight fun educational games.
But what is truly impressive is that the game talks to children, something that most DS games don't do. Since this is a game targeted at kindergarteners, most of whom can't yet read, this talking aspect is essential to the game's success.
Kids join Reader Rabbit and his friend Sam the Lion for an adventure in Balloon Town, a metropolis made up of several islands. This bouncy town, which has lots of balloons and other squishy matter, tries to protect itself from sharp objects. When Reader and Sam fly by in their pointy Dreamship, a massive arm of bubble wrap reaches up and grabs them out of the sky. To get their flying ship back, Reader and Sam have to earn five musical instruments by playing learning games with the inhabitants of Balloon Town. With the earned musical instruments, they can awaken the bull that is guarding their ship.
This funny story unfolds through a series of animated cartoon videos. Kids are shown a map of the town with buildings and locations highlighted. Each highlighted area contains a learning game. By tapping an area of the map, kids can travel to that area with Reader and Sam. Sometimes this travel means that you will need to board the Piggy Plane, which is a giant pig with wings. Even this air travel is a learning game, because before the pig can fly, kids must place the requested number of balloons on each of the pig's wings.
The other learning games focus on phonics, rhyming, recognizing patterns, simple math, memory, following directions, and placing items in order. For example, in one concentration game, kids will tap on oysters to open their shells. The object is to match numbers, letters, shapes, or short patterns. In another game, kids will help Balloon Butterflies hatch by putting their cocoons in the correct order. Each cocoon has a shape drawn on the outside, and a desired pattern is shown on the wings of grown butterflies. So kids will need to tap and drag cocoons into place to create the matching pattern.
The learning games can be played on three levels of difficulty; and they automatically adjust as kids succeed. An animated book character offers help when kids are stuck. Parents also have the option of setting the difficulty level for each learning game. Plus, the game creates a special progress report for parents under the Options menu.
A minor complaint with this otherwise outstanding educational game is that some of the graphics are too small. While you can read the words and see the numbers, making them bigger would have been better.
On a positive note, not only does the game have an entertaining story and charming characters, but it also has catchy songs and age-appropriate jokes. The game allows kids to slowly earn parts to the needed musical instruments, thus assuring lots of educational practice. Also good is the introduction of new learning games after you awaken the sleeping bull. In this manner, the story provides continuous motivation to keep playing.
By mixing adventure, education, and entertainment, Reader Rabbit Kindergarten provides kids with a compelling educational romp on the Nintendo DS. Graffiti Entertainment is also planning on releasing Reader Rabbit versions for preschool, first grade, and second grade on the Nintendo DS and developing editions for the Nintendo Wii and iPhone as well.
All tech products are judged on a five star scale by looking at the following factors: fun, education, ease of use, value, and technical.