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Cosmos Chaos
The Bottom Line
A rare find -- a video game that makes learning new words fun!
Cosmos Chaos starts by putting kids into the role of a hero or heroine (your choice). Your beloved pooch gets stolen, and it is up to you to rescue it. Next it adds an intergalactic twist by making the dog-stealer an evil alien scientist with an outrageous-looking spaceship. Then it provides you with a cool sidekick: an alien robot who needs your help to regain its ability to speak. To punch up the "wow" factor, you find an alien gadget that can help you throughout your adventure. Add to this mix a ton of cool but quirky characters to talk with and help in interesting locales. And lastly, throw in a "Pokemon"-like game element where your sidekick robot handily takes down evil robots that attack you. The result? Cosmos Chaos is a game kids will want to play.

So how does game developer Mentor Interactive weave in the learning without interrupting the fun of gaming? Very cleverly. The game introduces new vocabulary words by occasionally inserting them into the dialogue of the game and highlighting them. If you tap on a highlighted word, it leads you to a definition and sample sentence using the new word. That is an easy mechanic, but why would kids stop their reading to tap on a word?

Because when you tap on a highlighted word, you earn experience points that helps you to level up and become a stronger hero and a better battler with your robot. Kids will also discover that to repair and recharge their robot after a battle with pesky bad bots, they will have to answer a series of questions about the words they have just encountered in the dialogue. If they have learned the definitions and can use them, they will fix their robot more quickly. Occasionally, characters will also ask you questions in which your understanding of the highlighted words can earn you more experience points. In other words, the game is very sneaky about motivating kids to learn new words.
Cosmos Chaos was designed for kids in grades third through seventh and was funded by a Star Schools grant from the U.S. Department of Education Office of Innovation and Improvement. The game unfolds in five levels with 45 words presented in each level. The words focus on science, math and vocabulary so kids will be learning about "acute angles" while also learning about the difference between "contrast" and "comparison."

This game offers between 12-18 hours of playtime as kids are whisked off to diverse locations including a desert, a rainforest, an underwater reef and the windy, slippery ice of the South Pole. Each location introduces new characters, including animals, humans and aliens. There are always secret hideaways to discover.
The evil scientist's bad bots attack you as you move around, which forces you to direct your robot in a turn-based battle. However, this battle isn't very violent. It is really a test of strategy. Your turn is all about deciding which shield should you use and what elemental attack should you unleash. An attack can be that your robot holds out a strong magnet that pulls apart loose parts of your opponent, or you might send a fierce tornado-like wind tunnel to knock down the other bot. No robot is ever blown up; they are just declared the loser. If you win, you can gain verbal chips to help your robot talk and experience points to make your stronger.

Battles also involve an element of action because your attack is strongest if you can stop a back-and-forth meter in the center by tapping it at just the right moment.

Since you will be balancing multiple quests, the game provides you a way to keep all of the information you collect organized. Early on, you find a alien watch that contains a journal to remind you of your quests, a map to show you where to go, an inventory showing quest items you have gathered, your word bank and other helpful items.

Cosmos Chaos will have broad appeal to kids because it always pairs the educational content with fun gaming mechanics. For example, after earning new batteries for your robot by answering a series of vocabulary questions, you get to slingshot the batteries into the robot in a fun minigame that resembles pinball.

Plus, this finding and collecting of new words becomes cool within the context of this game. Cosmos Chaos uses the "Pokemon" concept of collection, which kids love.

Cosmos Chaos is a rare find, and one that parents of tweens can feel good about giving their children. There is even a parental section which shows your kid's progress. Learning vocabulary words should always be this much fun.

All tech products are judged on a five star scale by looking at the following factors: fun, education, ease of use, value, and technical.

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Cosmos Chaos
Company: Mentor Interactive
Price: 19.99
Platforms: Nintendo DS