The game is based on The Magic School Bus on the Ocean Floor, a book written by Joanna Cole and illustrated by Bruce Degen. Staying true to the educational nature of the book series, this video game teaches kids about six different levels of the oceans and introduces them to over 100 sea animals.
The Magic School Bus franchise has met with such success because it makes learning fun. This video game follows that methodology. While kids will learn hundreds of facts about ocean areas and sea life, they will do it while playing seven engaging mini-games as well as playing trivia games with Ms. Frizzle. Don't be surprised to hear your child telling you about "dorsal fins" and the "Yeti Crab.
The player joins Ms. Frizzle's class as she whisks them away to the ocean so that they can better understand how to decorate their classroom with an "Ocean Night" theme for Parents Night. The field trip is broken into six locations: Intertidal Zone, Coral Reef, Continental Shelf, Open Ocean, Deep Sea Vent, and Deep Ocean Floor. To travel to each of these locations, your child must play a driving game, which involves tracing the path of a little red ball on the bottom screen, while the bus does antics on the top screen.
Upon arriving at one of the six underwater locations, kids will see an ocean scene with four animals prominently displayed. Tapping on an animal triggers a minigame. By repeatedly playing the four minigames in this location, kids earn points to unlock the next underwater location.
How to Play
In addition to playing educational minigames, kids will need to answer Ms. Frizzle's questions about the creatures at that location before the bus will move on. Finding the answers to the questions is easy because the game provides kids with a toolbox for research. Players can use a magnifying glass to discover a detail about an animal. They can tap on a question mark to discover a fascinating animal fact, such as the moray eel has a free dentist because, while its mouth is open, shrimp feed on parasites and scraps of food. Also available is a camera to see photos of the animals; and an x-ray button to see inside an animal.
The four minigames found at each location vary, but come from a pool of six games. In one, kids trace shapes to draw three parts of an animal. For example, by drawing, they will discover that a giant clam has a mantle, a shell, and a siphon. In another, the screen is dark, but when you touch the screen with your stylus, it becomes a flashlight -- but only for a short time. The challenge is to observe quickly and then guess what animal you saw. Kids will learn about the ocean's food chain by playing another minigame where you become an animal in a side-scrolling game. You try to eat your prey while avoiding your predators. No violence is shown; you just hear a chomping sound and the animal disappears.
Other minigames explore how sea animals defend themselves and how they move. Our tester's favorite was a sorting game where ocean animals swim quickly by, and you must tap the ones that fit a rule, such as "mammals" or "animals with tentacles."
The Magic School Bus: Oceans is one of those rare video games that is as much fun as it is educational. Kids aren't just fed facts; they discover things about animals by playing games where they become that animal. For example, in the minigame about how animals move, when you become an octopus, you must jet-propel yourself around obstacles while moving forward to the finish line. In another game, the vocal instructions mention the word "predator." By playing, kids discover that a predator is an animal that eats another animal.
Ms. Frizzle and her students do a great job of reinforcing the information learned. Their comments and observations are hilarious. And by Ms. Frizzle quizzing players with fascinating questions before they leave an area, she is able to direct kids' learning back to using the toolbox.
The Bottom Line
The Magic School Bus: Oceans is one of the best kid games produced for the Nintendo DS. Don't miss this opportunity to "take chances, make mistakes and get messy" as you go scuba diving with The Friz.
All tech products are judged on a five star scale by looking at the following factors: fun, education, ease of use, value, and technical.