LeapFrog has entered the console wars with the release of LeapTV, a gaming console built for little kids from the ground up. It combines the best of the Wii
-type pointer play with active gaming similar to Kinect
, and weaves education into the mix. The result is a gaming system for kids ages 3-8 that gets them up and moving as they learn.
The new LeapTV
system ($149.99) comes with a compact console (a round device that is about the size of a CD player), motion-sensing camera, camera mount, one two-way transforming controller and HDMI cable. The console has 16 GB of memory and built-in Wi-Fi for downloads; and it delivers 720p HD gaming, which means the games look about as high def as those seen on the WiiU
The console needs three to six feet of play space in front of the TV for kids to be able to move. Parents can set up five separate profiles and one guest from within the password protected Parental Controls. I am disappointed that the parental controls don't include the ability to set a timer for the amount of gaming. However, parents can select the grade of the child, so that the games automatically deliver educational content that is age-appropriate. The games also support adaptive leveling, based on how your child is doing.
Why This Console is Good
Two things make this system interesting: its three ways to play and the addition of education into the gaming.
As with Kinect, kids can play many of the games on this system by simply standing in front of the TV with no controller. Their bodies become the controller as they see themselves jumping and dancing.
The system's transforming controller provides two additional ways to play games. In its classic gaming position, the controller has two handles to let kids use a classic joystick to control characters and two buttons for jumping and executing attacks. But, this controller can also transform to a Wiimote-like pointer by pushing a button and pulling the two handles apart.
Every game for this system will be educational. At launch, there are eight games available; but by year end, there will be 100 videos, apps and games for downloading using LeapTV marketplace. Branded characters are on board, including Jake and the Never Land Pirates, Sofia the First, Bubble Guppies and more.
The Launch Games
Since a gaming system is only as good as the games that play on it, I ran four of the launch games (sold separately for $29.99) through their paces to provide a frame of reference for this review. Three of the four were home runs. Not bad.
I am most impressed with the Dance & Learn
game for kids ages 4-7. Kids get their groove on in nine movement games that also teach early reading skills.
Also fun is Kart Racing: Supercharged!,
a Mario Kart
-type game about putting the pedal to the medal while also doing fast math. For ages 5-8, this game supports two-players, if parents buy a second controller
for $29.99. Sports
, for ages 4-7, delivers nine different arenas for combined sports and math domination. Expect to see your kids karate-chopping geometric shapes.
I would stay away from Marvel Ultimate Spider-Man
, a math and web-slinging game for ages 4-7. Its controls don't always work and it contains violence that seems inappropriate for the target age, including boss battles (defeating super-tough baddies) with a lot of combat.
The Bottom Line
LeapTV is a great starter console for kids. It's a snap to set up, delivers high resolution gaming, gets kids moving as they think and encourages fun play experiences with others. Unlike the other consoles, which cater to players ages 8-up, this product features games that are made for young children and include appropriate audio and visual cues. And as compared to buying a tablet, where an Android version is about the same price point and apps are substantially less money than LeapTV games, LeapTV delivers two things tablet play doesn't: active gaming and the ability to play with others.
All tech products are judged on a five star scale by looking at the following factors: fun, education, ease of use, value, and technical.