JumpStart: Escape from Adventure Island

wii
What we liked:
+ Cute, engaging
+ Educational
+ Kids love it
What we didn't like:
- Needs more polish
- Controls
Rating
8.0
DEVELOPER: Knowledge Adventure   |   PUBLISHER: Knowledge Adventure   |   RELEASE: 11/17/2009

More educational value than Oregon Trail and without all the dysentery.

From the same folks that brought you and your kids JumpStart: Pet Rescue comes JumpStart: Escape from Adventure Island in all the kid-friendly trappings of an educational game for a slightly older audience – 5-9 years old, that is. Opening with a high flying adventure sequence that has an airship losing altitude and crash landing into an island (not nearly as fraught with trauma as it sounds) you child’s avatar is greeted by a friendly kanagaroo that explains that the island is chock full of helium tanks that will get you airborne again. These tanks that the islanders have in bountiful supply, however, must be purchased with sand dollars earned by completing tasks, or lessons and mini games.

Controls use both the WiiMote and the Nunchuck, with navigation on the Nunchuck (though it’s possible to use the D-pad). Adventure Island requires a little more hand eye coordination and fine motor skills than Pet Rescue, with the outcome of lessons and tasks far more reliant on successful use of the Wii’s motion controls. As a result, the game controls and the ease with which your kids pick them up may largely depend on their previous experience with the Wii. My nephew has more experience on the PC than the Wii, and the motion controls just didn’t come as naturally as Nintendo might like to think. This, however, is not a problem with the software but a limitation of the hardware. While NPC interaction is governed by point and click, special locations and games are triggered by proximity.

One of my niece and nephews’ favorite features, Jumpee customisation, is reprised but with unlockables for the character customization that must be purchased with those mysteriously valuable sand dollars. Jumpee creation includes face shape, hair, clothes and hats and shoes as well as skin color and facial features, and it’s more fun for the kids than the standard Miis. House customization, another fun feature, also requires sand dollars for a number of the components but like the Jumpee creation has certain items already unlocked and available. At first I was bummed that the things my nephew found so fun about Pet Rescue were going to require collecting, then I realized the obvious – it was fun to complete a task, earn sand dollars and have them mean something to the gameplay.

Divided into two main areas, the beach and underwater (later on you unlock a tree house), both areas are fun to walk through but the Underwater world seriously impresses the kids. I’m not qualified to review the value of the education content or its effectiveness at teaching the 5-9 range, but it does seem to genuinely include educational information. Certainly more so than some games I remember from my childhood, and it definitely has more educational value than Oregon Trail – but nobody dies from dysentery. The advertised 150 different games is a bit deceptive since most of those games really fall into a handful of basic categories with tweaks in difficulty and content. Parents will probably, like me, go a little bonkers with the repetition but the game definitely keeps its audience in mind.

For example, the area Rubble Trouble has lessons, like ABCs and 123s and you can choose a lesson level from 1-3 for each as well as your gameplay level. The latter refers to how skilled your child is with the controls and will determine how many enemies (“Punk Punks”) will appear in a mini-game. Using motion controls, the game instructs the player in a simple Katamari style ball roller moving a bubble toward the goal with the right answer, then navigating a small area full of Punk Punks. Hitting an enemy takes one of three lives, but collecting a golden key allows you to smoosh the Punk Punks flat. Lives are renewed each questions, and since squashing Punk Punks doesn’t net more points they’re little more than a detour that may distract your child from the goal. On the upside of fun, an incorrect answer still lets the player complete the mini-game for that question.

The mountain jet pack game has the player fly through rings that contain objects that start with say the letter “v” (vet, vacuum, vest, vase), or rhyme with a word like “can” (man, fan, van). In addition to these playful education segments, there are some platforming levels that seem to focus more on game skills. Goon Lagoon, for example, gives you a number of keys to collect or Punk Punks to squash over a pretty section of beach. The DDR/Bust a Groove style mini-game is a big hit, as was the less math-y ball rolling game, Egg Push. By flicking the WiiMote you will kick the egg, and the only enemy here are the controls – it’s hard to keep the character lined up correctly. Another music game caters more to the young ladies, calling for the player to dress their character in a particular way and then walk the runway for judges.

Overall, a little more polish would have been nice. The graphics are fine. That praise is tepid for a reason – the game is bright and graphically average, it won’t win any awards and occasionally cuts the wrong corner. For example, reading signs or even answers in the case of Rubble Trouble can be very difficult, and that’s in HD on a fairly large set. When the question calls for the kid to find the “number word” for “88”, it’s going to be hard for them to plan, and they’ll have to get close before they can discern the words at all.

The music in the mini-games is good, surprisingly so, but it’s a creepy sort of quiet just roaming the island. The only sound effect you generate is for stomping punk punks, (as if you didn’t already need incentive) and it would be nice to have an additional theme and effects. The voice acting for the NPCs as well as mini-game instruction is very charming while remaining clear. In the mini-games, these instructions are paired with helpful visual cues.

For the younger end of the age range, some of the big picture objectives might remain elusive, but there is no doubt they will still enjoy the environment, encountering games and discovering the slide and underwater world. One of the big differences between Pet Rescue and Escape from Adventure Island is that the former really falls into a smaller category of games geared towards kids under the age of five. This five to nine range brings JumpStart into a more traditionally competitive market with the likes of Mario vying for kids’ attention. That said, as a learning game that is both fun and educational, this is a superior offering. Sure, it didn’t make Spike’s VGA list, but Escape from Adventure Island is a hit with its target audience. Rest assured, your 5-9 year old will enjoy the game – and the learning.

This review based on copy of the title provided by publisher.