When I was in grade school, I wasn't a frequent reader of The Magic School Bus books, instead preferring to bury myself in the far less educational exploits of The Babysitters' Club. I did, however, pick up enough about them to know that reading the books are much more entertaining than playing The Magic School Bus: Oceans, Scholastic's new DS game. This game is a wildly repetitive experience that might be able to briefly entertain gamers in early grade school, but kids past first or second grade would be better off just learning about oceans from a book .
The gameplay in The Magic School Bus: Oceans is by far the title's biggest problem. At the start of the game, the slow-paced minigames don't seem like a bad way to convey fish-centric information. All of the games, which are easy enough for even the youngest player to pick up on, are based around some some sort of fun fact around sea creatures. Whether they're stress-free takes on Pac-Man, simple
racing games, or image tracing, the games are decent enough to entertain kids for one or two rounds and actually have some educational value. As the game wears on, however, the endless repetition of a very small number of minigames wears all of that away. The fun facts start to run together into a giant pile of flatly drawn fish collecting tiny yellow dots and multiple choice questions about the size of a squid's eyeball. Rather than being educational, the game becomes so based on rote repetition that, gameplay-wise, it's more efficient to skip the informational sections altogether, which isn't at all good in a game intended to teach.
The sound and graphics in this game are about at the same level as the gameplay. The bright and flat 2D graphics look a little like something that would have been on the 3DO, which doesn't exactly lend it a state of the art look. It does, however, look like a simplified version of the book illustrations and TV show, so in a way, the minimalistic graphics are appropriate. The sound isn't really any better, but it's also not any worse. Everything in the game is narrated, which is very helpful for players who haven't yet learned how to read. The narrator, however, is gratingly energetic and pieced together like a phone tree, which has a very strange effect. Thankfully, however, his voice drowns out the chirpy music, so it does have its benefits.
As a whole, The Magic School Bus: Oceans might be a good purchase for very young gamers who are interested in sea life or devoted fans of The Magic School Bus. It's easy to play and has enough information to justify it as a genuinely educational title. Thanks to the game's repetitive nature and short length, however, gamers any older than that would be better served by just sitting down and reading about the ocean for their educational needs.