Many children love to play video games, but parents are often worried about exposing their kids to violence and other lewd material. That is why Leapfrog has created a product that not only promises to entertain young children, but also do it in an educational and non-violent way.
The Leapster portable learning system is more than just a handheld game machine. It has the potential to shape young minds through the use of a digital art canvas, or it can double as an electronic book and an interactive video player. This machine contains similar features as a Gameboy Advance and a Nintendo DS, such as a color backlit screen, a touch screen, a directional pad and some face buttons. It runs off four AA batteries, but an AC adapter can be purchased separately. There is also a headphone jack in case this unit needs to be used in a quiet setting.
What separates the Leapster from a GBA or DS is the fact that all the games are specifically built for young children. The target audience for this device is 4-10 year olds. Because of this, parents can be assured that every game and hardware feature is designed for the appropriate audience.
Because of the younger audience, most children this age are just beginning to read. However, many Leapster games actually talk to the user, making it an ideal situation for children who can’t read yet. The screen itself is pretty big (maybe about 4 inches) and displays smooth animation. This screen is also touch sensitive, meaning that users can touch the elements on screen with the attached stylus. This makes the whole experience a little more interactive. It should also be noted that all game save data is saved on the game cartridge itself; there is not need to buy extra memory cards.
The system hardware has three built in programs, one of them being a Frogger clone in which the goal is to hop across a river while jumping on corresponding letters and numbers. Another built in software program is a digital canvas. Using the stylus, pictures can be colored and modified to provide a decent degree of art customization.
Most games come with multiple difficulty settings, allowing both the child and the system to adjust to ideal skill levels. Tutorials are often standard and can hold the hand of the user to assure maximum educational value.
The system itself is coated in a friendly green coloring and comes with an optional screen cover that snaps on directly to the screen when not in use. Unfortunately, the system is bulky and on the heavier side so younger users might tire from holding it for longer periods of time. But if you remove the optional screen cover and use an AC adapter instead of batteries, some weight will be lifted. Game cartridges are bigger than a GBA cartridge and are quite durable. In fact the Leapster game cartridges are very similar in shape and size of the GBA title, Yoshi Topsy-Turvy- a little taller than normal GBA carts.
Each game also is build around some type of educational content. Unlike other portable gaming devices, the Leapster is always trying to teach the user about a specific topic. For example, the Sonic X game will provide math and reading lessons as the user controls Sonic, a popular video game character. Clifford the Big Red Dog’s game is designed to develop assorted reading skills such as phonics and vocabulary. Dora the Explorer and SpongeBob are also popular characters that are used in Leapster games.
This machine gets a thumbs up and is worthy of a purchase especially if you are a concerned parent. However, even though the box art claims that this device is targeted toward children up to age 10, it is a little hard to see an older child using this device. By 10 years of age, most kids will have been exposed to GBAs, Nintendo DS’s, and PSP’s and will want to move on to these more adult gaming machines. Point being, if you have a youngster that has never played with one of these other gaming devices, then a Leapster could be a great fit. And if parents have not figured it out yet, gaming machines can make great temporary baby sitters.
The Leapster system can be purchased at retail outlets for around $60 with each game cartridge costing about $20-$25, about $5 to $10 dollars cheaper than a GBA game. For more information visit www.leapfrog.com and stay with www.mygamer.com for more updates on this kid friendly gaming machine.