So Ubisoft picked up on the unlikely wheel-tracks of the successful Brain Age bandwagon. Here’s another useful interactive product designed to make the user marginally smarter for having been exposed to it (or at least to make him/her sound smarter), which is almost as admirable a goal for making the world a slightly less-ignorant, less-irritating place. Yay, Ubisoft! Boo, Jerry Springer.
It’s a well-done product - actually better and cheaper than its more expensive Wii sibling - but don’t let its mini-game pretensions fool you. This is still ultimately ‘edutainment’ for a portable gaming system, and you may or may not want to let people see you ‘playing’ it in class, your airline seat, or wherever. I’m just sayin’.
My Word Coach is exactly what it sounds like: a title geared towards increasing and reinforcing the range of your vocabulary, via a series of mini-activities. (Please note that I’m intentionally doing my best to avoid using the words ‘game’ or ‘gameplay,’ but I’m probably gonna slip at least once before this review is finished.) It’s designed for fifteen- to twenty-minute sessions on a daily basis, at the end of which your current Expression Potential (EP) is re-evaluated. Essentially, your EP is a vague rating of your ability to effectively express yourself. Increase your EP rating, and you’ll unlock new activities and practice drills, or tougher levels of difficulty for those you’ve already unlocked.
The one that offers the most accessible gameplay (damn
it, see what I mean?) is Block Letters. Here, you hold the DS as you would a book; with this different aspect-ratio, the “left” (upper) screen shows a chalkboard filled with words and the “right” (lower) screen continually fills with falling letter-blocks. Spell out the words written on the left-hand display (in any order you like) and the proper blocks on the right-hand display will disappear, making room for more. Let the right-hand screen fill, and hey-Tetris,
the game ends. If things get really out of hand, there’s a bomb you can use to dole out some indiscriminate violence upon the constantly accumulating blocks. The letters also won’t necessarily fall in anything like the order of letters you need to spell out the words, so a certain amount of faith and risk-taking are required.
Though My Word Coach
is ‘designed’ for daily micro-sessions, it actively discourages
longer sessions. After you create a player profile and pick one of the available instructor-characters (this choice makes no difference at all, really - but given the option, you might as well pick the stereotypical hot-for-teacher, geeky, alluring librarian-type
, right?), your stats thereafter are tracked. And you can repeat the various activities until you hit your daily EP goal.
After that, you can’t accrue any new EP points until the next day, at least without futzing with the DS system-clock, thereby instantly
trebling your real-world Nerd Potential
(NP?). Of course, nothing’s stopping you from simply drilling away for as long as you like each day, if just in the name of increasing your verbal perspicacity. But the enforced limit on the daily sessions seems unnecessary.
The remainder of the challenges are all tackled holding the DS in the normal fashion. One of the activities that definitely works better on the DS than on the Wii - thanks to the more solid performance of the stylus and touchscreen, as opposed to the Wii-mote - is Missing Letter. Initially, players are shown a word lacking one letter
, and the point is write it on the touch-sensitive lower screen before the timer runs out. The character-recognition works great (in fact, you can link it as an input device to improve the performance of the Wii version), as long as you write in capital letters. At tougher difficulty levels, this challenge gives words with one incorrect
letter, rather than a missing one. It’s a seemingly small change, but triggers a different part of the brain.
Other mini-games require players to choose quickly between correct and incorrect definitions, scoop floating alphabet-soup letters into meaningful configurations
, drag-and-drop a handful of terms onto their corresponding definitions, and use the DS stylus to manipulate the wheel of a safe and ‘crack the combination’ of even more words.
My Word Coach
for DS uses some 16,000 words and definitions from the Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary. After each activity, you’re given a review list of the new words you nailed and the ones you blew, which is relatively helpful. Due to the game’s (there I go, again) lack of audio content, however, the newly educated may or may not be sure how to actually pronounce
these new additions to their vocabulary, which is not so helpful. Something to look forward to in the next generation of the My Word Coach
And while we’re at it, since Ubisoft has simultaneously released the well-received language-learning titles My French Coach
and My Spanish Coach
, I can’t help wondering, given the DS-owning demographic: Where the hell is My Japanese Coach
? More to the point, for every time you've heard someone utter a ‘sentence’ like “He be going to the store”, where is My Grammar Coach
My Word Coach is a genuinely-useful vocabulary-expanding tool, and just palatable enough in its activities for the conditioned gamer. It’s on the dry, academic side, of course - it’s an ‘edutainment’ title, isn’t it? - but it’s definitely challenging, and might even make you sound smarter, or pass the SAT. That’s an achievement right there, isn’t it? Word.