Don’t take my word for it!
I have a lot of trouble recommending an educational game as flawed as Jump Start: Escape From Adventure Island. Luckily for the good people at Knowledge Adventure, I don’t have to. In order to properly assess just how close this game comes to hitting the mark, I enlisted the assistance of a member of its target demographic – an adorable nine-year-old girl named Tommy.
[image1]The box art pretty clearly suggests the kind of experience this game offers – unabashedly aimed at children, Escape From Adventure Island is cartoony and simplistic. The premise of the "story" experience, such as it is, is that you’ve crashed a blimp on the eponymous Island, and have to earn Sand Dollars to repair it. The player is abruptly thrust into a bare-bones hub world, where you can parade your customized character (oddly named a "Jumpy") around to any of a dozen mini-games.
Half of these games are actually just duplicate experiences in different environments, but each one uses motion controls in a unique – if not always intuitive – way. Although the Jump Start series is explicitly marketed as educational, only a few of the mini-games can actually be considered as such, with the rest being only valuable as hand-eye coordination training or tests of spatial reasoning. All told, the game doesn’t give a promising first impression.
I was initially trepidatious, as my first solo playthrough made me worry that I might be carted off for child endangerment. The dismal production values reeked of budget title, and the obtusely-designed mechanics had me questioning my own intelligence on several occasions. Could I in good conscience really expose an innocent child to something so poorly made? Tommy was so excited to play a new Wii game, and so convinced that it would be fun. I, on the other hand, was pretty certain that it would frustrate her to the point of tears… in which case I would have been obligated to send the developer a strongly worded e-mail containing a picture of Tommy’s tearful visage and the caption "LOOK WHAT YOU’VE DONE!".
[image2]I shouldn’t have worried. There appears to be some truth to the adage that kids will play anything. The very existence of the majority of the Wii library is a testament to this, and I certainly recall putting up with some pretty terrible games in my youth. Hell, I played hours of Pitfall on the Atari 2600, and that was basically the digital manifestation of sadism.
The second we sat down to play, she was utterly rapt with joy. Every time we tried a new challenge, she happily rose to the occasion. Although there were problems in adapting to the frustrating controls, although she needed assistance navigating the clumsy menus and occasionally baffling design choices, she was nonetheless totally enthralled. Because she’s at the top end of the recommended age group, I find it disconcerting that she had trouble playing the game by herself. However, I’m inclined to think that the sheer amount of fun she had makes that basically a non-issue.
The educational portions are actually far more substantial than I initially feared. There are dozens of levels and multiple subjects for each mini-game. Although the individual mechanics are repetitive, Tommy consistently returned to the math and reading challenges, occasionally playing with the dancing and fashion mini-games for a change of pace.
[image3]But let’s be clear here: Even Tommy knew this game had major issues. She called the sound effects "annoying", and was visibly frustrated when the game froze on a couple of occasions. The fact that I had to walk her through the menus wasn’t exactly making the experience more enjoyable. And in a moment that I consider to be pretty indicative of the entire experience, when she was customizing her Jumpy, we at one point had to stare at a loading screen for a picture of a hat for an unjustifiably long time.
I can’t excuse these problems entirely, so how do we reconcile them with her enthusiasm? My solution: It took two people to play the game, so it should take two to review it.
I’ll put this in Adventure Island terms (please imagine some vaguely tropical-sounding music and a really fake-sounding Australian accent): For Tommy’s score, think of a letter that makes an "Ah" sound, as in "Ah-mazing". For my score, think of a letter that makes a "Eff" sound as in "Eff-ing Terrible". Now, find the Average of these two scores, and what do you get? Very good! You get "C", for "Completely Mediocre".
You’re so smart.