Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Coaching a New Team

Game: My Spanish Coach
System: Nintendo DS (also on Wii)
Release Date: November 6th, 2007
Developed and Published By: Ubisoft
Genre: Puzzle
Cost: $25-$30

Last year Ubisoft started their “My Coach” series of games to help people learn various skills, including foreign languages French and Spanish, with Chinese and Japanese versions coming out soon this year. It seems as if the only real difference between those four games are the languages. Here I’ll be reviewing the Spanish version.

Ubisoft claims that by playing 15-20 minutes a day, you have everything you need to become fluent. The game also claims to be useful to people with any amount of Spanish knowledge, beginner to advance, but is this realistic?

The game begins with the player taking a test to see how much Spanish they already know, and depending on their score, the player is started at different levels of lessons. The problem is the test does not go up to the higher levels of Spanish, and people with intermediate or advanced knowledge will be frustrated having to go through lessons of things they already know.

Each lesson contains 10 words for the player to learn. To prove word mastery, the player completes mini-games, including Multiple Choice, Whack-a-Mole, Word Search, Flash Cards, Memory, Bridge Builder, and a spelling contest. Some of the games are more fun than others (word search and memory are my favorites.) As far as learning goes, the multiple choice and flash cards are probably best.

While the game gives you many words to memorize, it doesn’t help much with grammar. The Bridge Builder game helps with sentence structure, but it lacks depth, and you’ll end up doing the same sentences over and over long after you’ve had them memorized.

The 50 standard lessons go by quickly, and upon finishing those, there are over 900 more to complete. But don’t be fooled: these aren’t so much lessons as they are random vocabulary words to memorize. This has a definite "tacked-on" feeling to it, as if Ubisoft was too lazy to come up with actual lessons.

The polish on the game is decent. The player chooses between a male and female coach, and the game includes a few cultural notes on Spanish speaking countries, good for young children. Controls are done with the stylus, and, for the most part, work well. My personal favorite feature is the grade system: the game tells you what level of Spanish you are at (First grade, second grade, high school freshman, ect.) It’s just a cool little feature, and doesn’t really matter in terms of gameplay.

The game also comes with a phrasebook and dictionary, but these are too small and lacking to be replacements for pocket-sized reference books, though may be adequate for little kids.

Another problem is the sound quality. Compared to sound on other DS games, such as Phantom Hour Glass, it just isn’t as good as it could’ve been, even with the volume turned all the way up. Unless you’re using headphones (the game recommends it), or playing in a quiet place, it can be difficult to hear the words.

My Spanish Coach was a good concept, but Ubisoft was lackadaisical in execution. The idea of learning languages on a portable gaming system like the DS is great, and hopefully someday Ubisoft (or some other developer) will put the necessary effort into creating a more effective learning game.

Can you really become fluent just buy playing this game 15 minutes a day? No. The only real way to language mastery is to speak it as often as possible. If you want to fluentize* yourself, you should find people you can speak the language with. But is My Spanish Coach a game worth buying? I recommend it for young children first learning the language. For everyone else, while it may still be useful, there are better, more effective, language-learning tools I would first recommend. (Mango Languages, for example. They’re simply the best there is right now.)

Score: 56% out of 99% possible

*Fluentize, or fluentise, is not a word you’ll find in dictionaries, though it should be. Use it as much as you can, to spread awareness for this word.