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Leapster Multimedia Learning System
Type: Educational, GameTech
From: LeapFrog
Usage: Handheld
Leapster Multimedia Learning System
Tots like videogames too, but there's always the looming threat of technological zombification at that impressionable age.
Posted May 18, 2004
Tots like videogames too, but with play comes the looming threat of technological zombification and psychological introversion at that impressionable age. Fortunately, you're not really shirking parental responsibilities if your tots are glued to a handheld digital distraction and actually learning something in the process--i.e., a Leapster.

Part PDA, part LeapPad and part portable game device, Leapster is an aptly powerful, nicely affordable learning tool that cleverly hides spelling, reading, math, association and your general cognitive thinking lessons within a fun, age-appropriate series of handheld games played out on a large, stylus-activated, back-lit, color LCD screen.

Leapster comes complete with one starter cartridge, which contains a variety of mini games and lessons. Others cartridges include the likes of Dora the Explorer or SpongeBob SquarePants in gleefully recognizable educational scenarios. They sell for about $25 - $35 each.

Now, while one might think that a Disney game, say, on an older sibling's GameBoy Advance is all a tot needs for some harmless fun, the opposite is often true. Regardless of the age group in mind, GameBoy Advance games are designed to reward you for completing objectives and punish you--often "kill" you"--for failure. They also assume the player already has an understanding of this as well as a modicum of hand/eye coordination. There seems to be a formula game designers follow with a simple character swap from gun-toting brawn to flower-chucking cuddly and poof, there's a tot targeted game. Piglet's Big Game for GBA is a perfect example. It's a decent game with Pooh's pink pal as the main character, which is all well and good; except it makes five-year-olds howl in frustration and confusion (the 9-year olds that could play it probably have little interest in Piglet and prefer Pokemon). To wit, it's stupid. It shamelessly assumes you'll buy it because it says Disney on the box.

Leapster titles, on the other hand, are built from the ground up to entertain while educating with familiar characters offering helpful tips and guidance, always proactive and encouraging with nary a "death" to be found. Hit the wrong button or tap the wrong answer with the stylus and you simply try again. Leapster games reward players for participating, not just "winning."

Plus, there's more to do on a Leapster. The fact that it incorporates a pen and a touch-sensitive screen (as well as the traditional direction pad, thumb and shoulder buttons) opens up the inter-activity options ten-fold. Ironically, a touch sensitive screen is coming in the next generation Nintendo pocket player, touted as an offering of new and innovative game designs. Day late, dollar short. Leapster already does it, and it does it well, and it does it specifically for 4 to 8 year olds.

The only downside to this superb tyke technology is its appetite. It runs off 4 AA batteries, which, considering the size, brightness and clarity of the game screen and internal processing power, it goes through like smoke. A set of rechargeable NiMH or Lithium AAs is highly recommended. Two sets, actually, so you can recharge one while using the other. AC adapters are also available.
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4.25 (out of 5)