Review: My Word Coach

my_word_coach.JPGPlatform: Nintendo DS
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Ubisoft
Release Date: 11/06/07
Genre: Edutainment/Puzzle
Players: 1-2

Thanks to a growing range of publishers and developers, some consumers probably consider the Nintendo DS to be a really cool learning device that also happens to also have some great game software. If you bought the handheld for Brain Training and its sequels or if you’re looking for a great gift to improve anyone’s word power, Ubisoft’s My Word Coach is just the ticket. Got a kid who hates looking at the dictionary or some less than eloquent friend that needs some vocabulary training? Toss this at them and after that usual face they’ll make when you’re trying to pawn off ‘edutainment’ on them, they’ll slink away and start playing when you least expect it. Next thing you know, you’re getting a nice handwritten note with words they’ve never used before (signed “THANX! =)” of course).

Calling this a “game” is a bit of an understatement, as though there’s plenty of fun to be had, like other titles in this subgenre, it’s meant to be played in short bursts of about 15 to 30 minutes. Developed in conjunction with a team of linguists, there are over 17,000 words here that you’ll be tested on in different events. Once you set up a profile, you’ll get to train in a few events whereupon you’re graded and given a daily word quota., which is set through a series of more challenges. Pick up the game the next day and as you choose correct answers, a bar on the top screen fills up as your word quota grows. You’ll receive EP (Expression Potential) updates as your word power improves and new games are unlocked. It’s a structured program that works wonderfully – the events are fun enough for you to keep playing and the rewards are more games and even better, more words for your brain to absorb.

Games are split into three types, spelling, word recognition and definitions, so you’ll be guessing missing letters in one puzzle, figuring out the meaning of words in another or trying to find complete words in a seemingly random stack of letters. None of the games are dull, and in fact, there’s a lot of humor sprinkled throughout that keeps you hooked. For example, as you make your way through the game, you’re graded according to a percentage chart that ranks you from Smart Toddler all the way to Poet/Literary Writer. Hilariously enough, I found out the Newscasters are rated lower than Lawyers, but Editor-in-Chief types are closer to Poets. All this time I knew I was smart, but now I know I’m cut from better cloth than a the big haired folks reading the news on a daily basis (nyah nyah nayh nayh nyahhhhh)! Of course, NY1’s Pat Kiernan would probably beat me soundly at this game if he had a copy, but I digress…

Presentation is clean, efficient and perfect. There aren’t a lot of flashy visuals here, but this is one of those games that works without them. Using the stylus to fill in letters works extremely well, provided your handwriting is legible. If you’re one of those kids who’s raised in the computer age or an adult who’s lost the fine art of simple Roman letters, you might have one or two moments where you get a wrong answer because that “E” you scrawled registered as a “T” or somehow, a “C.” I personally had no issues except for totally forgetting what type of capital “I” to write early on. There’s music in the game, but as this is supposed to be a learning experience, don’t expect to be suing those DS headphones at any point. In fact, you just might be turning the music off just so you can concentrate on the game.

The game also supports connectivity to the Wii version of My Word Coach, but as I haven’t yet gotten a copy of that game, I’ll need to revisit this function in a regular blog post at some point. From what I gather, you can use the DS as a control pad of sorts, entering letters via the touch screen rather than drawing them in midair with the Wii controller. One thing missing here is a pronunciation guide, something that would have been extremely helpful for kids or adults with lower comprehension skills. However, all that voice would probably take up too much space on a DS cart, so I’d imagine this was taken into consideration from the beginning of the project. One solution for a sequel might be for Ubisoft to look into a dual cart system that uses the GBA slot for some sort of voice compression cart with all the words vocalized. Of course, that’s just an off the top of the head idea, as I’m not even sure the two ports have any sort of synch capabilities.

Finally, I’ll close with more of a social observation: some adults might find this sort of thing “too simple” for them because they went through that four years of college, spent more years in grad school and so forth and so on. However, when you consider that more people can’t read in the US or can’t express themselves properly thanks to comprehension issues or an over reliance on slang and shortcuts, My Word Coach makes for a quietly compelling way for them to see there’s more to today’s vocabulary than talking like you’re in a bad TV sitcom. Highly recommended and guess what? Ubisoft also has My Spanish Coach and My French Coach for the DS – We’ll need to definitely have a go at both of these and get back to you with the verdict…

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