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VIDEO GAME PART OF INNOVATIVE NEW EYE TEST

VIDEO GAME PART OF INNOVATIVE NEW EYE TEST 150 150 GAMESFWD

When over 5 million school children in the United States have vision problems, there is a clear need for prevention and diagnosis. However, most eye tests are expensive and difficult to conduct within schools, limiting access to the neediest of children.

It is with that need in mind that Vision Quest 20/20 has created a new eye screening method that is more efficient and affordable. Called Eye Spy 20/20, this test is a video game which adds an enjoyable dimension for kids who take it.

Eye Spy 20/20 has children wearing a pair of red and blue lenses, while playing a treasure hunt game. The coloured glasses allow the testing of each eye individually for vision problems like refractive error and amblyopia, also known as lazy eye.

“By measuring response time in the right eye versus the left eye, it gives us information as to whether one eye is underperforming or not,” said Dr. James W. O’Neil, a pediatric ophthalmologist.

Vision Quest 20/20 is a program developed by the Amblyopia Foundation of America with the goal of addressing eight important aspects of vision testing. Other traditional methods do not incorporate all of these aspects, which are needed to provide the best quality of service.

The limitations of typical eye testing methods are numerous. For example, manual screening requires trained personnel to administer the screening, which create logistical barriers for mass screenings. Photoscreening, on the other hand, does not check the child’s vision as it can only check for certain eye conditions which might impair vision and is also quite costly.

Full eye examinations are the most thorough but are not performed in schools, limiting access to those who cannot afford to visit an eye doctor. Estimates show the Eye Spy 20/20 game would cost about $5 per child, while professional eye exams can cost up to $75. Additionally, many kids with vision problems can still pass these conventional eye tests.

“We want to make them more reliable. We want to make them easier to administer. We want to reach more children,” said O’Neil.

“Automated testing ensures consistent and standardized test administration, eliminates the need for large networks of volunteers, minimizes costs, and facilitates data collection necessary for reporting test results and epidemiological analysis,” explains the Vision Quest 20/20 website. “By integrating recent advances in computer, internet, and video game technology, it is possible to solve our nation’s vision screening dilemma.”

Because the test is automated, minimal training is required to administer these vision screenings while errors based on subjective test interpretations are drastically reduced.

In a pilot project screening 600 kids at an elementary school, school nurse Lucy Samuels says the innovative test is successful.

“The [student] that I was most impressed about, he looked up in the sky and he said, ‘There’s an airplane, and I have never seen an airplane!’ It was so exciting when he got his glasses on,” said Samuels.

“It asks you questions, and you’re supposed to answer them, and if there’s a letter on the top, you have to match the letter on the bottom,” said 8-year-old Sasha, showing pleasure in what could have otherwise been a worrying eye exam.

Teaching that Works the Imagination

Teaching that Works the Imagination 150 150 GAMESFWD

When almost all of the teens in today’s schools report playing video games and half of them noting they played “yesterday”, it is no surprise that more educators are looking at the medium to strengthen their curriculums.

This alternate means of conveying information is very promising and allows students who used to lag behind their peers to catch up and excel in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math. Putting students in front of educational games creates a hands-on experience, which for many helps develop critical-thinking skills and enhances their understanding.

“Many academically low-performing students do as well as their high-performing peers [in these games],” said Chris Dede, a professor of learning technologies at Harvard Graduate School of Education, quoted in Scientific American. “By stepping out of their real-world identity of poor performer academically, [this] shifts their frame of self reference to successful scientist in the virtual context.” More…

According to the Software and Information Industry Association, instructional games make up only a tiny portion of the $2 billion-a-year educational-software industry. As the effectiveness of these games becomes more widely recognized, this proportion is set to increase.

“There is a revolution in the understanding of the educational community that video games have a lot of what we need,” said Jan Plass, co-director of the Games for Learning Institute which is based at New York University and financed by Microsoft to research how video games can assist learning.

“You can get more data in a video game than in any other education area,” said Jim Brazell, president of ventureRAMP.com – speaking at the Florida Education Technology Conference in January 2009.

“Unlike lectures, games can be adapted to the pace of the user,” says Merrilea Mayo, director of future of learning initiatives at the Kauffman Foundation. “Games also simultaneously present information in multiple visual and auditory modes, which capitalizes on different learning styles.”

“Although traditional education institutions pride themselves on educating citizens they do so at a relatively small scale compared with the media now available,” says Mayo, who recently published a study on instructional games in Science Magazine.

She also points out that studies have shown that video games can lead to a 7 to 40 percent improvement in learning over a lecture program. River City for example, a game which looks a bit like Second Life and portrays how three diseases simultaneously affect health in a fictitious city, significantly improved the scores of poorly performing students that played the game, earning them Bs instead of Ds.

And new games keep on sprouting. In December 2008, Software Kids, LLC, released a game titled Time Engineers  which teaches engineering, science, and math in a fun and appealing way. Designed to help middle and high school students explore and apply some of the fundamental principles of engineering, the game takes students to three different time periods presenting them with typical engineering problems to be solved in order to build pyramids, irrigate farm land, command a WWII submarine, raise and lower medieval drawbridges, for example.

“We’re driven by two clear facts: that careers in the sciences are somehow perceived as not as prestigious, lucrative, or cool as other careers, and that the gaming software industry has been unwilling to develop quality educational products to address these issues,” said  Ray Shingler, co-founder of Software Kids, LLC.

Tabula Digita is already preparing to release a sequel to its flagship title DimensionM. The new game, DimensionM Multiplayer 2.0 expands on the original with an extended curriculum promoting over 200 math skills for students in grades 3-12.

“In the past, when students were taught math, they were taught from a different textbook with little continuity from one grade to the next,” said Ntiedo Etuk, chief executive officer of Tabula Digita, in a news release. “With this expansion of DimensionM students will play and learn from the same educational platform with grade-specific content from elementary through high school.”

“The instructions, the activities, even the shortcuts can be applied from early multiplication skills to Algebra II content. We believe this will provide a profound connection from year to year, leading to greater comprehension and quicker mastery of important math skills,” said Etuk.

DreamBox Learning is yet another example, having recently unveiled a video game website teaching math to children in kindergarten through second grade. Children pick a scene, like an arcade or an adventure park, and a character, like a dinosaur or a pirate, and play an online game with a hidden math lesson.

“The hallmark of the product is it’s real math, but children think it’s a game,” said Lou Gray, DreamBox Learning’s chief executive officer. “We founded the company with the idea that every student deserves an individually tailored education.”

DreamBox explains that unlike some of its competitors, their game customizes lessons by constantly analyzing how many questions a child answers correctly and how they performed in the past, how long they take to answer a question and how many hints they needed. “There are over a million paths a child could take through the DreamBox curriculum”, Gray says.

Emphasising this point, Timothy J. Magner, the director of educational technology for the Education Department of the U.S. Government, explains that games have the potential to become powerful assessment tools. Since computers can capture data about every player move and that teachers can see “at the mouse-click level” how students make decisions and when they struggle, education games can help monitor progress and pinpoint specific areas of difficulty with each student.

Overcoming Game Accessibility Barriers with One Switch

Overcoming Game Accessibility Barriers with One Switch 150 150 GAMESFWD

Barriers to accessibility are numerous for disabled individuals. This is true in many aspects of life, including video gaming, though this medium is sometimes the only escape from the hardship of reality.

OneSwitch.org.uk and its founder Barrie Ellis are focused on providing solutions for disabled gamers, as well as advocating the need for better understanding of the limits video game companies sometimes unknowingly place upon this segment of the market. Inaccessible controllers and game software are a large problem and unfortunately their makers are rarely part of the solution.

Though the idea for one-switch accessibility was not his, Barrie Ellis took it upon himself to actively promote it. He explains that he first came across this concept when working for a small number of severely disabled adults in an early 1990’s day centre.

“Here I found an accessible computer suite which included touch screens, gated joysticks and large (wooden) switches with interfaces to connect to 1981 BBC Micro computers. The software was mostly educational with a number of switch games dating from 1990,” said Ellis, in an email interview with Game Forward.

“I saw the benefits of this stuff pretty swiftly. It gave power to people who had almost none at that time. It gave people a chance to take an active part instead of being passive and just watching or having people do things hand over hand. I started to write my own software and devices which took me down a route that eventually ended up with me wanting to share some of the knowledge: OneSwitch.org.uk.”

One-switch interfaces include any device that allows individuals to control a computer or game console using separate plug-in switches. “Disabled people can then play many games using a variety of body movements, or even eye-blinks, where a traditional controller might be too difficult. Switch Interfaces are also known to some as adaptive, accessible or enabling technology,” explains the site.

The One Switch website includes a number of resources for those seeking accessibility in video gaming, but also in other aspects of their lives. The site’s Accessible Gaming Shop provides information and links to accessible gaming products’ dealers and makers. These products include switches, one-handed controllers, large controllers, adapters, head-mouth-and-eye controllers, mounting solutions, tailor-made controllers, games and other software utilities.

Launched officially in June 2003, the site is a continual work-in-progress. An educational resource for those who want to adapt their controllers to their personal needs, it also presents a series of helpful do-it-yourself tips and guides. One Switch also details the difficulties many disabled gamers face. According to Ellis, the greatest obstacle to accessible gaming remains ignorance.

“Many disabled gamers aren’t aware of some of the solutions that do exist. Many game designers aren’t aware of some of the small changes that could make a huge difference. It’s not all the designers fault though. There isn’t a comprehensive gathering of accessible design solutions in one-place. It tends to be quite scattered. Some groups are working on this, especially the International Game Developers Association’s Game Accessibility Special Interest Group (GASIG) but there’s a long way to go,” comments Ellis.

One Switch’s close association with the GASIG and other groups interested in the promotion of video game accessibility has already yielded some positive results.

“[There is a] growing amount of interest, support and exciting projects in the indie scene. There’s been a growth of great accessible gaming websites such as AbleGamers.com and Game Forward,” said Barrie Ellis. “There’s been some fantastic research and initiatives, such as UA-Games Game Over, the world’s most inaccessible game (aimed at showing designers some of the problems inaccessible games pose). I’ve seen support grow in the mainstream press with a growing number of sympathetic articles. I’ve seen many more PC indie games with deliberate accessibility features being created.”

Today’s gaming options have their share of hits and miss when it comes to creating user-friendly controls and interfaces. Ellis believes the PlayStation 2 continues to be number one for gamer accessibility.

“Although it posed some of the biggest barriers with it’s highly complicated JoyPad [sic], the fact that such a huge range of controllers came out for it, including one-handed, large button, dance-mats, arcade sticks and so on gave many more physically disabled gamers a chance of playing.”

“It’s also had the best support of all consoles with accessible game controllers such as the Dream-Gamer, C-SID, Quadcontroller and PS2-SAP. Compatibility with the PSone brings even more excellent accessible games. All of this is enough to take the prize,” finds Ellis.

The Nintendo Wii remains the runner up. “You can’t knock the fact that this fine little machine has brought a huge range of previously non-interested video gamers to the fold. Largely due to the simple (fairly) intuitive controls for many of its games. The big problem with this machine is that there’s no support for navigating the menus with anything but the Wii-remote. If you’re a switch gamer – you may find the machine poses some very annoying and unnecessary barriers.”

The least accessible console remains the Xbox 360 due to its limited selection of controllers and the fact that many third party controllers cannot be directly used without a converter which can cost over a hundred dollars.

Ellis is officially the only one working on One Switch, though his success comes with the help and support of his partner Caron and their daughter Katie. His work with other groups and organizations has also been invaluable in promoting gamer accessibility.

“My C-SID switch interface controller was born from collaborating with Ultimarc. [Almost] 95% of the one-switch games in my one-switch library have come through tying up with the ever marvellous Retro Remakes community. Through Retro Remakes I met the programmer William Pilgrim who is working with me on one-switch music, stories and games. I do love the way that one thing leads to another.”

The rewards of accessible gaming are often as simple as a thank you note. Ellis notably shares one of these recent rewarding messages on the One Switch Blog:

“I am Colin McDonnell… You made me a C-SID for Christmas. You have made my Christmas, thank you very much, it is brilliant. Now I can play on the PlayStation and GameCube / Wii with my brothers and sisters. My favourite games are racing games, fighting games and I even go on Zelda with a little help from my sister. To use the control I only really use my head. I have three switches on my head rest and sometimes I have a fourth one on my tray depending on what game I’m playing.”

Colin is just one example of gamers helped by One Switch through its resources and advocacy.

SURVEY REVEALS SOME WOMEN PREFER GAMING OVER SLEEPING

SURVEY REVEALS SOME WOMEN PREFER GAMING OVER SLEEPING 150 150 GAMESFWD

A new survey by Entertainment for All, a consumer video game expo taking place from October 3-5, 2008 in Los Angeles and PoshMama.com, an online community exclusive to women around the world has uncovered some unusual gaming trends in women.

The survey results, gathered in September, find that more than one-third of women respondents play video games when they should be sleeping, if given an extra hour of free time at home. Many participants also said they played games in unusual circumstances such as: while on the phone (32%), while at work/in a meeting (20%), and while getting ready for work (12%).

“Playing video games is becoming an increasingly popular pastime for women, which isn’t surprising given that it’s a great way to spend time with family and friends, have some fun and even blow off some steam,” said Heather Weaver, Technology Contributor at PoshMama.com and author of GeekMomMashup.com, who helped create the survey.

“The surprising element, as revealed in our survey, is that it is actually keeping women up at night. This and the other results reveal that the traditional video game industry has fundamentally changed—and will continue to evolve—as more and more women take over the video game controls,” Weaver added, in a news release.

Further findings show that more than half of respondents (53%) have been late for meetings with friends or family due to playing games. Almost one-fifth (18.5%) said that video games have made them late for work or a meeting, and the same number (18.5%) reported that playing has led them to be late for a personal appointment, like a visit to the dentist or the doctor. Almost two-thirds of participants (64%) said that they play video games because they either enjoy it or they want to spend time with their friends and family.

“Video games are truly entertainment for all — from busy women to hard core game players,” said Mary Dolaher, Chief Executive Officer of IDG World Expo, which owns and operates E for All. “This survey shows that many women place great value and high priority on video games in their lives.”

EUROPEAN COMPANY TO RECYCLE PLAYSTATION CONSOLES

EUROPEAN COMPANY TO RECYCLE PLAYSTATION CONSOLES 150 150 GAMESFWD

UK based The Electronic Waste Company has closed a deal with Sony Computer Entertainment Europe to handle the recycling and disposal of Europe’s old PlayStation One consoles. The contract is expected to process about 250 tonnes or 300,000 console casings in its first year.

The recycled consoles will be provided by Sony through returns for upgrades or refurbishment. The Electonic Waste Company specifically pledges to reuse or recycle 100% of the equipment, stating that none of it will be sent to landfills. Some of the plastic yielded from the recycling process is already set to be used in the fabrication of pens and chairs.

“The quality of materials produced at this stage of the recycling process is fundamental in enabling PlayStations to be effectively recycled. We work with experts in a number of fields to minimize the environmental impact of our operations and believe the Electronic Waste Company is able to meet our high standards,” said Gregor Margetson, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe’s Environmental Programs Manager, in a news release.

Approximately 300 million PlayStation One consoles have been sold across the world since the console’s launch in 1994. About 100 million of these were sold in Europe.

Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth Review

Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth Review 150 150 GAMESFWD

Set 100 years after the first Castlevania game, this reimagining of a 1989 Game Boy favourite sees you guiding Christopher Belmont through a treacherous mansion in search of Dracula, who has risen to terrorize humanity once again.

Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth looks, sounds and plays like a souped-up SNES title and most closely resembles Super Castlevania IV. Though the game takes place in six somewhat linear and strictly-timed levels, there are still plenty of secrets to uncover in Dracula’s castle.

When you start the game you are greeted with a myriad of difficulty and control options that allow you to customize your experience. In addition to standard difficulty settings, you can adjust the amount of lives you start with and toggle whether or not Christopher is knocked back when struck by and enemy.

You can play Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth with a Wii Remote on its side or with a Nunchuck attached. You can also use a GameCube controller or a Classic Controller and both action buttons are fully re-mappable in all four control options. Everyone should be able to find a control set and difficulty level that they are comfortable with thanks to the simple, yet often overlooked inclusion of customizable controls and traditional controller support.

Once in the game, you are thrust immediately into action. For the uninitiated, classic Casltlevania gameplay typically has you lumbering through levels with your trusty whip in hand while you are assaulted by otherworldly creatures like zombies, skeletons and, of course, vampire bats. Christopher Belmont controls like a tank wearing lead boots, though his movement is easy to get used to.

Along the way, you will encounter powerful sub-weapons such as axes, knives and holy water. These sub-weapons are fuelled by hearts you collect by destroying candles and other various light sources. You can also collect gold and jewels that add to your score and food items that replenish your health.

Though the game is quite linear compared to open-ended Castlevania titles such as Symphony of the Night or Order of EcclesiaCastlevania: The Adventure ReBirth is full of breakable walls, branching paths and even shortcuts through levels. Exploration is usually rewarded with a powerful weapon or high-scoring items.

You can earn extra lives through score, which can come in quite handy as this game is decidedly old-school in ways beyond the look and gameplay. When you lose a life, you are respawned at the last checkpoint. Should you lose all your lives and need to continue, you will have to start an entire level again and if you turn the game off you will be forced to start from stage one.

Luckily, making your way through the game only takes about two hours, so average players could easily tackle it in an afternoon. Replay value comes from trying to find all the secrets and shortcuts in the castle and maximizing your score, just like it did 20 years ago in many 8 or 16-bit era games.

Though each stage has a strict time limit, I found that there was always plenty of time to explore and dispatch enemies. Each stage has a sub-boss in addition to a boss encounter, but they are generally short so there’s no need to cache time. I found the game much more rewarding when I took the time to thoroughly explore each level.

Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth 
is a great-looking game and surpasses the original SNES offerings in a number of ways thanks to modern processing power. Large on-screen characters, muliple scrolling backgrounds and great lighting and rain effects are punctuated by flawless 60fps performance. The game also features some display options that you can tweak to best suit your television.

The music is also quite well done and sounds like it is straight out of a vintage game. Konami games always had some of the best music on the NES and SNES and the work of Manabu Namiki is easily up to the high standards set more than 20 years ago.

With the possible exception of adding online leaderboards, I can’t think of a single thing  would change about Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth. It finds a great balance between old and new and is scaleable enough to be enjoyed by both casual fans and those looking for a stiff challenge.

If this game was released as a sequel to Super Castlevania IV on the SNES, many of us would have gladly paid full price for it. Any fan with even a passing interest in 2D side-scrolling gameplay would be well-served to spend $10 on and a few hours with Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth because it is a shining example of the genre as well as one of the best retro remakes available on any platform to date.

BENHECK AND EDIMENSIONAL BRING ONE-HANDED GAME CONTROLLER TO MASS MARKET

BENHECK AND EDIMENSIONAL BRING ONE-HANDED GAME CONTROLLER TO MASS MARKET 150 150 GAMESFWD

Wow, what a great press release to wake up to. Benjamin Heckendorn (BenHeck) and eDimensional, Inc. have teamed up to offer the Access Controller, a mass-produced video game controller that only requires one hand to operate.

This modular controller features everything you’d find on a regular one, from analog sticks to shoulder buttons and a d-pad. Each module can be repositioned depending on gaming style or the user’s specific needs and it even comes with a built-in wrist guard.

The Access Controller’s concave bottom is designed to rest on a table or one’s leg and is also said to be well-balanced for optimal responsiveness. It also uses 2.4 GHz wireless technology for added convenience.

Michael Epstien, CEO of eDimensional stated “We could not be more pleased to team up once again with Ben to make his vision of a readily-available single-handed controller a reality. It has become a mission for our company and a truly rewarding experience that we are fortunate to be a part of.” Heckendorn and eDimensional previously teamed up to offer the AudioFX Pro 5+1 headset system.

The Access Controller is currently available for pre-order at the eDimensional website. It is expected to ship in August of this year. It supports PC, PlayStation 2 and PlayStation 3 gaming and will sell for $129.95 USD.

That may sound pricey, but I’m sure it will help many gamers become a little more able to enjoy their favourite hobby with more ease and less frustration. Also, a portion of all proceeds from sales of the Access Controller will be donated to Children’s Hospital and Veteran Affairs Medical Centers.

I’ve already pre-ordered one of these to test out and review. Even though I’ve gotten used to two-handed gaming over the years, there certainly are times I wish I could do it with one hand without having to contort myself.

Let’s hope Microsoft and Nintendo allow these guys to produce controllers for their systems as well, the demand is obviously there and great enough for a company to invest in.

ABOUT NATHALIE CARON

ABOUT NATHALIE CARON 150 150 GAMESFWD

I have been writing for Game Forward since its launch as The Able Gamer (not authorized by, associated with or sponsored by AbleGamers Foundation, Inc. or its website AbleGamers.com) in January 2008. I have developed a strong interest in technology reporting ever since my university days, where I studied print journalism. I  received my undergraduate degree from the University of Ottawa, with great honours, in April 2007. I have also written online as a citizen journalist, I blog on occasion and write for a living as a correspondence writer.

I enjoy reporting on health and education themes for Game Forward, but also about politics and current affairs. When I am not writing, I spend much my of time playing video games (to be reviewed or not), listening to music, working and hanging out with Brian – my spouse and creator of Game Forward.

I suffer from depression, which I do my best to keep in check. However, this condition sometimes makes it difficult to commit to long term projects. There are times where I will start my day with a positive outlook, but a minor roadblock will cause me to reconsider everything, and see it all in a negative light. Gaming is a useful tool in dealing with this depression, as it provides a distraction from everyday disappointments. It also cheers me up to complete a level or a mission, on days when I feel like I’m failing everywhere else.

My favourite game is Animal Crossing, with its sweet and simple gameplay. I also like to watch Brian play role-playing games like Final Fantasy or Disgaea. I am not a big fan of action games, because I have difficulty controlling the camera without frustrating Brian (who watches patiently as I struggle!) I like puzzle games and self-improvement games the most.

I take interest in watching the video game industry grow as it increasingly takes disabled gamers into consideration. I also appreciate seeing the serious game industry become more influential.

ONLINE GAME FATWORLD EDUCATES ON NUTRITION AND OBESITY

ONLINE GAME FATWORLD EDUCATES ON NUTRITION AND OBESITY 150 150 GAMESFWD

Fatworld, a free, downloadable video game about eating, obesity and the politics of nutrition was launched in early 2008.

Published by ITVS Interactive and PBS’s award-winning weekly series Independent Lens and created by Atlanta-based independent and activist game studio Persuasive Games, it aims to educate teens and adults on the long term health impacts of their daily choices.

“Existing approaches to nutrition advocacy fail to communicate the collective effect of everyday health practices,” said Dr. Ian Bogost, Persuasive Games co-founder and lead designer of the game, in a news release.

“In a video game, we can simulate the passage of time and give players a view of their future selves based on their current habits.”

The game allows players to choose their character’s starting weights and health conditions, as well as predispositions toward certain medical conditions or food allergies. Players will also create a menu of foods to eat and avoid, create an exercise plan (or not) and see the effects of these decisions on the general health of their character.

Those who eat more than they burn will get fat. Those who eat poorly develop adverse health conditions, just like in real life.

While the game hopes to raise awareness on the effects of nutrition and other life choices on one’s health, it does not mean to tell people what to eat or how to exercise. Instead, it aims to “demonstrate the complex, interwoven relationships between nutrition and factors like budgets, the physical world, subsidies, and regulations,” explains the game’s website.

MY WORD COACH REVIEW

MY WORD COACH REVIEW 150 150 GAMESFWD

Developed at Ubisoft’s renowned Montreal Studio, My Word Coach on Wii is a casual title meant to improve your vocabulary. It follows in the footsteps of games like Brain Age and is essentially a collection of mini-games presented under the guise of a training program. While the mini-games themselves are a little simplistic, the words presented are in fact quite advanced and certainly challenging. Until you’ve seen them all at least.

Playing My Word Coach is supposed to increase your “expression potential”, or your ability to express yourself in writing and orally. After an initial 40 word assessment asking you whether or not you a familiar with each term, you will receive a rank out of 100. We started in the mid 50s.

The single player mode includes a few levels. “Missing Letters” is a fill in the blank game. Using an onscreen spray can/pen you are asked to complete a series of words as rapidly as possible. The level has a generally good level of text recognition, though some mistakes do occur. Specifically, we noticed the game would often misread a wrong letter by recognizing the proper letter instead. J and S were the letters that got misread the most in our experience.

Later on, an unlockable feature allows you to use a DS’s touch screen to write, which drastically speeds up this process. The level of recognition seems quite a bit better when using the DS as an input device, it’s a real shame that more games in this collection don’t take advantage of it.

“Split Decision” shows two definitions for one word, asking you to choose the right one. Some problems are simpler then others, and guess work can be useful. “Word Shuffle” presents multiple words and definitions to be matched up. A useful feature, My Word Coach will review each word with its definition following a level.

Another level, “Word Soup” requires players to sort the letters of a mystery word, only knowing its definition. However, this level is almost impossible to solve as the definitions, some a few sentences long, appear for just two or three seconds, leaving players little time to read and understand them.

Training quickly becomes stale with very few unlockable levels and a general lack in variety. Daily quotas also tend to limit gameplay sessions to 15 or 20 minutes at a time. However, the game does offer a multiplayer option, matching players up in levels similar to those in single player mode. While it sounds like multiplayer contests could extend the life of My Word Coach, the game variations all seem to fall flat, and sessions rarely last more than a few minutes.

Words and definitions started to repeat themselves in a matter of just a couple days, and after a week it felt more like we were playing a pattern recognition game than actually building our vocabulary or learning anything. We seriously doubt the title’s longevity beyond maybe a couple weeks.

My Word Coach takes full advantage of the Wii remote’s motion and infrared control options. Scrolling in the menus is achieved by tilting the remote left and right, writing missing letters uses the controller as a pen and you can re-sort letters of a word by pointing at them and “picking them up”. It should be noted that the input method requires a pretty steady hand, any slips can cause a wrong answer to be registered by the game.

Unlike Nintendo’s own Big Brain Academy: Wii DegreeMy Word Coach does not include any Mii integration; it instead offers a few generic looking player icons to choose from. Presentation on the whole is actually rather bland and unappealing. The game is presented exclusively in the 4:3 aspect ratio and did not fare very well on our HD display. While games like this and Wii in general aren’t about the graphics, it would have made a lot of difference if just a little more care went into making the game look cleaner.

The game’s vocabulary is quite advanced, perhaps even targeted towards British gamers, using such terms as “petrol” to say gasoline and “skinflint” to say cheap. Other terms are very specific, scientific or technical even leaving you to wonder when you will ever get the chance to utilize them in your daily communications.

Overall, My Word Coach misses the mark. It fails at making a lasting impression due to a sub par presentation and apparent lack of inspiration. As well it fails at being a true vocabulary coach, using words which we doubt will help improve your communication skills. There are better ways to spend the $40 UbiSoft is asking for this game at retail, like maybe a dictionary or thesaurus.

Positives:

+ DS can be used as a controller
+ Decent writing recognition

Negatives:

– Odd vocabulary choices
– Bland presentation
– Not enough modes or variety