I had big plans for how to review Educational Games for Kids on Xbox One. I was going to play each of the 21 games (51 variations – thank you, press materials) side by side with my five-year old daughter, and then we’d give dual reviews: me from the perspective of a parent and her as the target audience (the game is aimed at 3-18 year olds).
Now I understand why they say “don’t work with children or animals”, as she gave an identical review for each game of “I love it”. We’re going to have to work on her critical faculties. Of course, you could interpret it as a glowing review – if so, duck out and go buy now!
As a family, we’ve found that the only games that have stuck with my five-year old on Xbox One are Lego The Incredibles and Skylanders. These are becoming comfort blankets and are barely educational, so we’re in the market for more enriching games. Unfortunately, as an ecosystem, the Xbox One is poorer at catering to early-years than any other system. PC, Switch, mobile and even the PS4, thanks to a smattering of VR titles, all better serve a younger player, and we’ve bounced off the Xbox’s limited colouring and jigsaw games.
So, when Educational Games for Kids cropped up, I jumped at the opportunity. My daughter looks at me with the Xbox controller and wants to play it more often, and now was her chance to do so.
The compendium presents itself very similarly to 51 Worldwide Games on the Switch, if you’ve ever had the chance to play it. A horizontal list of games can be rattled through, and a short, visual explanation of each is offered before you jump in and play. But while 51 Worldwide Games focuses on recreational games, Educational Games does what it says on the tin and looks to inform (although, in truth, a fair few games are more fun than educational, so it’s not as dry as you might assume).
If you’ve ever gone on the hunt for educational games and apps for a younger child, particularly on mobile, then roughly half of the games will feel familiar – colouring books, memory games, dressing up, jigsaws and mazes are all present. These felt standard issue in terms of presentation, depth and quality, and my daughter quickly adapted to them, but I had the nagging feeling that they were available for free on other platforms. It’s not that they are bad – they’re just vanilla.
Where the game came into its own was with the other half of games: there were ten or so that tried something new and kept my daughter playing as a result. There’s a great little maths game based on Space Invaders, for example, with a number on your ship and sums on the invaders. Some unusual sorting games – ordering pictures according to shape, colour, sound and pattern – were favourites, and the game opens with three endless-runner style games that were dubiously educational but gave my daughter something to break up the edutainment.
It would have been easy to keep the packaging spartan, as most kids aren’t discerning, but Educational Games makes a few additions that go a long way. Most games can be dialled up and down in terms of difficulty, while others have options to finetune it even further. The games are clearly visualised and given age boundaries (my daughter wanted to tell you that the games were a little too easy, so feel free to brave some of the higher age games), which allows your child to navigate the games on their own. A universal star scoring system is a nice motivator (although there was sometimes confusion as my daughter didn’t feel that the final score corresponded to the one that tracks as you play).
And the music. Oh, the music. I want to get in touch with the developer and get my hands on the game-end theme. We’re still humming along to this ear-worm as a household.
There are issues worth noting. The Xbox controller isn’t always perfect for little hands, and some games, like the jigsaws, demand an amount of precision that compounds the problem. It’s a shame, as other games make concessions to the controller. Highscores and achievements are motivating for little demons, but they vary wildly from exceptionally easy to near impossible for the age they’re aiming at. It might be a little concession to achievement hunters, and yes – you can get 700G or so within an hour, and 820G if you’re willing to use Wikipedia for the quiz sections. A few games also have rough edges, latency and imprecisions that cause a few headaches.
I’d also like to challenge the game’s assertion that this is aimed at 3-18 year olds. If you’re looking at buying this for anyone over the age of 12, I’d have second thoughts. There just isn’t enough content for them here: there is a smattering of quizzes, but the real sweet spot is 3-8. It’s no bad thing, as it means a wealth of content for that bracket, but it’ll be unsatisfying for anyone older.
Your appreciation for this collection will depend a lot on your circumstances. It’s priced high in comparison to other platforms (£10.74 on launch), particularly mobile, and the simplicity of tapping and swiping is probably more suitable for a child too. That might seem a dealbreaker, but this is a great gateway to getting your little’un on a controller, and that price could fall in future sales. Just keep it in mind when considering if this package is for you.
The collection could easily have been a scattering of shovelware, taking advantage of Xbox lovers who want to bring their kids in on the act. Heaven knows; there isn’t any competition. But while the presentation is a little bland and the price tag is north of the value it offers, Educational Games for Children on Xbox One has been made with real care. If your kids are anything like mine, they’ll love it.