Heroes come in many forms and developers Magic Pockets have handled some of the best known ones; their previous works on Nickelodeon’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles tie-in and Cartoon Network: Battle Crashers are testament to that – even if the quality of both games is somewhat questionable. Nevertheless, the often unsung heroes of the world, teachers, are the focal point in the latest game to arrive on Xbox One, My Universe – School Teacher. Will it be an eye-opening and fun-filled experience in the classroom, or do Magic Pockets have a few things to learn about creating enjoyable games?
While My Universe – School Teacher looks to entertain with a range of mini-games suitable for all ages, the enjoyment is short-lived, if present at all. And, given the hefty price tag of £33.49, you should certainly expect to get more for your money.
The premise of My Universe – School Teacher is that you’re brought in as a savior for a failing school. It’s a lot of pressure on a teacher that’s fresh out of the rather basic creation suite, but the headmaster believes in you. Apparently, you have what it takes to teach the few remaining students of an elementary school in the hopes that your skills and motivation will see an upturn in attendance numbers, as well as an influx of awards. If only someone could motivate you, as the teacher, through the repetition that you’re about to face.
With each day of school life there are three activities to involve yourself in, and these come in the form of either lessons or side-tasks like tidying up. Almost every lesson follows a similar pattern of completing a mini-game in order for your students to learn, which builds up the Star meter. This generally lasts around 30 seconds, before the class then studies for roughly a minute and slowly earns more progress towards Stars. The more Stars you have, the better chance you have of levelling up your teacher and garnering subject-specific awards.
The length of each lesson isn’t really a concern, because let’s be honest, some kids and grownups have a short attention span. However, the studying part is incredibly monotonous as you move the teacher around the classroom and keep the children focused, otherwise their Star meter halts. For example, if someone falls asleep, you must interact with them and perform a timing based game to snap your fingers, or should someone have a question, you answer them by inputting a series of simple button commands on-screen e.g. XXYB. It’s like constantly putting out fires, but nowhere near as exciting with only three different problems on a loop, lesson after lesson.
My Universe – School Teacher doesn’t fare much better with the teaching mini-games in place for different subjects. Although there are 14 subjects on the curriculum, four of these are musically themed and so stick to the same game. The rest have their own style, such as repeating button commands for Reading, memorising a sequence for Geometry, and rearranging the order of dinosaurs to copy how it should be in the least moves possible for Natural History. Sadly My Universe – School Teacher forgets to explain the concept of each game, leaving you to wing it during the first encounters; that is where you are prone to mistakes.
The arty lessons are where the more creative ideas are found, with Collage testing your ability to stop moving pieces in order to correctly form a picture. And then there’s the paint by numbers inspired Coloring activity, which shows a small circle of each colour for the places it needs to be painted in that particular colour. It’s flawed though because it often uses similar colours on the palette, making it tricky to differentiate between them. While only a minor criticism, it’s easy to find drawbacks in regards to most of the mini-games, with the exception of the music themed offerings.
Split into Guitar, Percussion, Recorder, and Vocals, the antics in the music room play out akin to rhythm games like Rock Band. Notes will scroll vertically and the aim is to press the correct button in time to create the necessary sound. I don’t think Harmonix will be overly worried as the compositions are generic and there’s a simplistic nature to proceedings. Again though, these lessons don’t last too long and so there are short bouts of fun to be had from making music. Even better is that there are no boring post-mini-game segments requiring you to monitor the class.
There’s a slight management aspect to My Universe – School Teacher, in the way that at the end of a week you can judge the mood of your students before setting the amount of homework they should do. Giving them a break can lift their spirits and garner Stars faster, while extra homework leads to instant Stars rewarded. The latter isn’t worthwhile at all however, so the decision is an easy one – no homework – and the mood system becomes a moot point.
Outside of class, you can choose to explore the school grounds, which are fairly limited, and wander around having meaningless chatter with kids. Other options include customising the rooms and your character via unlockable designs and attires. It’s all very bland though, with bang-average visuals commonplace throughout and some slightly blurry presentation in the mini-games.
The longevity of My Universe – School Teacher is expected to come from working towards the yearly contests, which consist of you earning a certain number of Stars for a specific subject in order to achieve a Gold award. On paper, this could be tough due to a full year only lasting six weeks, but the truth is that even the slackest of teachers could hit the target within two or three weeks. At that point you’re just wishing away the remaining weeks to begin the next contest and that’s disappointing.
Crucially, I believe My Universe – School Teacher on Xbox One is stuck in that awkward middle-ground of being too simplistic for older kids and not hand-holding enough for the younger crowd. While some of the mini-game ideas are creative, the short blasts of fun they could deliver is curtailed by repetition. Sure, credit is deserved for the attempt to ensure a varied mixture of mini-games is present, but everything else just kills any kind of momentum it could gain. Most of your time is spent waking up students, which is quite apt really as you’ll be wanting a nap through sheer boredom.