perjantai 13. toukokuuta 2011

REVIEW - Mickey's Safari in Letterland (1993)

GENRE(S): Edutainment
RELEASED: March 1993
DEVELOPER(S): Beam Software
PUBLISHER(S): Hi Tech Expressions

As the Nintendo Entertainment System started to fade, you never knew what kind of games would emerge to keep the classic on very faint life support. In 1993, Hi Tech Expressions got the rights for a series of educational games starring Mickey Mouse. The first game in the series was an NES exclusive entitled Mickey's Safari in Letterland. As much as I have liked to avoid educational games after experiencing those with Mario in them, I simply cannot resist looking into this obscure series of Mickey's least proud video game moments.

A-L-L play 'n' no S-E-X makes me a dull B-O-Y

Kids, this is an Y. It's pronounced "Why?", as
in "Why was this game made?"
Even after much experience from them, I simply do not get what educational console games are made for. For the PC, these games are practically free. I don't know how it is in other countries, but here libraries, kindergartens and elementary schools are filled to the brim with educational CD-ROMs; some that are quite darn good in fact, from a purely educational standpoint. Some of them are even good games! There never was a good educational game for a console, not in any sense.  Even if there were, who would've paid as much for it as they did for the game of the year?

Well, let's take a look at the box art first. It says "Ages 3-6". I'd say "Ages 3-4", tops. This is for kids who haven't even begun learning to read. All of the proper words in this game are three letters long - that doesn't sound very educational or challenging for a six-year old, not in any civilized culture. Besides, this game doesn't really teach words, moreover it teaches kids the alphabet and how to pronounce them. What an experience. The box art also says that "Mickey Talks!" Yes, unfortunately that's true, even if he does sound more like Goofy from time to time. What the game doesn't tell you that "It's a waste of your money and your kids' valuable time! Go out! Play baseball with your kids! Have sex with your wife!" Mickey's Safari in Letterland is a bit more of a game than most educational titles, but it's not a good one. It's not even valuable education to its supposed target audience.

Goofy's secretly into moonshine.
The graphics aren't really that bad, the game's got decent visual appeal even if it is a bit "grey", as in "very low-budget, late NES game grey". It seems all of the colour palette is saved for the pics to go with the words you (may) collect in the game. The music is insanely bad, that's not much of a surprise. *cough* Some songs stolen and recomposed from Mario games *cough*, and some merry jingles sure to rip your ears off. Not too many of them altogether. That annoying alphabet song from my dreaded childhood (as well as yours) is in as the "end credit" tune.

Your goal in this game is to collect each letter of the alphabet. To do this, you need to play through a given amount of different variations of six levels, some of which are perhaps intentionally places that have proven to be tough to spell: Yukon, the Caribbean, a pyramid, a swamp, a forest and a jungle. In the beginning of the game, you can choose from three difficulty levels - Normal, Advanced and Super Advanced. The only difference between these three difficulty levels is how many times you need to play through one level to beat this game. Seeing that you cannot die or fail in this game, I don't really see the point! There are enemies in this game, but just like in the Mario games, they can't do anything to you, except knock you over for a very brief spell.

So this is what became of Steamboat Willie.
You need to navigate the levels and use Mickey's net to capture three letters of the alphabet across the stage to form a word. There are two pretty amusing points to this. First of all, very often these words rhyme with each other. I'm not sure how educational it is to recycle the very same letters in words like bat, cat, hat, jet, net and so on. Secondly, I figured something out soon enough: you don't NEED any of the three letters to beat a level. All you absolutely need to do is make it to the basket (?) at the end of the level and let Goofy work on it to nail a random alphabet to your chart. Since you cannot be harmed by enemies or anything else for that matter, very often you don't need to do more than hop along from the beginning to the end utilizing Mickey's extremely floaty and lengthy jump.

After beating all six levels (in a heartbeat), the content of the levels changes and you are prompted for another round, and another, and another, until all of the alphabet are in the chart. Once again, you don't need any of the words, they're like rewards for being an explorer. Let's see now. All of the levels become harder to navigate towards the end. Although enemies can't harm you, it's disheartening to let them knock you over. Letters are hidden better towards the end, as are the final goals in each level. So, is this game really out to teach your kids the alphabet, or to efficiently play a real game? Is it an educational game disguised as a platformer, or a platformer training course disguised as an educational game? I'll think about that again once I get to the sequels.

What the heck is Ludwig doing here?
Beating this game is absolutely effortless for kids any age, and only three to four year olds have the potential of getting at least some kicks out of it. Hell, even a smart two-year old could play it and beat it in just a jiffy. The only "reward" for going to some extra lengths in this game is a series of simple three-letter words your kids could probably spell in their sleep already. There's just no sense in this "game".

In a way I've seen worse educational games on consoles, that's for sure. I mean, at least Mickey's Safari in Letterland is playable - if you can call it that - since it's almost like a game, and so simple to complete, unlike Mario Is Missing! in which you absolutely needed to roam around in those damn cities and search for those item-carrying Koopas for tens of minutes to be able to exit and proceed into the next stage. On the other hand it just makes no sense, not as a commercial Nintendo product or a platform for education, whereas the Mario games had _some_ valuable lessons for their target audience in them, if you looked hard enough. It's good for nothing.

SOUND : 3.5


a.k.a. Mickey in Letterland

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