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Junior Classic Games

My phone rang at 3am. This is usually an indication that a loved one has died, but on this fateful day I was brought more exciting news. It was the Big Cheese at Thunderbolt Towers, and he said simply; “Are you ready for your big break?” I knew what he meant straight away. There was no new GTA or Halo review code on the horizon. It could mean only one thing. I was being given the privilege, nay, the responsibility, of reviewing Junior Classic Games on the Nintendo DS.

But with great responsibility comes great…responsibility. Get this one wrong and the fanboys will tear me a new one. Junior Classic Games nerds are notoriously rabid in the defence of their favourite franchise. Based on the Frank Miller graphic novel of the same name, Internet critics have already sharpened their claws for the upcoming Guillermo Del Toro movie adaptation. I’ll probably be eviscerated if my review of the game causes the average score on Metacritic to drop by 0.2.

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OK, so by now you’ve probably cottoned onto the fact that most of Thunderbolt’s target readership have not exactly been waiting for this one with bated breath. But there are plenty of you out there with kids, and it’s only fair that we occasionally look into something that doesn’t involve Nazis, zombies, heavy machinery, or a combination of all of the above. So for those of you looking to purchase your sproglet between the ages of 4-9 something entertaining and educational for the DS, does Junior Classic Games fit the bill?

“It’s only fair that we occasionally look into something that doesn’t involve Nazis, zombies, heavy machinery, or a combination of all of the above”
This range of 30 “Animal World” themed mini-games is intended not just as fun, but also to help develop kids’ memories, as well as logic and problem-solving skills. The only slight hitch with asking a 25 year-old man to review it is the fact that it’s educational value is somewhat lost, so these claims are unfortunately unable to be verified by us at this stage. As soon as I’ve roped in a passing 8 year-old to do the hard work for me I’ll let you know the outcome. Although, to be fair, I did get into trouble for that once before when I was running a shoe factory in Indonesia.

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As a fairly simple-minded adult, I am able to give some feedback on the entertainment side of things. Firstly, developer Uacari’s claims of having 30 different games in this package doesn’t really stand up to close scrutiny, as several of the games are reused numerous times in slightly differing ways. Pour example, Sudoku is still Sudoku no matter what jungle animal you get to host it, and using 3 variations of it and calling them “different” games smacks of laziness.

Quality-wise the games are something of a mixed bag as well. For every highlight like the Solitaire ball game (which involves jumping balls over each other to clear them off the board, chequers-style) there is an absolute stinker, like the god-awful Jenga rip-off in which you must help a beaver build a dam by removing sticks from the top of a pile. Pulling sticks becomes more like pulling teeth thanks to irritating execution. The general quality is somewhat perfunctory; most of the games do their job perfectly well but are entirely unexceptional. Just because a game is aimed at kids doesn’t mean originality has to be sacrificed.

“Even the unfussiest 4 year-old is likely to get bored and wander off to insert pennies up their nose”The games are divided thusly; 3 music, 7 memory, 9 observation, 3 letter, 4 puzzle and 4 miscellaneous (although several of these could cross over into numerous categories, and seem to have been arbitrarily placed in a particular “genre”). Whoever wrote the blurb on the back of the box describes them as a “timeless collection”, which is stretching things ever so slightly. Replay value ranges from “worth a few goes” to virtually nil, and will probably vary considerably depending on how demanding your child is.

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There are some “classics” in the mix, and it is hard to go wrong with old favourites like word searches, matching pairs, jigsaw puzzles and hangman. But once they’ve played them a couple of times even the unfussiest 4 year-old is likely to get bored and wander off to insert pennies up their nose. Even with time limits in place most of the games are sedately paced, with only the Whack-A-Mole rip-off and Sheep Race (in which you slide the stylus to move a sheep around various obstacles) really upping the tempo at all. Actually, tell a lie, the game in which you must lay out pieces of a path for a cat to walk across a map without hitting things requires some speed, but the criteria for what constitutes failure are so unclear that the entire exercise is rendered pointless.

Which leads me onto a curious element of Junior Classic Games; the random difficulty spikes. Now, while I may not be Stephen Hawking’s (moderately) more attractive intellectual equal, I flatter myself that I should be able to master a Spot The Difference aimed at ages 4-9. Alas, this is not always the case here. There are 3 different difficulty settings for each game, and they sometimes vary alarmingly. Combine this with some iffy stylus input recognition and frustration is sure to set in. Parents may want to have a quick go at some of the games before handing the DS to junior, as some of the games need a bit of explaining.

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Aside from sometimes unclear objectives, the game is presented fairly simply, with an uncluttered (if uninspired) front end meaning it’s easy to jump straight into the action, for want of a better word. Everything is relatively bright and colourful and some of the cartoon characters are kind of cute, but again it all just feels perfunctory. Hey, it’s almost as if cynical game developers don’t put as much effort into kids products, and are just happy to go along a checklist ticking off the boxes.

If the little’un is being a pain as you wander round Sainsbury’s and you see Junior Classic Games for a fiver, you could certainly do worse. For a rainy day, it’ll provide some entertainment for a limited period of time. However, the repetitive gameplay will probably stop most kids really engaging with it, and the educational value is debatable. A budget purchase only.

5 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in January 2009.

Gentle persuasion

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