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Vtech Mobigo makes handheld gaming robust enough for really young gamers. Although not a sophisticated as the DS, it does much better with the basics for the newer additions to our families.
The Vtech Mobigo Handheld is a portable gaming machine with an emphasis on learning for very young gamers from 3 to 8 years. Like other Vtech devices it is intelligently housed in robust rubber bumpers that will protect it from drops and falls likely to write off a DS or GBA.
It has a touch screen like the DS, and visuals somewhere between the DS and GBA. But the real innovation here, especially in terms of educational games, is the flip our keyboard. This enables young players to get to grips with physical buttons and a QUERTY layout. I'd have preferred lowercase nomenclature on the keys as this is how my children started learning their letters at school, but it's still a welcome addition.
The Vtech Mobigo Handheld comes in a couple of colours, although these resort to pink for girls, and blue/orange for boys. Games come on chunky cartridges just like they do on Nintendo handhelds, and provide the ability to save and track your progress. Not quite as good is that you can only record one account on the machine at a time. If two kids want to share a device there is no way to keep track of their progress individually.
The games simply detect which input is being used and adjust accordingly.
At 49.99 GBP for the system and 19.99 GBP for each game the Mobigo is a little less expensive than a DS or PSP. The Mobigo system also comes packed with a sample cartridge that contains 6 games. The technology maybe slightly dated, but this is more than made up for by the intelligent game design that avoid many of the missteps of more entertainment focused titles.
Rather than rely on complex menu selection or pixel perfect tapping, young players on the Mobigo can use either buttons, touch screen or keyboard. The games simply detect which input is being used and adjust accordingly.
It's easy to underestimate the importance of the games themselves, but it is here that the Mobigo really punches above its weight and gives the other handheld platforms a run for their money. Time has obviously been spent creating experiences that are attractive and enjoyable for really young players.
The youngest in our family (3) often finds himself a little left out while the other two (5 and 7) play on their DS and GBA games. With the Mobigo he now had a way to join in with our gaming sessions. While I had discovered the odd game he could play on the other systems, Pac n Roll (DS) and Dora Saves the Crystal Kingdom (Wii) for example, all it takes is a misplaced button press and both the Wii and DS simply turn off.
The Mobigo not only meant that he could play a range of educational games to got him started on his maths, vocabulary, spelling, logic and categorization, but it also built his confidence using these sorts of devices.
The Mobigo is a tactile, robust, portable games machine that offers something genuinely unique and interesting.
It is obvious that Vtech are not as experienced in videogame hardware as Nintendo or Sony. The Mobigo makes a few missteps - lacking basics like rechargeable battery packs and pause/sleep mode. But as a machine for the very young Vtech shines where it counts.
The online connectivity is a good example here. Rather than complex Wi-Fi connections, players are simply told to ask their grownups to connect the Mobigo to the web via the USB cable to collect rewards they have won in the games.
It will be interesting to see how quickly Vtech are able to expand the library of games on offer, and whether they can move the device into more genuine gaming territory. Cars, Mickey Mouse, Princess and Fairies are games that make good use of their licensed properties, but it is titles like Ben 10 and NASCAR that offer a genuine cross over between education and gaming.
The Mobigo is a tactile, robust, portable games machine that offers something genuinely unique and interesting. With the more basic educational games this is perfect for four and five year olds, with the potential for more mature games (like Ben 10) in the pipeline.
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