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Baby Club is the latest of the Imagine series from Ubisoft, that results from their early adoption of the casual gaming market. Sitting somewhere between the ages of the younger appeal of Imagine: Teacher DS and older stylings of Imagine: Girl Band DS, Imagine: Baby Club follows the highs and lows of babysitting.
Edu-gaming titles combine the fun of play with the self improvement of education. As recent research and educational approach in schools shows, these two bedfellows work very well together. Titles usually consist of a series of mini-tasks around a particular subject. Some games in this genre simply use the topic as a theme for its games, whilst others are more obviously education or coaching based.
They all track various stats from the player's performance each day. This enables the game to provide feedback and advice about their progress or lack thereof.
Even more so than with Imagine: Girl Band, the emphasis here is on the younger gamer. The game takes the player through a variety of babysitting tasks that start with entertaining one child, then slowly introduce more complex activities (from feeding to bathing) before additional infants are added and the challenge really starts.
Although this game sits between mini-games and edutainment, it is with the latter that it scores highest. As such it introduces young players to the problem solving (washing dished), dexterity (feeding) and time management (housework) required to run a house for an evening.
As with other games in the Imagine range the presentation is excellent, with environments and characters rendered in 3D. Although the adults only get a quick two dimensional sketch, the baby's personality and attitude in full 3D more than makes up for this.
Those that remember Little Computer People C64 will be familiar with the setup. Your side view of the house enables you to enter various rooms to perform the different required tasks. Here however, the progress is decidedly more linear as you are taken through your paces by each child.
This game will undoubtedly appeal to youngsters with designs on setting themselves up as a baby sitter once they hit teen years. These pre-teens will both enjoy and appreciate the stress of a full gamete of childcare activities. Having played the game myself (as a parent), only to wake my son up from his knap and bring him downstairs for some food, the irony of repeating the same activities in real life was not lost on me.
As with other simulation games although you technically can play them in very short bursts, their just-one-more-thing-to-do nature means that play times often extend into a full hour. Although it only takes players a little while to try out the various activities, the novelty of different (and multiple) babies along with the added tension and interactions this brings means there is easily fifteen hours of gameplay here.
Although the DS packaging pictures someone who is obviously a business savvy late-teen running a profitable baby club, the game itself if aimed squarely at a younger audience. Very young players may find some activities hard to fathom - some of which rely on written instructions.
Intermediate gamers of an appropriate persuasion should also find plenty to do here. Although they are more likely to find the repetitive nature of the game starts to grind sooner rather than later.
Expert players, as the marketing suggests, should probably look elsewhere for all but a novelty interest here. Other more fully featured edutainment simulations such as Sim City DS or Viva Pinata Pocket Paradise DS will provide a longer lasting dose of productive entertainment.
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