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My Baby Boy and My Baby Girl are part of a slew of games aimed at the DS's younger demographic. As with similar titles, the focus is very much on learning and play rather than competitive activities.
Self improvement games tap into the popular trend in self development and therapy. Experiences as diverse as Brain Training DS and Wii-Fit have popularised the idea that games can be about more than just having fun - they can improve your brain, body and even mental outlook on life.
My Baby manages to create a genuinely educational experience, as opposed to the mini game focus of similar titles such as Imagine: Baby Sitter. The game manages to develop a relationship between the player and on screen baby. It does this both by enabling you to choose an ethnicity, eye colour and gender of your virtual offspring, and also by providing an impressive variety of interactions.
This is mirrored by the fact that there are two versions of the games. One game provides girl babies whilst the other lets you look after baby boys. Right from the off you have to make specific decisions and commitments to the type of simulated offspring you want to care for.
These interactions are mediated through the touch screen and microphone. They are subtle enough to turn even simple tasks (playing, nappy changing) into interactive opportunities. Players find themselves distracted from the task in hand because of the response of the on screen infant. This is quite different from other baby care games on the DS that have the player focus on simply getting through the current activity to unlock the next stage or item. Particularly effective is the use of the microphone - cooing gentle and consistently results in a happy child, whilst loud or staccato sounds can upset or distract.
As the game develops the player is guided through a number of mandatory baby tasks. Nappy changing is an obvious starting point, and is joined by bottle feeding, playing, dressing and feeding. Performing well at these tasks means developing eye contact, happiness and touch response with the baby as well as getting the job done - another reason My Baby feels more than just a bunch of mini games.
Players will be attracted to the game because of its baby care aesthetic. Because of this it is likely the audience will be towards the younger end of the spectrum. However, players of all ages will enjoy the task vs. interaction nature of the game.
Making a start with bottle feeding turned into a session where I comforted by little girl, trying to get her to grab onto my finger. I soon discovered that singing a gentle song was an effective way of building up some baby-happy-points. Halfway through the second verse of my chosen made-up rhythm I unexpectedly sneezed. My baby instantly started crying and had to be comforted before I could continue feeding. It's these sort of unplanned moments that the game can create that will most engage with players, and provide an experience that is both authentic and endearing.
This is a game that you do need to take time over to enjoy properly. Unlike the other mini game focused baby and pet care DS games, you really can't just pick this up for a five minute blast through an activity. As you progress a daily rhythm develops and you get a sense of which activities will fit your available time. Some unavoidable chores though, such as nappy changing, will need attending to as they arise - extending your play time. The DS's sleep-when-closed feature may help players wait until time permits them to play for longer.
Super Younger players are likely to find the detailed stylus input and stricter play style a little frustrating. They may be well served by Imagine: Baby Sitter and similar games that keep the action focused on discrete manual activities.
Those a little older, who can follow the written on-screen guidance will find an engaging and rewarding experience. To some extend a willingness to commit to the game is required, but most children (or either gender) should find themselves being drawn into this baby world.
Intermediate players will be surprised at the kinds of responses the game produces in them. Although it may seem a little trivial at first, and the microphone functions a little embarrassing, those that push past these presumptions should find a rewarding game.
Expert gamers are more likely to balk at the child focused nature of the game. But those with broader horizons, or possible those with parenting experience, may find themselves playing this game more than they expected.
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