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Dora The Explorer: Save the Mermaids on PS2 is game properly aimed at really young players from developers 2K. As is true for 2K's other Dora and Diego games, well signposted and engaging missions and child voiced characters mean that it stands head and shoulders above other build for preschooler games. Add in the ability for a more experienced player to grab a controller and assist the youngster and you have a recipe for a great experience.
Platforming games task you with getting from point A to point B. The world you journey through is usually based on different levels, and populated with enemies, switches and lifts to be negotiated. As you work through each level you pick up various collectables that accrue score, special abilities and access to hidden areas.
Dora The Explorer: Dora Saves the Mermaids offers a simple explorable world staring the characters from the Nickelodeon TV show (Dora, Boots and Swiper to name a few). It's unique because it manages to keep the controls simple enough for young players whilst not 'dumbing down' the platforming action.
Its gentle learning curve and sparkly collectibles will delight younger gamers. Featuring five locations, four main interactive objects, and 11 other characters to interact with, the game is bright, lush and should have definite appeal for even infant gamers.
As with other Dora games, in the mix are various educational aspects. From the interwoven Spanish vocab to various memorisation, navigation and counting tasks, the game doesn't miss a chance to turn play into learning.
Whilst Dora the Explorer: Dora Rescues the Snow Princess and Go Diego Go: African Adventure on the Wii offer simpler controls and less problematic two dimensional platforming, this game on PS2 manages to increase the complexity without putting off young players.
Although the analogue stick controls are a little trickier than the simple tilting mechanic with the Wii-mote, and the PS2 controller is a little more daunting for tiny hands, the PS2 version does enough to simplify things keep young minds engaged. What's more, the addition of auto saves and a dual control assisted play mode (where a second player can help out with a second controller where the going gets too tough).
The game itself takes the form of a platform adventure. Players work their way through various areas collecting jewels and completing tasks to progress. Along the way they meet a variety of animals who help or hinder them - all of which are voice by children, something my kids really appreciated.
The game is narrated by Dora and well paced throughout. The Map and Rucksack characters from the TV show make a considerable contribution to fleshing out the overarching story. The Map in particular does a great job at signposting the various stages involved in each level - cross the Wobbly Bridge, mind the Icky Sticky Sand, jump the Crocodile River and find the Tall Mountain.
The main game revolves around running, jumping and exploration - as with any good platform experience. These are punctuated by various special items (bushes, logs and the like) that need to be searched for extra gems. Each level also has various rope swinging, mud sliding and creature hoping aspects that provide a bit more variety.
Young players will soon be in shrieks of laughter and delight as they work their way through each level. Taking turn to navigate each item on the map, our two were able to play the game without too much intervention from Dad. What they did want however was to show me each of their successes, which led to some great conversations about the ins and outs of river crossings, deep dark lakes and tall tall mountains.
The game is quite short compared to experiences aimed at older players. Most players will complete it in around an hour. An auto save feature means that in addition to manually saving each stage, there is never far back to go if the console is inadvertently turned off.
The short playtime of the main game is less of an issue for younger players who have a higher tolerance (even enjoyment) of repetition. Our kids (3 and 5) happily played through the game a few times - once they had realised this was what they were supposed to be doing.
Young players who have conquered the Dora and Diego games on the Wii will find these a great next step. The controls are a little too complex for kids under three, unless they have really advanced hand eye co-ordination, or a willing older helper using the assistance controls. The game does feature mild fantastical themes - and Dora is turned into a mermaid at one point - but unless a child is very sensitive to this they are unlikely to cause concern.
Intermediates and older players will find they can quickly progress through the game. Although those that have played the Lego Star Wars, Batman and Indie games may find the lack of true co-operative play a little frustrating, the high quality presentation should be enough to keep their interest. Some may also find the game a little to easy to complete - something that reflects its focus on younger players.
Experts will want to look elsewhere for their platforming fun unless they have younger siblings to entertain. For them, Mario Galaxy Wii may be a better bet.
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