Learn Science Review
Dreamcatcher’s library of titles for the DS tends to be largely educational in nature. Of course, since any child that’s experienced the joys of the public school system would be hard-pressed to play a game deemed “educational," these games are retooled as “edutainment.” By constructing enjoyable gameplay experiences from a decidedly academic perspective, Dreamcatcher has unleashed everything from math tutoring to driver’s ed on unsuspecting youths. Their latest venture, Learn Science, makes no effort to sugarcoat itself in title or premise. Surprisingly, the result is less torturous than one might expect.
Before you get too nostalgic over rusty Bunsen burners and the sinus-stinging stench of formaldehyde, bear in mind that this game is designed to present science in the non-threatening manner associated with modern elementary science classes. The box specifically refers to grades 1-4. This means plenty of Crayola-colored environments, flashy backdrops, and crispy-clean television studios—because nothing is worth learning unless you can somehow relate it to TV.
The mini-game repertoire is built upon a tiered difficulty system in career mode. Three challenges must be completed in order to progress. This requirement not only pushes the player further along their linear path of scientific “exploration,” but serves to unlock additional content in the free play modes. The free play is useful for practice, and naturally, is much more fun to delve into. Kids can familiarize themselves with color-mixing (as demonstrated with the tantalizing lead-based paints their parents will never let them tinker with) or any number of games involving bouncing balls (that’s physics for you), water-filled glasses (sound waves, remember?) and so on. Given the intended audience, it is a bit surprising that the tutorials are so poorly written. This oversight will no doubt lead to some heavy frustration when children find out what the main career mode has in store for them.
Interestingly, the career mode is afflicted with what seems to be an automated, built-in parental control. Players can only attempt this mode on a daily basis. Exactly what purpose this limit was intended to serve eludes me. Perhaps the developers were concerned that children would become addicted to the game, and that the problem could be combated by simply rendering the game unplayable beyond an arbitrary point. Clearly, they have underestimated the intelligence of young children, who would happily swap cartridges and resume their gaming session with some other game involving chainsaws and mangled limbs. If nothing else, this feature would seem to extend the longevity of the game, but there's always multi-player for that.
Children that manage to put up with this limitation will certainly learn a thing or two about scientific subjects by the end of the day. In this sense, Learn Science is less successful as a game, but useful as an educational supplement. The playground-style elements, and particularly the free play component, tap into the primal curiosity of children and allow them to experiment with simulated physics, biology, and similar subjects in ways that are far safer and cleaner than the traditional medium. Proponents of digital experimentation might be quick to point out the number of dear froggies who gave their lives to science in years past. While there is certainly something to be said of the real-life scientific adventurer, this game does not seem to threaten the hands-on approach, and is certainly not a substitute for a proper science class, textbook, journal, professor, or what have you. Learn Science is best thought of as a neat little package for introducing children to the lighter side of scientific experimentation, a means to pique their curiosity. Just imagine how thrilled they’ll be when they realize that in real life, you can try things out more than once a day.