[REVIEW] Science Papa

August 17, 2009 at 2:30 pm Leave a comment

Title: Science Papa
Media: Video game (Nintendo DS)
Primary Subject: Chemistry
Secondary Subjects: Physics

This game is pretty terrible, let me just get that out right away. It is a spin-off of sorts of the Cooking Mama series of games which has been very successful. Cooking Mama is a collection of mini-games that mimic (to varying degrees of reality) the mechanics of cooking. It also includes a recipe guide and arguably could actually teach people how to cook. So, Science Papa ought to do the same right?

Yes. It ought to. The game plays the same. There are a series of stylus-based mini-games that supposedly mimic scientific processes. For example, you frequently mix chemicals in a beaker. You drag them into the container and then draw circles on the screen to simulate mixing. When using the microscope you use the stylus to turn 3 different knobs to improve focus. You also drag beakers over a Bunsen burner, turn on an electrolysis machine (by tapping one big red button… exciting…), and ruin your DS screen when you have to brush off something by rapidly scraping your stylus across the screen.

New tasks are added as the game progresses but they are no more interesting than the early ones. What is worse is that after a fairly thorough early tutorial you are never told how to use the new instruments. The microscope, for example, just has 3 knobs. They aren’t labeled or anything. You just have to randomly fiddle with them until the game says you’ve been successful.

Even with new tasks coming in the game is ridiculously repetitive. You will often redo the same “experiments” over and over to earn more money or reputation. When you’ve earned enough rep you go on to one of the game’s 5 Science Competitions and compete by doing the exact same tasks you’ve been doing for the last 3 hours.

So again, the game is bad, but at least it is based on science so it might be educational right? No, not so much.

Motivational Potential:

You might be able to trick the kids into enjoying this somehow. It is, at least, a video game based on a theme of science. I could see younger kids enjoying it greatly as the gameplay is very simple, at least in the early stages. Unfortunately, I cannot imagine anyone after playing it to have any interest in becoming a scientist. If I thought that all scientists did all day was scratch their DS screen repeatedly with a stylus I’m pretty sure it would kill any interest I might have had.

Interestingly, the most motivating part of the entire game in my opinion are the frequent “Do not try any of these experiments at home” warnings. Honestly, if it weren’t for them I wouldn’t even recognize that I was doing experiments at all. The game does tell you what chemicals you’re using and what you’re doing with them but that is done on the top screen while you are working at such furious speeds at the bottom screen that you won’t even notice. A good science teacher could slow the pace down and use the game to introduce these basic experiments to their class. Almost like a preview. I do believe, despite any problems I have with the game, that would be motivational.

Educational Potential:
And now the real disappointment. It isn’t often that a game comes along themed so clearly around an academic topic. One would think (or at least hope) that this would make the game educational. In this case at least, it really doesn’t. The game uses science as a prop and little else. As mentioned above the game does tell you what chemicals you’re mixing but it is lost on the top screen due to the frantic action you are following on the bottom. There is also some introduction to various science instruments and how they work and this would likely be the game’s best use in a classroom. I could see using it early on as a virtual tour of a science lab. I’d imagine there are far better ones online but probably not in game form. Even this though is weak. I mentioned how the microscope game really doesn’t teach you anything about microscopes other than they have knobs that do something or other. Oh well, maybe the designers just wanted to encourage experimentation…

Ultimately, a teacher would have to purposefully play the game slowly as a demonstration for a class but any student playing on their own would get little to no science out of it.

Disappointing. I hope that if “Archaeology Aunt” is ever made history isn’t presented as randomly brushing off unrelated objects as fast as you can to get a high score. This game could have been easily redeemed with some guides to experiments (like Cooking Mama has a recipe book) but it wasn’t. There just isn’t much here to educate unless a teacher really wants to put some work into it. It seems like nothing more than a cash-in from the developers trying to trick a few parents into thinking their kids will learn something. Without guidance, sadly, they won’t.


Entry filed under: Video Games.

[REVIEW] “Tom’s Diner” – Suzanne Vega [RANT] RIP Popfly, Shame on you Microsoft

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