- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 9, 2009

Anakin Skywalker and the gang give lessons on physics in Star Wars: Jedi Trials (LeapFrog, $29.99).

Exclusively built for LeapFrog’s Didj handheld edutainment console, the third-person action game delivers interactive knowledge about simple machines, magnetism, motion, gravity and electricity through more than 50 experiments.

After a player selects a Padawan (Jedi in training) to control from one of four species, including human and Kel Dorian, he arrives in a familiar galaxy far, far away.

Set during the animated Clone Wars years, when Anakin was still a hero and not Darth Vader, the player learns the ways of the Force and some science by conquering a quartet of trials on his way to becoming a Jedi. He also needs to stop the evil Separatist leader Count Dooku from acquiring all of the pieces of the Sith Holocron that could lead to the defeat of the Republic.

The player travels to four planets and teams up with Anakin Skywalker, Kit Fisto, Yoda and Aayla Secura to defeat enemies such as spider droids, General Grievous and his bodyguards, Asajj Ventress, IG-88 assassin droids, and Count Dooku.

He uses the Force to push or pull, knock down the opposition and blast clear a perimeter and wields a light saber to swing, strike enemies or block attacks such as blaster fire from those dumb trade federation droids.

To conquer the mysterious ways of physics he must find holoprojectors that contain educational experiments and complete each correctly. All involve animated schematics, dropping pieces onto a gridded layout and pressing a button to see the result.

Experiments specifically cover concepts such as machines in motion, screws, pulleys, axle systems, friction and gears. For example, correctly position a group of wedges to allow a ball to roll to a target or align batteries to turn on multiple light bulbs.

A helpful female voice explains concepts, including the use of fulcrums, how electricity flows in an unbroken circuit, the difference between conductors and insulators, and functions of second-class levers.

Complete the series of exercises and the Padawan incorporates a real-world application to continue his adventure that might require using a wedge-shaped cart to push through a door or removing a circuit to disable a force field.

Successful players are awarded bitz points that can be spent when the Didj is hooked up to a personal computer and the LeapFrog Connect Application.

Once the Didj and software are communicating (a task that often requires a Jedi physicist), a player can buy new outfits and saber colors for his avatar and even download more holoprojector lessons.

The game does a solid job of teaching with auto leveling of the curriculum, a way for parents to monitor progress, a hint button, text and audio reinforcement of concepts, and incentives for success. (Although I do think understanding “force” in the realm of physics is certain to confuse some of the younger players as they use “the Force” as a Jedi in such unusual applications.)

And for as successful as the game is at teaching, it’s a bit painful for any seasoned gamer to appreciate. I would remind developers that they are creating for a very savvy audience that already has been exposed to brilliantly complex and visually intense handheld gaming experiences.

Amateur mistakes such as a character walking though solid objects (defying physics), repetitious dialogue, frame rate slowdowns and enemies respawning in the exact same spot will kill enthusiasm no matter how great the educational potential of the product.

Joseph Szadkowski’s ROMper Room is a place for children and their parents to escape the world of ultraviolent video games and use that gaming system or computer to actually learn something while having fun. Send e-mail to jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com.

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