- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 13, 2009

Students become educators while learning a bit about nature in Imagine Teacher: Class Trip (Ubisoft, for DS, $29.99).

Seeing life from the other side of the authoritative tracks, a younger player controls stylish teacher/ counselor April. She takes charge of a group of six impressionable minds at a competitive summer camp.

Under the motto “small but smart,” the racially diverse group, nicknamed the Chickadees, sets out to find a treasure by winning seven parts of a map. There’s some thinking, but mindless stylus manipulation on the DS touch screen dominates the action that comes to life through colorful illustrations and animation that mixes Bratz and “Kim Possible.”

Each day, April helps her students in three types of activities that involve classes in the morning, athletic challenges in the afternoon and getting the rugrats to calm down and go to sleep at night.

In the classroom portion of the camp, April must determine whether a student answers a question correctly and eventually grade their very short exams.

During a question event, a player picks a Chickadee and two images pop up. Each must be inspected to find out if they answer the question. For example, for “What animal is this?” the screen displays an image of a dolphin tail and the child responds with an image of a panda.

The big problem here is the images can be difficult to identify, especially with footprint questions. Mistakes can happen easily, making the quiz more about guessing than learning.

Grading a test, a separate event, is still about comparing images and then writing down the number of correct responses.

By the way, I have never seen a more annoying group of kids, constantly looking at each other’s exam papers or raising a distraction. Poking them with the stylus will calm them down.

After class, it’s time for some competition against three other camp groups. Be it running in races, climbing up rope nets, singing (another rhythm game) or having a fish fall in the same color net, there is loads of swiping, clicking and tapping on the DS. The most complex activity is pitching a tent, requiring handing items to the students, driving in stakes and pulling the canvas up.

Garnering first place in events leads to accumulating flags to trade for trophies and often receiving a piece of the treasure map.

Nighttime is much less stressful as the player simply enters a cabin, blows in the DS (making a whistle noise) to get the kids in bed and clicks to shut off the lights. Occasionally, a child may need something and April moves a flashlight around cabins to identify and deliver the item.

The game adds more role-playing elements to the mix as the six children level up by practicing or performing activities. They also might need a good scolding (drag an icon over one), cheering up (wave a stuffed animal at them) or disinfection (I’ll let you figure that one out).

Success in events also leads to winning items to decorate the classroom as well as cabins.

By the way, much like a real teacher’s life, April needs to clean up the classroom. You guessed it, more rubbing the stylus on the screen over dirt and hand prints.

Although Imagine Teacher: Class Trip sounds as if it offers plenty to do, the repetition factor can really bog down a player’s enthusiasm after the first hour or so. The game should appeal temporarily to 8-year-old girls, but won’t fuel a child’s interest in the animal kingdom nor give her reason to become a camp counselor.

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 [email protected]

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