Publisher: Take-Two Interactive
Developer: Black Lantern
Release Date: October 27, 2008
Nickelodeon's Wonder Pets: Save the Animals! for the Nintendo DS is the first game that I've played with an ESRB rating of "EC" for Early Childhood. To say that this title was definitely not created with my gaming sensibilities in mind would be a pretty big understatement. While it's not a game that I would ever pick up and play again, it's a really suitable title for the intended age range, and if I had children in the pre-school age range, I would definitely have them check out Wonder Pets.
I've played my fair share of other child-themed games, from the Dora the Explorer and Go, Diego, Go franchises to random games from shows long past, including more than enough SpongeBob SquarePants titles. I've never even seen an episode of "Wonder Pets," so I went into this title with very little idea of what to expect. From what I can understand, it's a basic learning program that teaches kids simple words, color association, and a few other learning tools that children tend to pick up from early childhood shows that are patterned in a similar fashion, like "Sesame Street." Wonder Pets incorporates three characters that are basically real animals in miniature gear: Linny the guinea pig, Ming-Ming the duckling and Turtle Tuck. Wearing costumes plays a pretty prominent role in the show, which in turn carries over to some of the game elements.
Wonder Pets follows the same formula, and it's broken down into three different "campaigns" (for lack of a better word), which feature the Wonder Pets attempting to save a specific animal type. For example, the animal to rescue in the first level was a Bengal tiger. Granted, the levels have a theme relating to the animal, but it's a pretty loosely constructed theme, and while you're playing, it's probably easy to forget that a Bengal tiger is associated with the particular stage you're on.
Wonder Pets isn't a platformer, puzzler or any other typical gaming genre. Each of the three animal rescue areas is made up of a series of mini-games, most of which will have you matching up colors or costumes to the Wonder Pets. You can manipulate some vehicle through a horizontally scrolling area that's filled with obstacles, or construct things like ladders or small toy cars or vehicles in order to make them work. Basically, you could break this down into any other type of mini-game collection on the DS, but this title has a heavy emphasis on learning, and it's geared toward younger kids.
Everything you're required to do in Wonder Pets is actually voiced, which makes sense considering that the majority of the audience for the game is going to be at the entry level of reading aptitude. However, like I mentioned before, I've played plenty of other kids titles that don't even take this into consideration, and it's a pretty good step in the right direction for titles that are developed for younger kids.
Along with that, the game is filled with bright colors, large objects, and I'm sure a cast that's going to be recognizable to any child that's seen the show before. While each of the three areas in the game are fairly short, I have the feeling that they're also meant to be replayed time and again, and I know that a lot of kids are more likely to replay things than adults, so the learning aspect of the game would lend itself well to the parent looking for a bit of "edutainment" for their child. The directions given for each mini-game are really simple, and I can't imagine anything in the game being difficult for a child in the pre-school range to follow.
Along with the main story-based section of the game, there's a small collection of three mini-games that you can play separately. I would have liked to have seen more of the mini-games given their own individual playability, since I'm sure kids will have their favorites, and it seems a bit unfair to make them play through an entire level all over again just to get to the game section that they like. Aside from that, there's not a whole lot to do or see in this title, but considering that it can be purchased for a pretty low price, you're not getting ripped off by the available content.
Gaming and non-gaming parents should find something to enjoy or relate to their kids here, but I'm not sure if Wonder Pets would hold much appeal to a child who's not too familiar with the show. The only real voice work comes from the disembodied announcer that you never see, and while that might keep in tune with the show, this DS title doesn't have a lot of animation to keep small children entertained for long. There are also no show clips or unlockable mini-episodes for content, so I can see the game getting put aside after a couple of weeks' use.
Wonder Pets: Save the Animals! is by far one of the better kids' titles I've played, and while it's definitely not made for me, I can definitely see the appeal in giving this to a young child for something that he can't get entertainment out of, but he's also learned a thing or two. Obviously, it's not a substitute for some of the more elaborate electronic learning devices or toys out there, like the Leapfrog system, but it's a serviceable DS game that will help to pass a few hours. Adults beware that there's not much here to keep a parent occupied, so this is something you'll only be giving to your children, and it won't really provide any entertainment to you. I'm rating this game on the high end based on the intended audience, as it's one of the best DS children's titles that I've played in recent years.