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Smart Girl's Playhouse Mini - DSiWare Review

Game Info
Smart Girl's Playhouse Mini

DSiWare | UFO Interactive | 1 Player | Out Now (North America) | 500 Nintendo Points
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21st November 2012; By KnucklesSonic8

When I was a kid, years before I was exposed to the Internet, a considerable chunk of my PC gaming time was spent playing activity collections. Putt-Putt & Fatty Bear's Activity Pack, Muppets Inside, Toy Story Activity Center -- all of these were great fun, and to this day, I still treasure some of the memories tied to these and other games that I've retained over the years. Many laughs were had, let me tell you! Understanding how much of a blast these games can be for creative minds and the educational components that are sometimes obscured underneath fun-filled activities, I wasn't quick to dismiss Smart Girl's Playhouse Mini. Of course I now realize this was a mistake on my part. In all honesty, if this were pitched to school principals as software worth investing in, it would get rejected in a matter of seconds.

    Ideal for a rainy day or a car trip, Smart Girl's Playhouse Mini is a resource of activities designed to alleviate boredom, the sort that you'd find in a children's exercise book. As such, nothing in particular is centered on as an overall theme, and unlike physical workbooks marked with the words "Jumbo" or "Giant", the individual activity models aren't reproduced so as to allow for multiple iterations of the same task. Rather, there are relatively few (if any) additional steps that can be taken and entertained in support of variety. Could this undermine its appeal before amusement seekers even check-in? Keep that in mind as we walk through what the package includes.

    The first of these sections simply provides a blank square for players to exercise their imagination by drawing with the stylus. Off to the sides of the content area are simple tools such as coloured inks and an eraser on the right side, with a paint bucket, two pen weights, and a handful of stamps on the other. The tools on the left require you to tap on buttons that behave like drawers, requiring you to select something before you can gain access to the "easel" once more. Under the Paint menu, selections made are highlighted to indicate to young players what the active tool is, but the system strangely doesn't go to the same measure of doing that when going about selecting stamps. I also found the swatches on the colour palette could have been spaced out better, and there really should've been a button for clearing the entire canvas, but that might've been because they didn't want anyone to accidentally wipe away their work with the press of a button. Then again...I feel as though the entire setup could've been reworked, seeing as the size of the box players have to work with isn't that big and it doesn't encourage landscape drawings.

Since we're on the subject, we might as well talk about the Coloring section next, even though it's actually further down on the list. 12 templates are provided here, with 80% of them featuring a recognizable animal to help young players connect and envision which colours to use for an accurate representation of the simple scene. Since there's no fill bucket in this area, this is the place for youngsters to practice the oft-repeated instruction of colouring inside the lines. The interface here differs from the Drawing section by having the tools arranged along the bottom of the Touch Screen, which can be seen as a good thing since it means users will have more room to work with. But there's just one big thing I can't stand about it, and that's the Done Button. This is placed almost smack dab against the bottom-left edge of the image area, which means that it's incredibly easy for kids who are filling in the black-and-white template to accidentally close out of this space. It's a really, really dumb oversight.

    Counting and Lunch Box are the least complex activities in the collection. The first needs little explanation and is pretty self-explanatory, offering three multiple-choice answers for ten questions, and giving reasonable amounts of time for players to input an answer. The only other thing worth mentioning is that even if you were to plug in wrong answers, there's no sense of failure. As for the latter section, six ready-made lunch boxes are available for very limited customization as to the colour of the interior and what's found inside. The first field seems very redundant, but as far as actually filling the container, four categories of foods are provided (Main Foods, Snacks, Fruits and Drinks) for possible selection. From there you simply choose what you'd like to have to eat (hypothetically, of course). There aren't many choices, but I did appreciate the suggestion of healthy alternatives like water and vegetables, albeit it didn't go the extra step of labeling these items.

    Next up is Find Differences, which is also self-explanatory, but there are a couple things to take note of with respect to how it's been organized. First of all, the variety of different images to compare is in keeping with much of what was said earlier relating to the "Mini" part of the title, so that's a bit of a downer. Also, the recognition in terms of confirming correct differences isn't the greatest, in the sense that if kids have a bit of trouble with spatial awareness and trying to match identical spots with the pictures on the upper and lower screens, they may get a bit upset over getting dinged for being a little bit off in their selection. The last section is Dress Up, which gives a small wardrobe of styles to be dragged over to the character in the center. The top screen depicts a simple beach, winter, or general outdoor scene to serve as a guide for the fashion choices made, but otherwise, there's nothing to admire or interact with beyond the simple procedure of creating an appropriate outfit.

One thing that is common about all six sections that I've refrained from discussing 'til now is the use of the top screen, how it's almost always to show a blonde girl either involved in the same activity the player has selected or otherwise moving a part of her body in celebration of the fact that something has been completed successfully. Even if she is the one who oversees what goes on in this playhouse, she's extremely hard to connect with, and this is largely due to the fact that her movements are so primitive-looking. When she's not behaving like a two-second song on a loop, her stiffness is repelling. The results screens don't fare much better, either, often with this character being just placed in a lifeless room. In connection with all this, whenever you see that a computerized drawing had to be rendered, as in the case of the Find Differences and Coloring sections, the quality is no better than anything that could be produced in Microsoft Paint, with a really rudimentary state that makes such sightings appear cheap and poorly-executed.

    With all of the above in mind, Smart Girl's Playhouse Mini has got to be one of the most impersonal and off-putting digital activity centers I've ever seen. I recognize this might be a side-effect of going for easy comprehension and the decision to root out any possibility for discouragement, but in light of what was stated above with respect to the overall shoddy quality, I don't think it's the least bit unreasonable to make such a statement. The audio doesn't do it any favors either, with some of the voice commands sounding like a robot using a voice disguising device to strike someone's hearing that much more. It's really terrible. The music comes in the form of piano-driven renditions of This Old Man and the song most identify Mary Poppins with, and these aren't as bad given how everything else has turned out.

    I know this is supposed to be a snippet of a full collection, but it feels more like mere scraps were thrown into a pot and then served as-is. Competing against the likes of colouring books, sticker albums, and other physical media (almost all of which tend to come in cheaper forms), Smart Girl's Playhouse Mini just doesn't measure up. It would be easy to right off my assessment simply because I'm not part of the age group this game is designed for, but to go back to what I said at the start, I'm not shy about commending well-made edutainment software. Nevertheless, I can't recommend Smart Girl's Playhouse Mini in good conscience; not when there's so much about it that's just weak and irresponsible, starting with the interaction and spreading to the overall composition. There's nothing playful about it at all and I'd strongly advise against even thinking about engaging with a recreational space as rugged as this.

09/30 - Simply Awful

Gameplay 4/10 - Poor execution in places with some issues stemming from the setup, weak ideas of interaction, limited in multiple respects
Presentation 3/10 - Some activities have a lousy interface, extremely primitive drawings, animations are totally unappealing, terrible narration
Enjoyment 1/5 - Very difficult to connect with, nothing magical overseeing the execution, some activities aren't too bad
Extra Content 1/5 - Six activities in total, little expansion seen in the activities, value isn't good especially in comparison to print-based options

Equivalent to a score of 30% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating) - Our Rating System

Review by KnucklesSonic8

Smart Girl's Playhouse Mini
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