Reviewed: December 22, 2007
Released: November 6, 2007
Ubisoft has seen the light, and the color of that light is green. Green for money, and that is the money that Nintendo is rolling in from sales of their new “edutainment” line of games that kicked off a few years ago with Brain Age. Edutainment is a genre of game that seeks to educate as well as entertain. Brain Age went on to sell nearly 10 million copies worldwide counting all the various versions by territory (which are slightly different but still similar), and has definitely been a "system seller" for the DS hardware as well. So naturally, companies want to cash in on that craze, and bring that audience over from the DS to Nintendo’s other platform, the Wii.
What Brain Age does for honing your math skills and quick thinking, My Word Coach does for your vocabulary. My Word Coach was inspired by vocabulary acquisition research done by Dr. Thomas Cobb, Professor in Applied Linguistics at the University of Quebec. What you end up with is a "game" that you end up spending 15 to 20 minutes per day helping you improve your vocabulary.
My Word Coach Features:
When you first start My Word Coach, the game first runs you through a little tutorial and example of how to play two of the mini-games included. The first mini-game it shows you how to do is the Missing Letter mini-game which is where a word will be displayed on the screen with one of the letters missing and you have to write the letter that is missing. For example, it will display INCO_NITO, and you have to draw the letter "G".
The big problem with this mini-game is that writing letters with the Wii controller is sometimes an extremely frustrating experience. Fortunately the manual has a guide in the back that shows you the way to write your letters so that they will be recognized better, but that isn’t too much help. Later on you can unlock a mode that lets you connect your Nintendo DS up to the Wii wirelessly and use the DS’s touch screen to write the letters, which is far more intuitive.
After that mini-game runs the first time, it will then show a tutorial for the 2nd mini-game which is much better called Split Decision. In this game you have a word show up on the top screen and you have to twist the Wii controller left or right. If you move left, a definition will appear. If that definition matches the word then you press the (A) button to indicate that it is correct. Otherwise you scroll back over to the right to see the other definition and confirm it. Later on this game gets reversed too where you have a definition on top and have to do left or right for the word.
After you try the first two mini-games the game sets you up a profile and asks you a series of words whether or not you know them so that it can do a placement for your initial Expression Potential (EP). Why do they call it that? Because by learning new words you learn more ways to... wait for it... express yourself, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Your EP can range from 0% to 100%, where 100% is basically Word God and 0% is Cave Man. When I did mine the first time I fell in the 30% range, which is about average. It's somewhat random depending on what random selection of words it first shows you out of the thousands available and whether or not you happen to know them.
Once you have a profile it will start tracking your progress and let you pick one of 4 different instructors, which changes the animations and the voice used during instructions for the game, as well as the tone and personality of the instructor. Then you can keep playing the mini-games until you reach your daily EP goal, and once you've done that your EP will go up and you pretty much are done until the next day because it won't let you continue to increase your EP past a set limit for that day. The game is designed to play for about 20 minutes per day. Got more time than that? Well you can play the for-fun only mini-games if you want, or you can go for some multiplayer action against your friends and family.
The more you play each day the more mini-games you unlock until you have unlocked them all eventually. The other mini games are:
Aside from the mini-games themselves, the game also features some tracking tools to show your progress over time, and to compare your results to other profiles on the same Wii (so you can compete with family members). There is also a glossary so that you can look up words and definitions in case you want to practice or just as a quick reference guide while you’re out and about.
But is it fun? Well, sure, in small bursts, which is exactly how this edutainment software is designed to be used. This game has a lot in common with the popular game Brain Age in that it’s designed to be played for a short session every day so that you can track your progress over a long period of time. Then to keep you occupied there is also the multi-player games which we’ll get to in a little bit.
Graphics really aren’t that important of a factor for an edutainment game, except that they be recognizable enough not to interfere with the learning process or distract too much. As such, the graphics in My Word Coach do their job just fine. The graphics are simple, yet efficient, which is exactly what you need for a game of this type.
Could there have been more? Well sure, if memory was of no concern, they could have provided cute little animations for each of the words and maybe even had another mini-game where you are only shown the animation and have to guess the word it belongs to or something along those lines. But would that really make the game a better learning tool? And of course, the game has limited options to change the graphics to your own taste; by letting you choose one of four different coaches.
This is one area where I can find some room to criticize My Word Coach. For starters, the music for it gets tiring and a bit irritating. It’s not bad, but you hear it so much it becomes about as annoying as the Jeopardy theme song over time. Elevator music never was one of my favorite genres to begin with. Why not a little Aerosmith or Led Zeppelin to rock my words? Ahem. But in all seriousness, that’s not the biggest problem.
The biggest problem with the sound is that despite the game offering some competent voice acting for your instructors, the game lacks any mode to hear how the vocabulary words are pronounced, which would have been a serious aid in learning. Imagine how much better a learning tool this game would have been if you could not only learn the words and definitions, but also how to pronounce them?
Imagine your embarrassment when you go to actually use some of these newfangled 50 cent words, only to pronounce debris as “deb-riss” instead of “deh-bree”. Your new hard-earned education just bought you a big old ticket to Laughingstock Land. Word of advice - try these words on friends who are smarter than you before using them in public. The lack of pronunciation and testing for it seems like a serious lack of opportunity for this title, and really seems like a no-brainer feature. Maybe we can hope for its inclusion in the inevitable My Word Coach 2.
My Word Coach has incredible replay value, since the whole idea here is to play it over and over every day for months or years until you actually start to improve your vocabulary. And of course, an education is the most valuable investment you can make in life. Or so my guidance councilor told me, and they would never lie, am I right? Then again, priced at the normal Wii game price of $49.99 MSRP, My Word Coach for Wii seems to be a bit high for what you get, especially considering that the many ways superior Nintendo DS version is priced at only $29.99 MSRP.
For added value, My Word Coach also supports a few multiplayer options. There are six of the mini-games that can be played in multi-player mode. Letter Challenge works like a multi-player version of Missing Letter except that all players start with their Wii controller pointed at a central dot in the middle of the screen and once the signal is given must point as quickly as they can to one of the four corners which has the letter needed to complete the word shown on the screen. Definition Challenge works the same way except you pick the word that corresponds to the definition given.
Wordcracker is a multiplayer version of the Safecracker mini-game, and Cereal Clash works like Word Cereal except you’re competing for letters in the same bowl for you to complete your own words, along with some “special” letters like the wildcard star and the “earthquake” feature to knock all the letters back in the bowl. Cube Mania is the two player version of Block Letters, and in Tournament Mode you’re in a multiplayer spelling bee.
One other feature that adds some value to My Word Coach is that if you have a Nintendo DS you can use it for the Missing Letter mini-game to write the letters on your DS touch screen instead of using the Wii remote up on the big screen. You do not need to own My Word Coach for the DS to do this.
Whatever you do in life, knowing more words can almost always make you seem smarter at least, and of course a bigger vocabulary can help you read faster and more difficult subject matter. Learning new things also helps keep your brain from rotting, or so they say. The only question is, does My Word Coach actually help you learn more? From my brief time with it, I would have to say yes, and not only that it can actually be a fun little diversion when you have 15 or 20 minutes of free time during the day. Learning while being entertained, what a novel concept!
As far as edutainment games goes, My Word Coach is one of the better ones I have spent time with and one in which nearly anyone age 8 or older should be able to get something out of. I can wholeheartedly recommend this game for everyone who at least knows intermediate English. This is not a good tool for learning English as a second language, there are better tools for that elsewhere, but it’s for English speakers who want to learn more English words (and more difficult ones). I’m guessing that if you’re reading this review, you probably are in the target audience.