De Blob 2

De Blob
The first game, which we haven't got. Yet.

Harking back to a recent post, I mentioned that there is very little in the way of small-child-friendly software for the Xbox as opposed to the Wii or the PC.

One of the titles we picked up by chance some time ago is called De Blob 2 (I’m assuming it’s a sequel, confirmed by the box cover I found to the right). Our youngest – 3½ – has picked up on it recently after getting a little bored with repeating the opening levels of Lego Star Wars (mainly as he hasn’t figured out the save and load mechanism yet which, in fairness, is rather over-complicated in these games).

He is loving it and it’s a great game for kids of his age – and of mine!

I’ve not read the plot or anything, but essentially you’re the hero blob. You live in a world where a nasty individual has removed all the colour, leaving everything a boring grey. Dotted around are fountains and waterfalls of coloured paint which you soak yourself in, and then use yourself to “paint” buildings, trees, people and parts of the landscape.

It sounds nice and simple, and at the bottom level it is. As the game goes on, though, it gets a little more complicated as you have to destroy some things, go into platform-game style stages between levels, and learn how to mix colours (great for the younger kids) to get just the right ones. There are also side-missions, which don’t need to be completed, and bonuses dotted around all over the place.

If I have a quibble, it’s a small one – the right joystick is used to pan the camera around as it is in many games. However, it seems to work in a reverse fashion to every single other game I’ve played which is quite annoying. There may be a setting somewhere to change it, but I’ve not spotted it as yet.

After having sat with Little Mister for some time as he’s worked his way through the early staged, I think De Blob 2 has just become next on my “to do” list once I finish off Lego Indiana Jones.

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Kids and computer games

Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga
Little Mister's current favourite

I still hear a lot of people whinging about how children play too many computer games, and how they’re bad for them. I have a lot of experience of video entertainment (this doesn’t mean I’m any good – I’ve just played them a lot), and some limited experience in the child-rearing side of things but here are some things I’ve noticed.

Our littlest is around 3½. Despite his age, he’s still not a talker and has some communication issues which are mainly due to problems with his hearing. We got an Xbox at Christmas and he, of course, wanted to play all the time. But he was rubbish. Worse than me rubbish. Which is very rubbish indeed. He’s very active – too active, frankly. Runs circles round us and will chase the dog or cat for hours, bounce on the trampoline, run around outside until he falls over and comes home screaming… you know, a proper kid. As such I’ve no issues with him spending some time glued to the telly if it keeps him quiet and out of our hair for a bit.

There aren’t that many toddler-friendly games for the Xbox, but what we have so far are: De Blob 2, Megamind (scratched to hell and unplayable), Toy Story 3, Lego Indiana Jones and Lego Star Wars. Over time, he watched us playing and we often let him have a spare controller in co-op mode. This usually involved him twiddling the two joysticks randomly and giggling when a Lego character dropped off a cliff in an explosion of coins, releasing a Wilhelm scream. Or Wilhelm Wookie roar. Or whatever.

Hey, he was happy.

Over the last few weeks, though, he’s taken to it big style. He can’t read yet, which means we often have to explain things to him, but if the game has good use of imagery then this can help. Toy Story 3, for example, has “help” bubbles that show you a ghosted image of a character performing an action while the keys you need to press are displayed next to them. The Lego games are similar, although both games suffer from the player often having to be in just the right position for those buttons to work.

What’s amazed me, and prompted me to post this, is how quickly he’s come on since we sat him down with a controller and let him loose by himself. I just sat with him this morning as the played through the train stage at the start of TS3. Aside from one section which I did for him, he completed the whole thing himself. Picking aliens up and throwing them off the train, throwing bouncy balls at moving targets, smashing boxes open, jumping and double-jumping gaps and obstacles. Wow.

Lego Star Wars has captured his imagination more than the Indy game and its simple problems in the early levels are just right for him. After some demonstration from myself, he’s able to work out some of them with no assistance. Swapping to use the correct characters to perform a task is an example. If he sees a C3PO head, he knows he needs the right kind of droid. Sparkly things? Jedi force. Bounty Hunters only? Wander off, find a helmet machine, get a helmet, go back and get through the door.

And so on.

He can now control the characters and camera independently using the two joysticks. His timing for jumps is good. Not brilliant, especially double-jumps where he often can’t hit the jump key quickly enough in succession, but still pretty damn good.

Now, he’s a good kid with his other toys. He loves tool kits and his Toy Story figures – and his sister’s Lego much to her annoyance. But I don’t think we have much else that has improved his logic skills or hand-eye coordination as these computer games.

I actually think his communication has improved slightly as well, as he tries to explain where and how he’s stuck, or tells us what he’s managed to achieve.

Over and above that, he’s learned how to check whose profile is active when he comes to the console and change it to his own. It’s simple image recognition (as I said, he can’t read but he can identify the icons and avatars), but it also shows he’s aware of what “belongs” to him and to others.

So to those who say that kids shouldn’t be let anywhere near computer games? Think again. There’s a time, a place, and a use for them.


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Laptop Alchemy

[links for all programs at the end of this post]

There’s a really popular game for Android called Alchemy which Gillian’s eldest took quite a shine to on my phone. It’s a really simple game, involving dropping icons of the basic four elements onto each other to create newer items. These can then be used as blocks to make more complex ones and so on.

For example, mixing fire and water gives you alcohol, earth and air gives dust, dust and water gives mud… and so on. This version currently has 370 items to develop and discover. There is a “competing” program going by the name of Alchemy Classic which is the same but different. The programmers of this have also developed a PC version, but it’s a pain in the backside to install. There is also a new version from another developer called Alchemy ~ Genetics which does much the same thing with genetic traits of various creatures (wonderful gift to send to your Creationist friends – assuming Creationists have friends).

And, finally, there’s an excellent version for the PC (sorry Mac users). It’s programmed by Marius Bancila and the most recent version (2.0) can be downloaded from his blog (link below). It’s a small install and this new release has been re-jigged so that it works better on netbook screens. The old one kept expanding so that controls dropped off the bottom.

I’m giving this a plug partly as it’s such a good game and also because Marius has proven to be an excellent supporter of his own product. He happily listens to feedback both for bug fixes and new combinations of items. His Alchemy currently sports 444 different creations!

POINT TO NOTE – the game downloads as a single file within a ZIP archive. Just drag the file out of the archive and pop it somewhere to run it. For those who like things near and tidy, you can’t put the game into your Program Files folder where you’d normally store executables. For some reason it won’t then have permission to create and update the separate progress file so you’ll lose all your work each time to leave the game. Store it pretty much anywhere else! This may only be an issue under Windows 7/Vista, though.

A quick list of links for all four versions listed in this post:

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