Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Animal Jam MMORPG created in Partnership with National Geographic

National Geographic for children, Animal Jam MMORPG, online virtual world game for children

Before I had Clay, my favourite game type used to be MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game). Not because I liked to play against other players or go on quests in a group, but it's fun to be able to talk to people and have a good laugh while taking a break from all the other things.

When it comes to the kids though, safety comes first and a children MMORPG was the last type of game I would consider letting our children play (actually, second last. Violent games are definitely last). However, with issues comes solutions, and many companies have now created MMORPG games that not only are fun to play, but are also child safety first. One example is Animal Jam, created in partnership with National Geographic.

About 3 weeks ago, we were introduced to the game and was given an opportunity to try out the members only section as well (it's normally free to play, or you can pay to access additional features). I had a good look at the Parents section on their website, and after having a go at the game myself, I thought it might just be okay for Abby to play it.

It took us until now to publish the review because we couldn't really trial the game every day as she would have liked. Abby even missed the opportunity to try out the Members Only features (we were given a week's free trial to try it out) because my silly PC decided to take a break. Nevertheless, with the lovely PR's kind offer to let Abby get another week's free trial, we finally managed to get to play enough (I think. The game is fairly big!) to write up this review, and hopefully it can give you an idea of why we are happy for Abby to continue playing the game during the holidays.

National Geographic for children, Animal Jam MMORPG, online virtual world game for children
The virtual currency in Animal Jam consist of Gems (normal) and Diamonds (special)
National Geographic for children, Animal Jam MMORPG, online virtual world game for children

National Geographic for children, Animal Jam MMORPG, online virtual world game for children
Members only parties and adventures
Basic Information and Membership:

Animal Jam is a MMORPG game created in partnership with National Geographic, which is free for children to play. Players can explore the world Jamaa, go on quests with others, learn facts about animals and nature, adopt pets, play games and earn Gems, use them to buy things to decorate their own character and their dens, make friends and trade, etc etc.

Children, with parents' consent and payment (£4.95 per month, or save by paying for 6 or 12 months), can also become a member, which gives them full access to thew whole game. It mainly allows them to have access to all virtual pets and character options (more about this below), as well as all the accessories and Dens that are available for them to buy (using virtual money). It also allows them to access members only games and adventures.

Left: parents section
Right: Parents' Dashboard
Child Safety:
With children's online safety and privacy in mind, children's account creation and game play can be tailored by the parent under the Parent's Dashboard, and the game's creator WildWorks has also set up other safety measures to protect children from online bullying, and give plenty of reminders for children to protect their real life information and be nice to other players. You can find out more about their game here and Parents section here. It is recommended that parents read the Animal Jam Rules together with their children as well.

In-Game Chat:
By default, children's in-game chat are restricted, which means that they are limited to what they can type in the in-game chat. Members, with parents consent (by changing the setting in the Parents' Dashboard), can have a less restricted chat option as well, but like all the other chat options, what they type are filtered and moderated, and typing offending messages could get their account suspended.You can also have an option of Bubble chat, where children can't type but can choose words to express themselves from a list. You can find out more about the chat options here.

Children can make friends in-game and add them to their buddy list. With the in-game settings, children can set Jammer Wall (for players to leave messages that stays, like a messaging system) or Den visitors to buddies only, so that only buddies can write on their wall and visit their den.

I'm quite happy with Abby to chat to others using Restricted Chat, because it gives her the chance to practise typing and have the opportunity to social as well while still being protected. I however have chosen to disable trade, gifting, and Jammer Wall for now for my own peace of mind.

Abby is free to buddy other players, but she's quite sensible and since she hasn't really played much, nor played with specific friends for long enough, her buddy list is still empty.

National Geographic for children, Animal Jam MMORPG, online virtual world game for children

National Geographic for children, Animal Jam MMORPG, online virtual world game for children
Left: Members can access more character options, but they will require virtual payment to create
Right: Adopting a pet
Character Creation:
When players create an account, they start with choosing an animal to represent them in Animal Jam. Instead of creating their own character name, Animal Jam has an in-built character name selection system. Players can either let the game pick a random one for them, or they can go through the 3 wheels to choose one they like.

For the account information, I would recommend not using their own date of birth, nor putting any real life information in their username and password, just for that extra security measure. It's important for us parents to remind them not passing these information on to other players, even if they know each other in real life.

There are 8 basic characters to choose from, and more options (really nice ones too!) for members. It does require virtual money to pay for them though. Players can create more than one character, and they can do so anytime in the game. It's helpful to have a character each for land, sea and sky so that they can explore the whole Jamaa. Unlike other MMORPG, players doesn't need to log out from the game to change character, they can just swap inside the game, which is really helpful!

Once a character is created, players can then customise them in-game.

Players can also adopt a pet (or many pets) along their journey, and customise them too. Members can also have access to all the pet choices available.

National Geographic for children, Animal Jam MMORPG, online virtual world game for children

National Geographic for children, Animal Jam MMORPG, online virtual world game for children
Right: Players can change the colour and pattern for their character in-game
National Geographic for children, Animal Jam MMORPG, online virtual world game for children

There will be a simple tutorial at the beginning when players first landed in Jamaa, and they will then be left to explore, but further instructions will be given when they explore a feature for the first time.

National Geographic for children, Animal Jam MMORPG, online virtual world game for children

National Geographic for children, Animal Jam MMORPG, online virtual world game for children

Den and Shopping:
Through adventures and playing games, players will earn gems (Diamonds can be earned by spinning the daily wheel when players log into the game, or through becoming a member where they will be gifted one Diamond per week), which they can then use to buy things. They can buy a new Den, furnishings, and even clothes and accessories for themselves and their pets.

There are many shops across the whole Jamaa, and each continent will have something that matches to that continent available. There are also themed items available during events too.

National Geographic for children, Animal Jam MMORPG, online virtual world game for children
Adventures has to be the biggest part of a MMORPG to me. There is one main story line, where players are to defeat Phantoms that has invaded Jamaa, and each adventure has its own story and mini quests. Players can join or host an adventure, although sometimes you can go on one on your own as well.

During adventures, players can earn Courage points and level up. Adventures require a certain level of Courage to go on, so it's good to start from the beginning. Players can also "go into a deep sleep" after being hit by Phantoms 3 times, but they will wake up at the nearest statue (I forgot his name...). Abby is really scared of the Phantoms though!

There are hidden treasure chests scattered around the map (it's good to check the map often, which is located at the bottom right corner), so exploring the whole map will give the players more treasures. Banishing a Phantom will give Gems as well, and by finishing a mini quest, players can earn a treasure chest that has a higher amount of Gems inside!

National Geographic for children, Animal Jam MMORPG, online virtual world game for children

There are assorted games in Animal Jam that are really fun to play, and perfect for players to earn Gems if they don't want to go on Adventures. There are a lot of different games, including finding hidden objects, or dress your character and the best dressed wins, etc. The good thing is that you can play a game over and over again until you want to stop. So you can keep playing and earning Gems! And if you are bored of one, there are many others to choose from! For players who are trying to save up for an item to purchase in game, "farming Gems" isn't difficult at all, and it's fun! Much more fun than what we had to do in the adult MMORPGs...

Games can be accessed through the Animal Jam screen, or you can find games during a journey. Sometimes you'll find games that gives double the amount of Gems too!

The main point of Animal Jam is to encourage children to explore the map and learn about animals and nature after all. Making earning Gems easier will definitely help encourage them to go around the world to find their favourite things to buy, and the more places they visit, the more they will learn.

National Geographic for children, Animal Jam MMORPG, online virtual world game for children

Players around Jamaa are learning about animals and nature all the time, even though they didn't realise. I really like it that they include actual pictures of creatures and facts when a player comes across the animated version. Players might not necessary read through all the facts, but I'm sure if they see an animal that they are interested in, they will stop and take a longer look!

Players will also come across the chance to learn through adventures and games, such as a quest asking for a fruit without giving the actual name, or during the Hidden Objects game where you have to match the name of an item to the item itself. I have learned a couple of new words in that game too!

National Geographic for children, Animal Jam MMORPG, online virtual world game for children

National Geographic for children, Animal Jam MMORPG, online virtual world game for children

National Geographic for children, Animal Jam MMORPG, online virtual world game for children

Events and Updates:
Like many games, if there isn't a constant update and new things to do, it can get boring easily for players, especially children. Animal Jam has plenty of events going on, especially something that matches the real life events like Halloween and Christmas, and they are constantly finding new things to update, for example adding new items and improve features. This is what keeps players going!

National Geographic for children, Animal Jam MMORPG, online virtual world game for children

Animal Jam on the Go:
If you are like me and rather not have the child on your PC all the time, Animal Jam is now available on iOS as well for free. I do hope that they will create one for Android soon!

Our Opinion:
Overall, we think that the game is educational and fun to play. I like it that they keep children's safety in mind when designing the game, without letting it compromise the social aspect too much. We as parents do have to play our part as well and constantly remind the kids not to type personal information in the game, and not to click on other things on the PC (Animal Jam itself is advert and spam free) like my unfinished blog post...

Membership wise, I think £4.95 a month is fairly reasonable. That's about the price I will be happy to pay for a children's subscription box, and it's only £3.32 per month for 6 months membership or £3.16 per month for 12 months. It's not asking for further in-game purchases (you can buy additional in-game currency, but why not teach them how to earn and save up instead?) either. I think for children who really like the game and want to earn and save up for members only items, the 6 months or 12 months membership could make a lovely birthday and Christmas present.

At the moment we are trialing a few games at the same time, but Abby is happy to come back to Animal Jam whenever she's allowed. She is scared of Phantoms, but she loves shopping in the game and has been busy saving up. I think we won't be going anywhere during the Christmas holiday!

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Nintendo 3DS - Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash

Nintendo 3DS, Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash, platform game

If someone mentions Nintendo and platform game, the first thing that comes to mind is no doubt the all time classic Super Mario Bros range. But that doesn't mean that the other Nintendo platform games aren't as good! In fact, after playing the new Nintendo 3DS game Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash, it's safe to say that it's now me and Abby's (and Clay! Although he can't play it very well yet) favourite new Nintendo 3DS platform game!

Nintendo 3DS, Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash, platform game

Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash (RRP £24.99; amiibo bundle available; pegi 7) is a new Nintendo 3DS platform-adventure game that can be played either in 2D or 3D (on the new Nintendo 3DS or 3DS XL).

In the game, Chibi-Robo (mini robot) went back to Earth to help repel invaders, after finding out that aliens have visited and stole precious resources. He has to travel through worlds (continents?) during his adventure, and use his most trusted Chibi-plug (his electric cord) to get through places, find hidden treasures and useful things (including trash!), and defeat the aliens and their bosses.

There are currently 7 worlds to clear, each with 6 stages, which once cleared, unlocks the boss stage.

Nintendo 3DS, Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash, platform game
Break wall for goodies and reach hidden locations. Use skill to solve puzzles
Nintendo 3DS, Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash, platform game
Left: Whip Lash (instant, shorter, goes straight)
Right: Zip Lash (requires charging, can be very long, aim aid available and can bounce off the walls in angles)
Nintendo 3DS, Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash, platform game
Unlocking door by tilting the new Nintendo 3DS to the right
Nintendo 3DS, Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash, platform game
Bottom info screen
Main Tool:
Chibi-Robo uses his Chibi-plug for everything, from charging his power up (which depletes over time), breaking down blockage, unlocking doors, collecting items, defeating enemies, and getting him from one point to another that are otherwise unreachable.

Chibi-plug can be extended by collecting coloured balls, which will either extend his whip lash (an instant shot that goes straight but normally for a shorter distance) or zip lash (a more powerful and much longer throw that can bounce off the walls and go zigzag, but requires charging up before use). You can check the length of each skill at the bottom info screen. Chibi-plug's length will reset at each stage, however.

Chibi-Robo can also use Chibi-plug to fly for a short distance, or perform other combo movements.

Items to Collect:
During the adventure, Chibi-Robo will come across things he can pick up, including trash for generating power, coins (or Moolah, in the game) for buying useful things, big Moolahs for a yummy bonus, Chibi-Tots (although we aren't sure yet what they give if you collect them all in each stage?), and real world well known branded candies!

Apart from solving puzzles (with skill!) and clearing stages, the main fun in Chibi-Robo, we think, is the collectible achievements. There are a lot of hidden treasures in this game (see details below), which is much more fun than any that we've come across!

Nintendo 3DS, Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash, platform game
Left: Charging dock at one of the levels, with a piece of trash next to it
Right: Chibi-Robo charging himself up
Chibi-Robo featuring an alien costume!
Nintendo 3DS, Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash, platform game
Right: Bottom screen shows how much power each trash generated. The boss trash gives the most power of course!
Chibi-Robo's battery depletes over time, so every so often he will need to recharge himself, especially after a fall or being hit by enemies. There are random charging docks scattered around the worlds at each stage, or you can buy spare battery packs from the shop (see below).

The available power isn't unlimited, however. Players have to collect trash found during their adventure and recycle it at Chibi-Robo's Chibi-House (see image below) to generate power. This will be the total power available for Chibi-Robo to use to recharge himself at any charging dock.

Nintendo 3DS, Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash, platform game
Top screen: Number on the wall shows total amount of power available to use to charge Chibi-Robo up
Bottom info screen shows that we were in World 1.
Blue stages are cleared, and Chibi-Robo is at an already cleared stage 4.
Smiley face indicates that there is a Toy you can talk to for special collectibles (more about this later).
Nintendo 3DS, Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash, platform game
The Boss Destination Wheel. Normal Destination Wheel will look similar but with stage numbers.
This wheel is available once all 6 normal stages are cleared
Nintendo 3DS, Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash, platform game
Boss from world 1 (couldn't get a clear picture sorry!). Don't forget to collect the boss trash!
Nintendo 3DS, Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash, platform game

Main Hub:
Chibi-Robo will start out in his Chibi-House every time the game is loaded, so players can get prepared before they venture out. You can check information for each stage cleared, access snacks and trash collected so far, buy spare battery or emergency jet (for when Chibi-Robo falls), access the Chibi-Outfit Network (more about this later), charge up, access amiibo information, and generate power using the trash collected throughout the worlds.

Unlike other games, players do not travel to the next stage directly. After the storyline and tutorial, players will clear world 1 stage 1 (ie. stage 1-1) by hitting one of the 3 UFOs (small gold, medium silver or large bronze) using their chibi-plug (this is required at the end of every stage, except the boss stage). Which UFO you hit affects the number of spins you are allowed at the Destination Wheel, which a player spins to find out which stage in the same world they will visit next (it could be stage 1-4 or 1-6, after 1-1 is cleared).

There is a chance that players will have to revisit a cleared stage and clear it again before they can spin the Wheel again, just to get to the stage they want to go to. With a higher number of spins allowed, players can have another try if the first spin brings them to an already cleared stage. Players can also buy Panels from the Panel Shop before they spin, which allow players to use coins to buy number panels for the stage(s) they wish to go to.

Players will have to have cleared all 6 stages before they can unlock the boss level, and they can only freely visit any level they want to from a cleared world once the boss level is cleared.

It can be tedious at times, but each stage are worth visiting again (twice more!) even if the Destination Wheel didn't put you there, for some bonus fun! And if you haven't managed to collect all the snacks, big Moolahs or Chibi-Tots for each stage, you can use this chance to look for them as they are really worth collecting.

Chibi-Robo is amiibo compatible. The Chibi-Robo amiibo (RRP £10.99 on its own; game + amiibo bundle available), once used in the game, can turn Chibi-Robo into a much more powerful Super Chibi-Robo, which can be leveled up too. Players can also use other selective amiibo characters with the game to give additional bonuses, although the game requires Chibi-Robo amiibo to unlock the amiibo features first (Christmas present!)

The Extra Fun:
This is what makes us love the game more than other platform games!

Hidden Bonus Level:
These will be indicated by a blue tunnel block. It is timed though, and you only have 1 chance to grab everything within the time limit!

Nintendo 3DS, Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash, platform game

Collectibles and Hidden Treasures:
The collectibles missions are fun to do, so we don't mind to re-play a cleared level 2 more times just to get one of the collectibles quest done - Chibi-Robo's outfits!

Nintendo 3DS, Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash, platform game
The alien baby rescue mission appears at each stage (except boss stage) after it has been cleared once.
Nintendo 3DS, Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash, platform game

Nintendo 3DS, Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash, platform game
Chibi-Robo featuring Mario costume!
Nintendo 3DS, Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash, platform game

Rescue Alien Baby and Chibi-Outfit:
Who would have thought that Chibi-Robo can be dressed up? I only came across it by chance as I had to clear level 1-4, which Abby already did, to clear the boss level. I found an alien baby that needed help, and as soon as I brought it to the altar and swung it into the UFO, it revealed 1 number from a 5 digit code as a thank you. After doing a bit of research, I found out that I have to collect the rest of the numbers through other players help on Miiverse (Nintendo's network for players). Once you've collected all 5 digits and unlocked the outfit ID, you have to rescue the alien baby again, and this time it will give you a costume instead!

Tip: You don't have to clear the whole stage for the alien baby rescue mission, and you can leave the stage once you are done. But again, it's worth hanging around to check for other collectibles you haven't found yet.

We've already worked out 2 sets of costumes, and are now taking a break while continuing our adventure in World 2, but we'll be back soon rescuing more babies!

Nintendo 3DS, Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash, platform game
An American candy! We still have to unlock the information from a Toy.
Nintendo 3DS, Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash, platform game

Toys and Snacks:
We are still a bit unsure about this one, because we are having trouble finding all the snacks (we only found 3 from the whole World 1...)!

The snacks are worth collecting on their own because they are apparently the most popular snacks around the real world. The packaging look exactly the same, and you can find out more about each snack, by giving it to a Toy who asked for it. A Toy is Chibi-Robo's friend and I'm assuming that there is one at each World? The toy will ask for many snacks, and each time you give one to it, it will tell you a bit about the snack.

When you've given all the snacks it asked for, you are suppose to get a reward too!

What we think:
I've played platform adventure games for years, and never really bothered with the achievements, or trying to find hidden treasures. Maybe it was because I didn't know what they were. If it wasn't because I came across the alien baby by chance, which was super cute (the whole game is just adorable!), I would probably have completely missed the fun!

Seeing a toy and knowing that the snacks collected have a fun purpose also encourage us to keep an eye for the treasures. I think this is the only game that really make us want to collect everything.

Apart from the extra fun, I think that the game is fairly challenging itself. There are the easy parts, which gives you enough time to relax and enjoy the game, and then there are the parts where it's really difficult, and require good hand-eye coordination, plus lots of attempts to get pass it. But because there are other things you can do, when you get stuck, you can get on with the game doing other things to take your mind off the puzzle, and then try it again later when you have calmed down (haha, it's not that bad really).

I also think that Abby could have easily cleared the first boss level by herself, although because it's a boss, she automatically felt threatened, so I ended up clearing it for her. I do think that she would be stuck at where I am now though! How do you fly for a longer distance?!

Graphics wise, 2D is cute and colourful, but 3D is just amazing! I've tried Animal Crossing: New Leaf in 3D, but it didn't give me a really deep in feeling. You can "see" about 3 to 4 layers of depth (background, characters and text), but in Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash, there are so many layers (from what my eyes saw)! I can see the far background, 2 to 3 layers of rocks and hills, the character and then the text, which also feels much closer to my eyes. And I only had the 3D setting at about 40%. I actually felt like Chibi-Robo can go deeper into the game, but it's a platform side scrolling game so he really can't. It's a shame I couldn't take a picture of the effects (I already have problem taking pictures of the game itself!) and show you. For Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash, I'd definitely recommend to play it with at least a bit of 3D effect.

Overall, Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash has exceeded our expectation and it's a really fun game to play!

Thursday, 19 November 2015

The Reward System and The Fairy Reward Box

Reward system, Fairy house, The Reward Box

I know there are parents who doesn't support the reward system, but I do. Sometimes it's hard for a child to understand why they have to change what they are doing when it was never a problem before (using a potty instead of a nappy that has been with them since birth, for example). Or when the task in hand is just not very interesting to do and word of encouragement doesn't feel solid enough (doing extra practises at home that's not set by the school will push the child a step closer to success, which can't be seen and isn't of their concern at the moment, for example).

Some parents might say that the reward system teaches children to always seek for a reward in return of doing something, but I found that not true (in our case anyway). Let alone that the reward system is already embedded in this world (school merits, bonus points from playing games, trophies in competitions, increase in salary, etc) and we aren't really affecting the kids any more than the society already is, there are times when I asked the kids to do something just to help mummy out, or because they are part of this family, or because they should help those who are in need, they understood and have never asked for something in return or think about what's in it for them.

Of course, you don't use the reward system every time. For us, it's only in place when we are stuck with other methods, and we always teach them the correct way of thinking when it comes to giving without asking for something in return.

But as I said, there are times that the reward system is my best friend. When I had to potty train the kids, I struggled to get them out of the comfort of a nappy because it doesn't make sense to do something the harder way when they can just get on with it and it will be changed (ahhh. The life of a baby eh?). The reward system worked its magic for both kids, although in different extend. It was easier with Abby as she loved stickers and she was so excited to see visually how well she has been doing with the sticker chart (she used to count her stickers all the time!), but it was a bit more difficult with Clay because he preferred to do things his way, and I had to lure him with a small piece of chocolate each time. We got there eventually, and the reward system have saved the little ones from being stressed out, trying to understand why I was making things difficult for them.

Now that Abby is almost 8, stickers doesn't excite her anymore, and I don't want to encourage the kids to eat sweets and chocolates. So when I asked her to do a bit more for her homework (a book chapter review daily so that me and the teachers can know how much she understood from her reading), which she wasn't interested because she's already doing better than others, I was stuck for ideas to get her going.

When I was given the opportunity to review a Fairy Reward Box from the Reward Box, I hoped that Abby would be interested because it is a really beautiful box and I could do with a bit of help to get her going. She was!

Reward system, Fairy house, The Reward Box

Reward system, Fairy house, The Reward Box

Reward system, Fairy house, The Reward Box

The Fairy Reward Box (RRP £35.00) is a beautiful and well crafted wooden house box that comes with 20 sparkling silver stars, kept inside a silver drawstring organza bag. The Reward Box also comes with 10+ free Magic Promise Vouchers, which can be used as a reward in return for the earned star tokens (see below). The reward box comes in a sturdy gift box with a solid plastic panel front as well, so it'll make a lovely gift too.

The house and stars are all beautifully painted, and the hinge is solid. They are really well made and everything says quality. As soon as Abby saw the box, she fell in love and immediately went on to personalise her box with the Fairy Reward Box Personalisation Kit (£5 for 2 sheets of stickers - 1 sheet is full of alphabets and the other full of beautiful fairy stickers).

The recommended use is to allow the child earn their star token, and it can then be exchanged for either a reward or a Magic Promise Voucher, which a parent (or fairy) can write on with a promise to take the child to the zoo, for example. Of course you can use it the way you want to, and there are more ideas on their website as well if you want some inspiration. For Abby, she will get a reward every time she has collected all 20 stars, just to make it a bit harder and to let her practise saving up. You can also buy another 20 stars for £10.00 so you have more stars to reward.

When I mentioned to Abby that she can earn a star token every time she finish a book chapter review, instead of the usual reaction, she happily said okay without complains! I think it helped that the box and stars are so pretty, and the box is personalised by herself. It must be special to her because it's now sitting on the most obvious spot on her desk. The Reward Box will no doubt last for a very long time. When Abby has grown out from needing a reward box, she can use it as a keepsake box.

They also have a Pirate Reward Box to choose from, and really cute pirate personalisation stickers to match. You can check The Reward Box's Facebook page out now for a 25% off deal!

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