French developer Lexis Numérique has gradually been building up a strong portfolio in recent years, seeing some particularly strong success with its series of children’s educational entertainment games Learning with the PooYoos on WiiWare. The cute and colourful baby animals have ventured into the world of Sony with moderately tweaked editions of each PooYoo chapter, with the second episode now widely available across the PlayStation Network.
The company actually describes Learning with the PooYoos as "the first poetic brain trainer for children 3-6 years." It is in fact split into two sections: one aimed at Little PooYoos that are for the 3-4 years of age range, and Big PooYoos, which encompasses 5- and 6-year-olds. Everything takes into consideration children who are not yet able to read extensively, and is narrated by a peaceful, encouraging female voice who constantly says how clever the kids are, how great their dancing is in the relevant mode and generally sets up an environment that is pleasantly conducive to learning.
What is the difference between the Little PooYoo and Big PooYoo modes, though? The basic options for them are the same, with Workshop, Mini-game, Dance and Present on each, yet there are minor modifications in the control methods employed. The younger side is more reliant on button presses and has a greater level of voiced instructions, while the older children are able to use motions to point and shake the Move controller when required during the “fun and fanciful educative adventures” that focus on colours, shapes, sounds, rhythm, and spatial awareness. Lexis Numérique used feedback from parents the world over to mould Learning with the PooYoos into what it is today, with the end result certainly tapping into proven techniques for teaching toddlers, such as simple interactivity, plenty of encouragement and small doses of repetition to stimulate the brain.
Anyone thinking this is exactly the same as the WiiWare release, there are actually some tweaks on the music side, the general layout of menus and the graphical improvements, but the core game is indeed identical.
Choosing Workshop allows children to go through all exercises, taking part in games of hide and seek or find the PooYoo in Mini-game, having fun jiving around with new friends in Dance and receiving gifts in Present that expand for more enjoyable interactivity. It is not all work, work, work though, with some light-hearted questions littered throughout and some endearing motion actions mixed in. Wake up the sleeping cat by shaking the flower above its head, or jiggle the Move controller to water a seed planted in the ground using a watering can (or watering pot, as the game oddly calls it). The latter is something received as a present, with it being put in the ground and the controller waggled to water it, making a plant grow high in the sky. From this point the action becomes automatic, with only button presses and movements making a slight impact. The cat can fall off the cloud it sits on as it watches the plant get taller or ride it in different ways, whilst tapping any buttons make rainbows, bees, flowers, butterflies, and so on, appear. The game then ends, whether or not there has been any interaction.
Learning with the PooYoos believes repetition is good, going over the same activities numerous times and extending the length of some sequences more than would be expected in a standard game. For instance, in hide and seek players are given rudimentary questions to identify what animal is hiding behind the tall plants; although simply by looking at the screen it's clear what animal is where, the correct one must be selected after hearing a specific question that describes them. Each round requires five correct answers (no penalty is given for incorrect choices or leaving the controller untouched, causing a time-out), but the sometimes the same clue will be served up in the same session. Under any normal circumstances this would be seen as a negative point, yet here it works as an advantage for educational purposes.
On the dancing front, this is no Just Dance-a-like by any means, with the only actual input being to bring up visual effects: there are no motion controls to mimic dance moves or chances to sing — a swift shake of the Move controller simply throws confetti around the screen. In other modes you can press buttons and wave the controller to trigger a variety of special effects, making balloons, clouds, spotlights and flowers float into view.
Amid the constant questions there are other simplistic asides to entertain, with landscape painting where random colours are thrown around by shaking the controller and again pressing buttons randomly, and getting the chance to ride on a paper boat, with whales and fish leaping out of the water. Everything has been tailored for young children and the effects are wonderful throughout, but parents must be some careful thought into how much value for money Learning with the PooYoos: Episode 2 really does bring to the table. Considering the absence of quality ‘edutainment’ products in today’s market, however, Lexis Numérique has definitely made a positive step. This is no disaster like the ‘classic’ Mario is Missing from days gone by; this is well deserving of strong consideration.
At the current exchange rate, the WiiWare version definitely works out cheaper than this PSN release, but for any parents with only a PS3 at their disposal, Learning with the PooYoos: Episode 2 is definitely one of the strongest educational titles for children, mixing in key skills with fun exercises and a calm atmosphere that is extremely favourable for learning the process.