The intentions are good, but the execution is extremely disappointing.
As a licensed educator, one of the things I've been taught is that anything can be used as a learning tool, from the latest high tech computer to a traditional piece of paper and pencil. While computer software has reached new heights when it comes to education via technology, video gaming has typically been seen as a medium meant strictly for entertainment purposes. That hasn't stopped some companies from trying to release educational software on various gaming consoles, but they usually feel rushed and sloppy. Unfortunately, Jump Start: Escape from Adventure Island is one of these games.
When you load the game and create your in-game character you a treated to a quick (and I mean really quick) cut scene detailing the storyline. The game's characters are traveling on their balloon when they crash land on Adventure Island (NOT Hudson Soft's Adventure Island, mind you). When you recover you are greeted by a blue cheetah explaining that you must recover the pieces of your ship before you can take off and get away from the island. In order to do so, you must buy said pieces by collecting white and gold sand dollars. You earn these dollars by participating in various educational mini-games.
Note that this is a game aimed at the elementary school set, with the activities based around the cognitive skills commonly seen in elementary school, such as logic and critical thinking, word recognition and mathematics. In this respect the game does a pretty good job of bringing various skills and topics to the table. The game's biggest problem, however, is in how these activities are presented. The island acts as the game's main hub, with each section of the island hosting a different activity or mini-game. Successful completion of these mini-games nets you white and gold sand dollars, useable for the purchase of airship parts.
There are various mini-games. The first is a pushing mini-game in which you push an egg or a pearl towards its nest or shell, respectively. This is an incredibly boring and tedious mini-game that has very little educational value. Next up is a Dance Dance Revolution-like mini-game that has you flicking the Wii Remote in the direction indicated by scrolling arrows, making it another mini-game with dubious educational value. The next game is a platforming mini-game in which you collect the items indicated by the narrator at the end of the level.
The first of the what could be considered educational mini-games is a rolling ball maze game inspired by the likes of Marble Saga Kororinpa. Before you start the mini-game you are given the option of choosing what skill to tackle, as well as an opportunity to alter the game's difficulty. Each segment contains 10 levels. When you start the level you are told which banner to guide the ball through; when you select the correct banner you are then told to reach the goal at the end of the level while avoiding the bad guys. This mini-game only has one level. While the banners may change, you still roll on the same maze every single time. It quickly becomes grating and tedious, no matter how you alter the difficulty before each game.
The other two mini-games are basically the same game, but with different themes and cognitive skills. The manta ray/rocket pack mini-games have you gliding around the stage, flying through the correct answers and shooting the incorrect ones. Like the rolling maze game, you can change the topic and difficulty before the game begins. This is yet another monotonous mini-game where you'll find little to no enjoyment in gliding around finding the right answers.
And that's why Jump Start Escape from Adventure Island fails as a learning tool. The topics are present, and they are quite varied, but the mini-games based around them lack the engaging gameplay needed to keep students interested. The same games are also shamelessly re-used over and over again, with the learning topics changing.
Jump Start's controls are underwhelming, with the third-person platforming segments featuring unnatural and floaty controls for your character. Controlling the camera also becomes a bothersome chore.
Adventure Island does offer some motion controls for the mini-games. For the rhythm mini-game you flick the Wii Remote in four directions (up, down, left and right) in time to the song. For the marble maze mini-game you hold the controller on its side and tilt it left and right. Tilt controls are also use for the jet pack and manta ray games. It's what you expect in a Wii game when it comes to motion controls, but they work well enough that young children should understand them. Controlling your character during the Adventure Island scenes, however, feels unnatural due to how slow the character moves and a troublesome camera system.
The presentation nails downs the color needed for an appealing educational tool, but the 3D graphics are awful, with abundant slowdown, pop-in, and other graphical issues. The characters look fine in their 2D artwork, but their 3D modeling is sloppy and downright ugly. The voice acting and music, luckily, fare a bit better. In every mini-game a female narrator will constantly explain the rules and remind the player of what he or she needs to do. Adults will find this annoying, but since this game is aimed at children, repetition is important in order for them to remember the commands and successfully follow them. The music is bright and poppy, fitting for the fun and adventure of the theme and storyline.
In the end, Jump Start: Escape from Adventure Island has good intentions and a noble goal: to teach via the fun and accessibility of the Wii. But its gameplay feels rushed, and its less-than-inspired presentation put a very disappointing damper on things. There is much better educational software on the market that is not only more effective, but also the product of much better effort.