The Pixelkin Staff spent the weekend at PAX Prime looking at games and attending panels on a variety of topics related to family gaming. Here are the six best educational games we saw at the show.
Platforms: Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Steam
Release Date: November
Never Alone is a very special game. It follows Nuna, a young girl from the Iñupiat tribe in Alaska. Along with her companion, an Arctic fox, she goes on a journey based on Iñupiat folk stories. The tribe was directly involved in the creation and content of the game. Along the way you can unlock 27 video documentaries in which members of the tribe explain how they live, their culture, and their folk stories. The in-game dialogue has subtitles localized in many different languages, but all the spoken dialogue is in Inupiaq.
Never Alone focuses on ideas of connectedness and community. Nuna and the fox must work together to navigate the landscape, and they are both working for the survival of the tribe. In Alaska, one of the developers said, the environment is so unforgiving that you can’t make it without help. Family and community relationships are vitally important.
The game includes a co-op mode where a second player can take on the role of the fox.
Penguemic Word Domination
Platforms: PC, iOS
Release Date: Available now
Penguemic Word Domination has penguins battling other animals with words in order to protect their home base. The game subtly teaches vocabulary as players need to pick the correct word to achieve an effective attack against an enemy. For example, an “Arid” bear is best dispatched with a “Deluge” of water. Each attack also has a cooldown, which discourages randomly picking attacks. In order to be successful, players really need to know what the words mean. The art style is cute and cartoony, and the words attached to the enemies and attacks are picked from a list of words that frequently appear on SAT, GRE, or GMAT exams. If players are unfamiliar with a word, they can tap an enemy or attack to get a quick definition.
Platforms: Xbox One, PCs, and tablets running Windows 8
Release Date: October 7
Project Spark is both a game and a game-creation tool. The program has a robust feature set that enables players to create a wide variety of games in practically every genre. One of the most unique things about Project Spark is how it teaches would-be programmers the basics of coding, or “Koding” as it’s called in the game, through a visual interface that explains the logic behind how and why various game elements behave the way they do. Game creators can switch from editing their creations to playing them at any time to see the results of what they’ve done in the editor. It’s a lot less intimidating than a textbook or a screen full of if-then statements.
Bonza Word Puzzle
Platforms: iOS, Android
Release Date: Available Now
Bonza Word Puzzle is a unique spin on a traditional crossword puzzle. Rather than a bunch of empty boxes, the game features a series of letters already filled into a crossword that has been split into multiple pieces. Using a categorical clue, players must correctly arrange the tiles to create words that match the clue. The game starts out fairly simple, but quickly becomes more complex as larger and larger puzzles are split into increasingly small pieces. Like traditional crosswords, Bonza Word Puzzle is great at teaching both vocabulary and spelling.
Platforms: Windows, Mac, and Linux/Steam OS
Release Date: Available now
Universe Sandbox2 is a simulation game that allows you to play with the forces that control the universe—like gravity—and see what happens. You can change the tilt of the Earth, introduce another sun to the solar system, make planets collide, or start from scratch and create your own solar systems. An earlier version of the game has been used in classrooms, and this version is even more extensive and accurate, with more scientists involved in the development (climate scientists and geologists, for example). Players can either change numbers in tables that display on the screen or manipulate the objects using a graphical interface Younger kids might enjoy just moving stars and planets around, but older kids and adults will learn some serious science playing this game. As a bonus, Universe Sandbox2 is really beautiful to behold.
Pokémon Art Academy
Platforms: Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo 2DS
Release Date: October 24
Pokemon Art Academy is an educational drawing game aiming to teach kids the basics of art—shape, color, and line. Tutorials will take players step-by-step through a typical drawing process, using simple guidelines and some tracing techniques. It’s not a typical game, but rather a neat way of gamifying art lessons. While the game doesn’t really delve into the creativity behind art—it pretty much sticks with rote practice, drawing pre-existing Pokemon characters–it could be a fun way for kids to practice spacial awareness and the “art” of using a pencil to make form come to life. There’s also a Free Paint mode in which players can draw as they like and make some pretty exciting free-form pieces.