Leapster Explorer Review

Lucky person that I am, I got the opportunity this week to test out the newest addition to the Leapfrog family, the Leapster Explorer. Me and the kids were all incredibly excited to get our hands on Leapfrog’s latest gadget, and suffice to say no one was left disappointed.

We’ve had a few Leapfrog products over the years in our house like the Sing and Spin Alphabet Zoo and the Learn and Groove Activity Station. However we haven’t had any of the previous Leapster incarnations (L-Max,Leapster, Leapster 2) as we decided to go with the then new V-Tech Cyber Pocket. So I was really interested to see how much the technology of these educational games handhelds had improved since then, and how well the Explorer performed.

This probably sounds a bit strange but as soon as I took the Leapster Explorer out of the box I fell in love with it, and that’s without even turning it on. It’s light, has a nice colour scheme (unlike some of the previous iterations) and feels very comfortable when you hold it.

When you do eventually turn it on you’ll discover it has the largest ever screen of all of the Leapfrog devices,. It’s a touch screen too, which your kids are probably already familiar with from the likes of your iPhone, Ipad or most probably Nintendo DS. The touch screen is very responsive and worked perfectly, you also notice how lovely and bright the display is.

Learning Path

I like that the Explorer can easily be used by up to 4 of your children. Each child has their own user profile and you just select which one you want to play when you start up.

The profiles are unique to each child, so you can set up one as being in pre-school, and one as being in Year 2 and depending on which profile is loaded certain games will vary their difficulty accordingly.

It also means that you can check all of your children’s progress on Leapfrog’s online learning path, and you will be able to see in detail what skills your children are learning. Just make sure that your kids change profiles when they change players.

Leaplets and Games

As well as playing games the traditional way by buying cartridges and slotting them into the back of the machine, you can also download games, videos and Ebooks onto your Leapster by the way of the Leaplet Store. To download a leaplet from the store you first need to buy a Leaplet card. They are just like the iTunes cards that we are all used to buying. Simply enter your code online into the Leaplet Store and you can download whatever you like the look of. Each boxed card comes with 2 Leaplet codes,  most Leaplets require only 1 code but some will require both.

A cartridge game is priced at approximately £20, whilst a 2 code Leaplet card will be around £10.

The games on the Leaplet store don’t have the big name characters that the stand alone games have, but all the ones me and the boys played were very entertaining. My favourite game was the Jewel Train, where you have to fix the train tracks so the train can collect all of the treasure and return to the station safely. I personally spent around 30 minutes playing this game as I loved it so much, especially the music.

Thomas was a big fan of the SugarBugs game. In this fun little title your in charge of brushing someones teeth, removing bits of food with a toothpick and flossing before the accompanying song finishes. All sounds pretty gross I’ll admit, but kids – especially my boys – love gross and it’s quite fun.

Jacob’s fave was probably the Harmonies game where a group of 5 singers perform various songs and you can touch each one and stop them singing their part of the harmony. It’s very simple, but really fun for the little ones. I’ve made a little movie to show them singing our personal favourite song Wheels on the Bus, we all laugh so much at this!

Another great game just perfect for Jacob was Pet Pad which comes installed on your Leapster. It’s like a simpler version of Nintendogs for pre-schoolers and he loves it. He’s always enjoyed playing Nintendogs on my DS, but apart from stroking the puppy and me showing him how to give him a shampoo theres too much writing and  menus for him to be able to play it.

With Pet Pad he can wash and shampoo his Cat called Bailey, feed her by simply dropping down food, and by practising his letter writing can teach his pet new tricks.

He also loves that his pet appears in a few of the Leaplet games, and on Leapworld, cheering Jacob on as he plays. Pet Pad is definately a big winner!

Apart from games, you will also find lots of other goodies in the Leaplet Store. You can  download a range of Leapfrog mini movies like the Leapfrog Letter Factory, Maths Circus and the Talking Words Factory. These movies all last around 30 minutes and kept Jacob’s attention whilst he watched. He’s watched it a few times already to be honest. The great thing is that the Explorer has a pause button which works on the videos as well as games. You can also move the slider across the bottom to where you left off  instead of starting the video from the beginning every time.

Another Leapfrog gadget that caught my eye but I never got round to purchasing is the Leapfrog Tag reading system. Well now I’m really lucky because the Tag e-Books are yet another set of Leaplets you can download from the store. We had a test of the Go Diego Go book and I was very impressed. You can click on individual words and they will be read out or you can just press the page button and the whole page will be read out to you. I’m sure the e-Books will help Thomas will his reading immensely as he’s just started Primary School and is absolutely bursting to learn to read.

In my opinion as a mum the best thing about the Leaplets is that they are all stored in the Explorers memory, so are always on hand. It’ll be great to go on a long car journey, or for the boys to take it to Grans house without having to worry about taking a bag full of games to play too. It also means no constant in and out changing of cartridges. I’m not dismissing the cartridges as the games are longer and have better graphics and gameplay than the simpler Leaplet games, but all of the different Leaplets add a lot to the Explorer experience and sets it apart from other consoles.

Leapworld

Leapworld is a safe online virtual world for your kids to explore and enjoy with you having to worry. Playing the games on your Explorer earns you tokens to use in Leapworld. You can use the coins to but extras like food, toys and shampoo for your virtual pet from the Pet Pad game, or Micromods which gain you extras like different costumes and levels for other Leapster games.

Whilst you travel around Leapworld there are plenty of mini games to play which also earn you tokens.

I also found a place where I could load up some of the pictures that Thomas and Jacob had created in our Mr Pencil games and was able to send them to the printer from there. Jacob was very happy to see his virtual masterpiece take pride of place on the fridge door.

Although I wasn’t initially sold on the idea of having to log onto LeapWorld every day or so to spend our tokens on buying our pet Cat Bailey some food, Thomas has loved it. We’ve probably been on it for about 10 minutes a day and in that time he’s bought his supplies and played a few games. If anything it just adds more longevity to your Explorer.

My only peeve would be the slow loading times between pages. It did take quite a long time to move from screen to screen.

Learning Games

You may ask the question..Why don’t I just buy a Nintendo DS or Ipad? Well my answer is the quality of the games. Both Thomas and Jacob love playing on the DS and would both be quite happy to stick with that, but I’m not as happy. Although there are more and more DS games nowadays aimed more toward Toddlers and Pre-schoolers, most don’t really have any educational value at all. It’s more about having the toddler friendly cartoon character over than everything else.

The Leapster Explorer games may have the same well known TV and film characters, but they are used to actually teach your kids something whilst they play. Whether that be numbers, problem solving, basic letters and spelling, your child will learn something from every game.

Accessories

Due out in October is a Camera peripheral which will allow you to take digital photos and video with the Explorer. It’ll allow your youngsters to fulfil photo challenges, edit videos, add their own artistic flair to their photographs, and even upload them and use their photos in actual games. All sounds very cool, and I can’t wait to try it out myself

Also due out towards the end of the month is a carry case for the Leapster Explorer, one for the girls Pink Version which has handles and looks like a lovely little handbag. A plain green one for the boys or less girly girls, which thankfully doesn’t look like a handbag and is just a zipped pouch.

Conclusion

As I mentioned as a family we’ve got the Nintendo DS, and a few other consoles (PSP, Wii, etc.) over the years, but as a console for  children the Leapster Explorer can stand with it’s head held up high with the best of them.

The Explorer games are all very educational as well as fun. Plus theres not only the games you also get  the videos, e-Books and flash cards as well.

The Leapster Explorers recommended age guide is 4 to 9, and for these ages I think it’s perfect. Any older and they will probably want a bit more of a challenge and the latest games in 3D graphics, but for the younger gamers it’s the best option. The kids get to have a blast playing, and us parents can be happy that unconsciously there doing some subliminal homework.


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