Kids want to do whatever the big people are doing, but they're just too little to drive the car, use the power saw, or hold a giant game console controller for a few rounds of Call of Duty. LeapFrog makes educational toys and tablets that are built with kids in mind, and for this upcoming holiday season it even made a game console just for children ages 3 to 8. It's called LeapTV.
But don't picture the kids parked on the couch playing hours of LeapTV while puddles of drool collect at their feet. LeapTV offers three ways to play. The first way, yes, is sitting with a controller to play "classic control" games, but LeapTV's controller is designed just for kids: it fits their hands, and offers an analog stick and simple button layout (A, B, Home, and Hint).
The controller straightens out into a wand-like shape for the second way to play: up and at them! In the "pointer play" games, kids control the action by waving the pointer in the air. It's got an accelerometer, and a light on the end that can be seen by the LeapTV's camera. And the combintion of the games and your kid's imagination can turn that pointer into almost anything: a baseball bat, a fishing pole, a magic wand, a sword, and so much more.
And thanks to that camera, some games don't need a controller at all. "Body motion" games have your kids jump around in front of the camera, encouraging them to do dance moves or karate kicks. But they aren't just controlling an onscreen player, like a Nintendo Mii. Instead, the camera actually puts them inside the game, and they can see themselves right on the TV. (If the way my son freaks out when I show him a YouTube of himself on the TV is any indication, this will be a popular feature.)
For kids only
LeapTV has a friendly UI that kids can navigate on their own, even if they aren't readers. Up to five kids can have profiles on one console, plus a guest profile for when they have a friend over. Kids can pick their own character icon, and can also choose a theme, which changes the background, music, and sound effects in the main UI.
The profiles aren't just for the fun of personalizing the experience. All of LeapTV's games are based around curriculum like math, science, and reading, and they dynamically adjust to each child's ability level. If a kid gets stumped on something, the Hint button won't just spoon-feed them the right answer, but instead explain the concept behind the question. But if it's just too hard, the game will ramp down the difficulty without letting the child know. And when kids turn to a multiplayer game, the curriculum level can be different for each child--that's perfect for families that have a hard time finding games easy enough for the younger child but still challenging for the older one.
At launch, LeapTV will have nine cartridges that fit its cartridge slot, retailing for about $30. Parents can also download apps and videos from the LeapFrog website for $5 to $15 each via their computer or smartphone; downloads will then sync to the LeapTV. Between all those apps, videos, and cartridge games, there will be 100 things to do on LeapTV, LeapFrog says.
The LeapFrog Sports game, aimed at kids 4 to 7, combines all three ways to play, with nine minigames and a tournament mode. Kids can use the controller, the pointer, and the games simulate sports like baseball, soccer, snowboarding, weight-lifting, and more. But even though the games are active, they're still enforcing educational concepts--one minigame has your kids karate-chop different shapes, for example. A Sofia the First game teaches kids phonics, word sounds, rhyming, the alphabet, and vocabulary, while a Jake and the Neverland Pirates game teaches counting, numbers, shapes, sorting, and classifying
Parents get reports on each child's progress through LeapFrog's Learning Path app for iOS, which also has ideas for age-appropriate activities, printable coloring pages, and tips. The LeapTV console will cost $150 when it hits stores for the holiday season, including one controller and the camera. Additional controllers will cost $30 each, downloads start at $5, and cartridges are $30. We know lots of kids who will jump at the chance to try this.