Casual games are all the rage now, and the kids gaming and educational market are no exception. There is a lot to be said for introducing a child to basic technology skills early and you can certainly do worse than Sabi’s ItzaBitza. The game has an impressive drawing recognition program that makes the experience great for kids that have little or no drawing experience. The game is toted as a great assistant for helping kids learn to read and to stimulate creativity. While our time with the game was limited by the trial copy we were given, we did come away with a good list of pros and cons for the game.
The program is only available for Windows XP and VISTA at this time. Sorry my fellow Mac faithful, but we have been overlooked yet again unless you have a full version of XP/VISTA and can run it on BootCamp. It will run on pretty much any setup and the game is not by any means a system resource hog, so you should have no problem running this game on your home computer.
The graphics are pretty consistent with flash games you see on the web and has a cute aesthetic to it. There is a total of 5 areas that your child can play in within the game with varying levels of difficulty. Starting from Home Sweet Home, you can go Camping, to a Country Farm, go on a Space Adventure and finally traverse a Haunted House.
You progress through the game by completing a series of mini-games such as building a house with a door and windows, cooking, etc. You have to draw each element to the mini-games which is actually pretty fun. Most of the time you can draw whatever you want and the game will take it, but other times it will not let you complete what you are drawing and you will need to do it over again. Here is where the game’s chief fault comes through.
There is little or no direction to the player on what they are supposed to do. Apart from the first example on how to build a house, there is no example given for any of the other things you need to make. In the Home Sweet Home level you are asked to draw a chimney, a paint brush, a hole in the ground, etc. Not everyone has a chimney so an example would be ideal.
The other major complaint is the voice direction and the audio programming. The kid’s voices in the game lack any diction what so ever and sound like they are mumbling their lines while eating food. There is no inflection in their voice either which make it hard to understand the one set of directions they did give while drawing. Also, buttons that would normally say “Yes” or “No” are given a green check mark and a red x respectively. When you mouse over them the child’s voice says, “uh-uh” and “mmhmm” For a game that is supposed to be strengthening reading, it seems contradictory to leave out simple polite words in place of mumblings. Also, when the kids eat the food they cook, they burp. While I find that somewhat amusing, I am sure there are mothers out there that will be mortified. :-)
The final note is that while it does let your child draw crazy things on the screen, the reading part of it seems to take a back seat. My child is 4 1/2 and can read pretty well for his age, but he had a hard time figuring out how to get the game to read to him as there is virtually no tutorial or examples given. To get the game to read to you, you simply put the mouse over the words on screen. This sounds easy enough, but to a child who wants to draw things and is entranced by the cool graphics, they will not slowly take the mouse over the little dialogue balloons to figure out what the mumbling kid is saying.
So prepare to spend some quality time with your child on figuring out the game.
The price for entry on the ItzaBitza website is $20 for the download and a bit steep. A $15 price seems more reasonable for this game as the quality is all given to the graphics and cool drawing technology, but the benefit of helping your child read better seemed to take a back seat during production. Amazon’s current price of 17.99 for a physical copy of the game is the best we have found so far!