Blurring the lines between learning and playing
For younger gamers, sometimes it’s okay if the line between a game and a learning app gets a little blurry. That “best of both worlds” quality definitely applies to Fun Town, the latest release from British studio Touch & Learn. Combining a colorful, engaging place to explore with some solid early life lessons turns out to be a winning formula, one that parents will appreciate no matter how they decide to classify it.
The first thing people of any age will notice about Fun Town is that it has no instructions. That seems to be very much by design, as the whole idea behind the titular town is that kids should figure it out by jumping right in and interacting with it. That’s done by touching out on the main street to see what happens, and all of the town’s citizens and vehicles will respond with sounds and motion when tapped.
There also aren’t any letters in town, so reading isn’t a prerequisite to play. The town’s businesses can be identified by their signage – the candy shop has lollipops, the banks have big pictures of money, and so on. Tapping on a store gets you inside to play a mini-game, but there are others in places you might not first expect (like the phone booth and stoplight). Kids can and will figure out that nothing should be ignored.
Trying out all the mini-games exposes players to a wide range of concepts, from pattern and shape recognition to number sequencing to matching. There’s even some basic science thrown in for good measure, as the flower shop challenges kids to figure out exactly what to do to grow a potted plant with the elements on the screen. Successful completion of each mini-game awards a badge, along with a trophy for finding and finishing all of them.
As there are no letters or numbers over 10, Fun Town is probably best suited for children a year or two away from entering school, although my 5-year-old son had a great time with it. The mini-games are also entertaining enough that kids may very well want to replay them, which helps make up for the fact that this isn’t the heftiest game out there in terms of raw amount of content – though Touch & Learn says the plan is to add more through updates.
The music, while pleasant enough, is bound to get monotonous after a while, at least to parents within earshot of the tablet. It can also be turned off with one tap of the only real control or menu item in the game besides a back button. No more are needed, which is a testament to the simplicity of the overall design.
That design also incorporates a unique, childlike art and animation style that almost makes it seem like everything is made of cardboard paper and brought to life (think South Park if it was appropriate in form and tone for preschoolers). It’s inviting, which is undoubtedly the point, and cheerful enough that kids shouldn’t get too upset if they can’t figure out some of the mini-games.
Parents should appreciate the lack of in-game ads and IAPs made possible by charging a small amount to download Fun Town. It’s worth the minor investment for anyone looking for a game that sneaks in some learning. Or maybe it’s an app that plays like a game. Either way, it’s a good one.