Price: Around £50 but can vary wildly. Games are £15-£20.
Contents: Leapster console with touch-sensitive, back-lit screen and attached stylus. The older model comes with a game on cartridge. The newer model seems to have a stripped down version of the same game built in.
Gameplay: The cartridges available for the Leapster tend to provide a handful of educational mini-games themed around a film or TV licence. The graphics and gameplay are on the level of a Flash game.
Age: Officially 4-10 years. A precocious three-year-old could probably handle many of the games on easy settings. I suspect any child over the age of five would much rather have a DS.
Comments: Sprog2 got this a few months before his fourth birthday and it kept him quiet for a long time. Essentially, it's a handheld games console for younger children that has a heavy emphasis on education. The games tend to involve basic maths, letter recognition and memory tests. Any adult playing them is liable to boredom, drowsiness and possible brain death but they offer the kind of simple, repetitive puzzles and tasks that pre-schoolers seem to enjoy. The touchscreen gives them a more immediate and understandable means of control compared with a mouse or thumbstick.
The instructions in the games are spoken, meaning children can get on and play without needing an adult around to read for them. The downside is that the volume needs to be turned up high enough for the player to hear. Some of the games involve constant verbal questioning. This can become wearisome for anyone else around.
Slightly annoyingly, the console switches off automatically if left paused for more than about three minutes. This saves on batteries but means someone (i.e. you) will need to stand around pressing a button every so often to keep the thing alive if your child needs to go to the toilet in the middle of a game.
The games that seem to have gone down well with Sprog2 are Finding Nemo, Letters on the Loose, Thomas and Friends & I Spy Challenger!. There aren't that many to choose from, though. Easily the best game is the bundled Learning with Leap.
Also available is the Leapster L-Max console. This plays normal Leapster games but it's possible to buy more expensive versions of the games which have extra content that can be played by plugging the L-Max into a TV. Both types of games can also be played on the Leapster TV console which doesn't have its own screen, just a touchpad.
Conclusion: This looks like it should be a waste of money but really does seem to teach kids something while keeping them quiet.
- Improves writing and fine-motor skills.
- Very educational.
- Varying difficulty settings for differing ages and educational levels.
- Keeps small children still and relatively quiet for the entirety of long train journeys.
- Gives older siblings the opportunity to play their Game Boys in peace.
- Surprisingly durable.
- Small selection of games.
- Many games are impossible to play with the sound turned off.
- Battery intensive.
- Heavy for a handheld.
- Realistically, only suitable for a fairly limited age-range.
- Geared for an American audience.