My Japanese Coach
Developer: Sensory Sweep
Genre: Educational Software
Release Date: 10/15/2008
I’ve been a big fan of Sensory Sweep’s “MY Coach” games. My DS collection at this point consists mainly of the various language games from this series and well, Pokémon. I purchased My French Coach on a lark and have used it ever since to keep my French sharp. Ubisoft sent me My Chinese Coach, and as I’m one of the few video game journalists in the States that knows any Mandarin, it made sense for me to give the game an in-depth review.
Now we’ve come to My Japanese Coach. If you’ve been a long time reader of mine, you’re probably aware that I know Japanese, or at least enough to get by. I had two big concerns with the otherwise stellar MCC. The first was that the game focused more on the recognition of Chinese Characters over learning pinyin and that the game didn’t focus much on the multiple tones that are key for proper pronunciation and which should be the first thing one learns in Mandarin. With My Japanese Coach I was worried that similar issues would occur. Things like, “What if the game only focused on Kanji or Kana (the two forms of writing in Japanese) and not both?” Another was a concern that the game wouldn’t focus on Romaji (Japanese written in English characters) which is exceedingly helpful if your focus is on SPEAKING Japanese rather than WRITING it. I’m happy to say both worries were needless as MJC has a nice balance between English, Romaji and Kanji/Kana.
Now the question is, how well does the game teach you Japanese?
Like all the language coaches put out by Sensory Sweep, you are given a quiz at the beginning to see how much Japanese you already know. The quiz keeps going until you get two answers in a row wrong, or the time limit expires. Based on your results, you just might test out of several lessons.
There are 1,000 lessons in the game, but you do have to unlock them in order. This is true too of the dozen word games available to help you drill the new vocabulary words into your head. You start off with only Whack-A-Mole and Multiple Choice, and the more words you master, the more game options appear to you.
On the average each lesson gives you ten words to learn, all revolving around a certain theme, verb conjugation or the like. In order to move onto the next lesson, you have to earn Mastery Points. These are earned by playing various games. The higher the difficulty setting, the more points you earn per correct answer. Once you have maxed out Mastery Points for each word in the lesson, you get a little congratulations and it’s time for the next one.
The twelve games available are mostly the same as the ones in My Chinese Coach. Here’s a brief rundown.
1. Hit-A-Word. This is a variant of Whack-A-Mole where you tap your stylus on the moles with the correct vocabulary word. The Moles will be in either romaji or Japanese characters (depending on the lesson) but other moles with incorrect words will show up too. Don’t hit them!
2. Multiple Choice. Pretty cut and dry. You are given a word in English. Then you have to choose the correct Japanese translation from a set of four choices.
3. Word Search. You are given a list of English words. Find the Romaji translations in the word jumble on the bottom screen. They can be horizontal, vertical or diagonal, so keep your eyes sharp. This is a great one when you are working on words that are very similar to each other like numbers or days of the week.
4. Flash Cards. This is very similar to Multiple Choice, except on levels other than easy, you’ll be hearing the word, rather than reading it.
5. Memory. It’s like the classic board game except instead of matching identical pairs, you’ll be matching English words to Japanese characters, English have a blue back and Japanese have a red. Choosing incorrect pairs does knock time off your limit, so memorize and choose wisely.
6. Bridge Builder. This is a great little game for when you are ready to move on to making full sentences in Japanese. You’ll be given an English sentence or phrase on the top screen, and on the bottom, you’ll be choosing the correct words and putting them in order. Each correct piece builds a part of the bridge and lets a stick dude go from one side of a chasm to the other.
7. Spelltastic. I feel this is the best game for learning Romaji. You hear the game say a word, and then you choose the letters for the correct spelling from a virtual keyboard.
8. Fill in the Blank. Here you are given a sentence of phrase. Spell the missing word on your virtual keyboard. TFitB is easier than Spelltastic because you are also given the English translation of the word here.
9. Write Cards. For those of you most concerned about writing Japanese, this will be your favorite game. You are given a word in English or Romaji and then you have to draw the character.
10. Fading Characters. This is similar to Write Cards, but it’s geared more for beginners. Here you will see the game write a word in Kanji or Kana. Then you will trace the word. Then the game does it again, except it will be slightly faded. Again you will trace. This continues until the character is completely faded and you have to draw it from memory. This is an excellent way to learn the characters.
11. Scrolls. This is a fun little game. On the top screen you are given a traditional Japanese scroll with Japanese characters written on it. Below the scroll is an English translation of the sentence. One word will be highlighted. You’ll then have to draw the Kanji for the highlighted kana.
12. Yomi. This game is mean. You’ll have to write out hiragana and Kanji in the order the computer gives it to you in a specific number of stylus strokes and in a specific order. For many of you, this is too anal to help you out. For advanced Japanese writers though, this will be a boon toward you mastering proper character writing instead of just making them look right. Yes, there is a specific order to how you draw the characters in Japanese unlike English where we just don’t focus on that.
Besides these twelve games you also have a dictionary, a reference book, a sketch pad and an excellent audio program that lets you hear the game say a word, lets you record your own voice saying the word, and best of all, let’s you play both audio tracks at the same time so you can compare how you are doing!
Like MCC, I am flabbergasted with the amount of options here and how many games actually will drill words into your memory, even if it’s just your short term memory. I couldn’t ask for a better intro to Japanese program for gamers.
Modes Rating: Unparalleled
This is not a game about high tech cutting edge visuals or mind blowing five minute cut scenes. This is an educational program and so I have to judge it by certain other factors.
A. I enjoy the tutor in the game. She is lifelike and is animated with realistic movements and facial expressions. I do have a bit of a problem with the fact she’s dressed in a kimono instead of like a 21st century teacher or average woman in Japan, but that’s personal taste.
B. The kanji and kana characters are crisp and clean. The characters are so large it’s easy for beginners to catch even the most minute details of the characters in this game, something that might not have been done if they were standard typing size or even in scrolling dialogue size from an imported video game.
C. The games are well done, and the focus remains the gameplay and learning words over the graphical. The visual presentations are all very well done for the format they are presented in. They neither distract nor take away from the actual game. Indeed with games like Hit-A-Word, the little moles add a great deal of charm to the game.
The visuals are almost exactly the same as in My Chinese Coach and as with that game, I could imagine better visuals for a game of this nature.
Graphics Rating: Unparalleled
Another top notch aspect of this game. The game’s voice is that of a native Japanese speaker with perfect enunciation. The fact you can listen to any word in the game and even speed up or slow down the speed of the word (in listen mode) means you should have no problem catching all the syllables and intonations of the tutor. I love the ability to record my own voice and compare my inflections to the game’s. It is a great way to ensure I’m still speaking words correctly. Again, I couldn’t ask for better in this area and the voice is clearer and stronger than other Japanese language programs I have tried over the years.
Sound effects are minimal in the game, but again, this is because the focus is on listening to the words. The effects are limited to background music between lessons, a happy noise for when you get an answer correct, a bad noise when you get a question wrong, canned cheering when you finish a lesson and the bonking of moles. All these are enjoyable little effects that just add to the game’s charm and are just gravy on top of the nigh perfect voice coach you’ll be receiving.
Sound Rating: Unparalleled
4. Control and Gameplay
I want to get this out of the way right away – the game plays noticeably better on an older model DS then on a DS lite. With the DS lite, you will find some severe stylus detection issues if you are say, lying in bed and holding your handheld above you, the game will stop recognizing your stylus and character strokes. This happened with two different DS lites, but with not with either of my old model DS’. So make sure when you play that you have the back of your DS facing the floor. For me this was a pretty big flaw as I like lying on my couch or bed, but for others, this will probably be a minor flaw at best.
The game is easy enough to play, but navigating through the menus and system can be a bit wonky. With each lesson, you simply click a button or tap “forward”Â on the touch pad with your stylus to advance to the next page of the screen. With each lesson you’ll get approximately ten words (sometimes more, sometimes less) for this lesson and you’ll be able to spend as much time as you want looking at the English word and alternating the romaji and Japanese characters. Then you’ll move on to two games and then the lesson is “done.”Â However you can’t move onto the next lesson without getting enough points, so there will be times when you have only a single word left to “master” making playing a full game feel a bit silly. The game is much better then MCC though in relationship to the Kana, Kanji and Romaji. MCC’s was wildly unbalanced with the relationship between pinyin, Chinese characters and English. So we get an improvement here, but the screen detection issue as a new flaw. Ah life – checks and balances.
I would have loved for an option just to view the words I haven’t mastered in a lesson so I could especially work on them, but that’s not an option. To do that, you have to go into Learning mode, click on the lesson and then scroll through the lesson’s pages until you find the words you want and then click on them repeatedly to shuffle between the translations. It’s a little annoying, especially if you’re taking this seriously as a way to learn words.
The controls are solid and well done, I just feel the game could have been organized better and I’m still a bit miffed at the touch screen issues that will probably affect, well, only me.
Control and Gameplay Rating: Above Average
I’ll get to the point here: 10,000 words. 1,000 lessons. Twelve different games that will help you learn Japanese in a simple and fun manner. There is infinite replayability here as long as you actually want to learn some basic Japanese If you’re not really into learning though, well, I’m wondering why you’re reading this review in the first place. Just remember you need to play the game every day to keep the knowledge in your head.
Replayability Rating: Unparalleled
My Japanese Coach is an excellent learning program for those wanting to learn the rudimentary basics of Japanese. There are many different games so you don’t get bored with doing say, Flash Cards, every single time. As well, the games are manage to walk that precarious tightrope between fund and educational. I mean no one is really going to clap there hands and squeal with glee about doing bridge builder 47 times in a row, but if you’re serious about trying a new language, this is a great way to start. My Japanese Coach makes rote memorization and recognition fun for any age, and thus you’re picking up basic conversational words and retaining them after just a few lessons.
Obviously it’s harder to get the language down with MJC then with the French and Spanish predecessors of this game, but that’s because you have to learn two new things instead of one, making it a bit harder for you. If you try My Chinese Coach first and then come to this, you’ll notice they corrected a few mistakes in that one regarding the relationship between characters, English and Romaji.
A big balance issue that has been fixed revolves around character drawings. In My Chinese Coach the game only counted to see how many strokes you made rather than any real accuracy. In My Japanese Coach the game is a lot more anal about where you make the strokes and indeed, in what order. This ensures you’ll actually be learning the kana or kanji rather than screwing around.
All in all, this is the best language coach Sensory Sweep has developed since My French Coach
Balance Rating: Good
The core engine is exactly the same as the other “My Coach”Â games. You progress the same way, you earn Mastery Points the same way. You do everything the same way. The only difference with My Japanese Coach is that you’re learning a different language from the others.
At the same time, this IS the only Japanese teaching game for the DS, and in the history of portable gaming. It’s very well done and a lot of fun.
As mentioned earlier, I find I use my DS far more for language coaches and Pokemon then anything else. I’m also overjoyed with how the DS has opened up a focus on games that make you smarter and how so many casual (and even long time) gamers are picking it up just for that. My Japanese Coach is a impresses me with how accessible it has made Japanese to the casual gamer. An added bonus is that thank to the reference guide and dictionary, it’s also made IMPORT GAMING easier for a lot of you. Now go get X Edge!
Originality Rating: Great
The box of My Japanese Coach suggests you can learn Japanese 15 minutes a day, which equates to one lesson a day. In that case, you’ll be through the core 29 lessons in a month. That sounds about right, because most people will probably burn themselves out if they try to do a lot of lessons each day or treat progressing through MJC like one would a RPG. As long as you do a little each day, you’ll be picking up new words at a decent pace. I went through the game a LOT quicker then I would have otherwise, for the sake of reviewing and because of my familiarity with the language. It is my suggestion that you do maybe 1-3 lessons a day, as that’s about 45 minutes, or what you would have done in for a class in high school or college. Again, while My Japanese Coach will not make you fluent in Japanese, it’s a great way to start learning, or a wonderful way to learn new words/refresh your knowledge if you already know some.
The thing is, My Japanese Coach is a game you have to run at your own learning pace. There’s no reward or super cool cut scene ending. It’s simply you trying to learn a new language. The journey is it’s own reward. Like Pac-Man.
In all, you’ve got a handy little portable language tutor, and for those who really want to learn Japanese but don’t want to shell out bucks for a tutor or continuing education classes, this is the way to do it.
Addictiveness Rating: Good
9. Appeal Factor
This is tricky. Like everything else about MJC, it comes down to how much you really want to learn a new language. You need to have willpower and resolve and be willing to follow through with things in order to make this game take root. Look at all the people who LOVED Animal Crossing or Wii Fit when it first came out and the a month later had stopped playing either game altogether. But that’s just it. This is EDUCATIONAL SOFTWARE that happens to be FUN. I know some of you will be this on a lark thinking it will be a novel experience, play a few lessons and then never pick it up again. Same with kids who have their parents by it for them. One of my friends wanted to buy this because her son wanted to play Pokemon Platinum now instead of waiting for the localization and i had to explain why that wasn’t necessarily going to work.
This is probably for older gamers or those in the Brain Age set. This title is definitely aimed for the more casual gamer or those who use their DS for slower paced, more intellectual activities. For $30, this really should appeal to anyone who has ever wanted to TRY and learn Japanese. For everyone else, it’d be a waste of money.
Appeal Factor Rating: Mediocre
For thirty dollars, this is a pretty good deal.. There is a ton of quality content packed into this game and it’s a great way to start learning a new language without falling asleep in class. Again, I was to remind you the reader that this game will NOT make you fluent in Japanese, but it is a great way to start/an excellent booster shot. There are some things a tutor or teacher can do that this game can’t like force you to think about new sentences or dialogue outside of a few programmed options. A live human being can also correct your pronunciation better than the dual track listening option in this game. Still, for thirty bucks, MJC is better than a lot of the products on the market that go for sixty to two hundred dollars. That is impressive.
I’d have to say that if it wasn’t for the stylus detection problems I encountered, that this would be the best language coach from Sensory Sweep and Ubisoft yet. Instead it’s merely a step up from My Chinese Coach and considering how great that game was, that’s high praise indeed.
Miscellaneous Rating: Great
Control and Gameplay: Above Average
Appeal Factor: Mediocre
FINAL SCORE: GREAT GAME
Short Attention Span Summary
My Japanese Coach will probably be the most appealing of Sensory Sweep’s language tutors simply because of how important Japanese is to the gaming industry. Maybe this game will be your gateway into importing (and actually understanding the words on the screen) games. There’re a few minor flaws, but the balance of Romaji, Japanese Characters and English is nicely done, and the vocal aspects of the game are amongst the sharpest and cleanest I’ve seen for ANYTHING on the DS. There’s a ton of replay value for those of you who truly want to learn Japanese and the game is so well designed, that you owe it to yourself to pick this up if you’ve ever been even curious about learning the language.