Having made appearances on everything from lunch boxes to perfume (along with a fair few video games along the years), the adorable Japanese feline Hello Kitty really needs no introduction. Her latest outing, Around the World with Hello Kitty and Friends for the 3DS is a child friend mini-game collection a la Cooking Mama or Peppa Pig - but despite the familiar gameplay, there’s a lot to like here, especially for the target audience of the under fives.
Simplicity abounds in titles like these, and this latest Hello Kitty outing is no exception. Wrapped up in a loose ‘travel the world’ theme, what we have here is a selection of straightforward mini-games, each taking place in a different country. From baking and decorating cakes in the UK to river rafting in Kenya, there’s a good amount for the jet-setting cat to get her claws into, and each game fits nicely with its host country. What we
appreciated in particular is that the developers seem to have ticked almost every box when it comes to making a game that even young children can enjoy. The controls are purely of the touch and tilt variety, similar to mobile and tablet games, which means there are no buttons to worry about at all. Touch-based games are really intuitive for young children, so it makes perfect sense in a game like this. When we gave it to our 5 year old play-tester to try out she had no trouble understanding what to do, and was able to get started straight away.
The mini-games are split between six countries: UK, Kenya, USA, Japan, Brazil and France, and each country offers four games to choose from. That’s a decent amount of content for a game like this and most children will have no problem playing and replaying their favourites. At the start of each game you’ll be asked to choose between ‘Easy’ or ‘Hard’ mode, which is a sensible way to provide a greater challenge for skilled players while not excluding younger fans who just want to see what happens next. The trickier setting usually means that guiding arrows and hints are removed, but even then this isn’t a difficult game by any stretch of the imagination. Our little Hello Kitty fan had no trouble with the hard versions of most of the games after having a quick go on the easy mode. Sadly, the difficulty level doesn’t increase beyond ‘Hard’, so once all the games have been mastered there’s no further challenge, which may impact the game’s longevity, depending on the child.
There’s a nice variety of attractions on offer, though, as you’ll be mashing potatoes in a US diner one minute and matching animals to their silhouettes in Kenya the next. Each set of games is designed to be blasted through fairly quickly, which is perfectly in tune with the attention span of the players the game’s made for. Some games are based entirely round a single input, like tilting a ball through a maze, or sliding the right food to café customers for example, while others are similar to Cooking Mama in that they require different actions: tapping and swirling to make candy floss, or brewing the perfect cuppa by tipping the pot and stirring the tea. There’s plenty for all abilities to have a go at, meaning that older and younger siblings will likely get some enjoyment from Hello Kitty’s travels too, although older ones will grow tired of the simple games fairly quickly.
Around the World with Hello Kitty and Friends looks as you might imagine: very bright, very clear and very pink. In a great move, the instructions for each mode are all fully voiced, as well as being displayed on-screen, which is brilliant for a game like this that’s designed primarily for children who are only just starting to read. In fact having the majority of the game’s text spoken out loud meant that our Kitty fanatic felt very proud of herself as she was able to play unaided for the most part. Hello Kitty’s saccharine accent will certainly grate for grown-ups, but that likely won't bother children too much, as they'll be too busy having fun. The 3D display of the 3DS is used, but it’s not really necessary in a game like this, and nothing is lost if it’s turned off. In fact the main menu lets you disable the 3D effect completely, which is sensible given that the game is squarely aimed at young children.
All in all, Around the World with Hello Kitty and Friends is far from a cat-astrophe (I’m so sorry), and a great example of a children’s game done right. It’s simple enough to be accessible, even for very young players, while the optional higher difficulty setting and collectible extras mean that it’s appealing to older Kitty fans too. The included mini-games are varied, and manage to be fairly educational as well as fun. Whether the game’s appeal will be outgrown quickly or not depends on the child, but we think that there’s a good chance that this will keep children entertained for a good while (and just think of all those air miles!)