Review: Leapster Explorer by Leapfrog

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The Leapster Explorer by Leapfrog is an educational, handheld gaming device that allows children to play games, read e-books, watch videos and learn at the same time. The manufacturer recommended age for this device is 4 to 9 years and a majority of the games that coincide with the Leapster Explorer are within the same appropriate age range. The Leapster Explorer features crisp, clean graphics and a touch screen, which can be navigated using an included stylus or the touch of a finger.

When you first turn on the device, you'll be asked to connect to your computer and install the Leapster Connect software. After a handful of errors and confusion, we managed to install the software after 30 minutes, however, many parents have noted that it has taken them longer.

The device alone does not come with any games (price range for games is $14-$18) to play, aside from being able to create and care for your own pet. This feature seems to be a disappointment for parents, simply because at some point, the game will ask a parent to purchase more supplies (like shampoo and treats) by connecting to the computer. However, you do not actually buy supplies with money; your child will earn points by playing games on the Leapster Explorer and you can redeem the points for treats and shampoo for the pet.

There is an icon your child may select that shows previews for games that you can buy that are compatible with the Explorer. This is another feature that is deemed too "advertise-y" for children and has left parents with a bitter taste in their mouths. However, I feel like the solution to this problem is to simply explain to your child that the icon is nothing more than a game preview (for games they may or may not have). (I have read reviews where parents are furious over these "advertisements", however, I feel like it is no different than allowing a child to watch Nick Jr. or Disney channel, which plays commercials for toys in between shows; commercials that appeal to children and may make them ask "Mommy, can I have it?! Mommy can I have it?!" but all you have to say is "No" because you are not obligated to buy them those toys).

The Leapster Explorer does come with one Leaplet download code, which gives you the opportunity to download an e-book, game or video for free through the Leapster Store. The games (in general) are focused on reading, math, spelling, writing, geography, music, art and imaginative play. A handful of the e-books and videos you can purchase through the Leapster Store include popular characters, such as Dora the Explorer and Go Diego Go. The e-books are fairly similiar to the Leapfrog Tag Reading System in that you can use the stylus to select words and they are read out loud.

Now, my two and a half-year old son received the Leapster Explorer as a gift (along with 3 games; The Penguins of Madagascar, Toy Story 3 and a Spongebob game). I was concerned the device may be too advanced for him, since the recommended age is 4-9 and most of the games range for ages 4 or 5-9. However, he learned to navigate the device fairly easily, including using the stylus. He likes creating new pets and tells me all about them ("Look, Mommy, a rabbit!" or "a monkey!" or "a lemur"). We downloaded a Dora the Explorer e-book for him, which he flips through occasionally. We also downloaded a Land Animals learning game (where you can learn about land animals, what they eat and where they live). He loves looking at all of the animals ("Mommy, a cheetah!" "Look! A polar bear!") and he can now name them before the game tells him what they are. Pretty cool.

He loves playing the Penguins of Madagascar: Operation Plushy Rescue game because there are mini-games within the game that teaches him about shapes and numbers.

I have read reviews that state the games are boring and not educational. As an adult, I can see the games being super easy and boring, because I am an adult and learned about these things in grade school. However, the games are educational for children, in my opinion. As children get older, will the games be hit or miss? Sure.

Overall, I think the Leapster Explorer is a fun and great learning device. On a scale of 1-10 (with 1 being not worth it and 10 being super worth it, I'd probably rate the Leapster as an 8.5 or 9).

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