Katakana and Hiragana DS Games
Learning Hiragana and Katakana on the DS
If you're a Japaneses-learning enthusiast and you don't have a Nintendo DS, you are probably ignoring the most powerful of all Japanese-learning tools. Although it may not seem like it, in Japan the Nintendo DS is used widely for educational purposes. While the US only has one mediocre Japanese-learning game (called "My Japanese Coach"), in japanese there are various games for learning hiragana, katakana, kanji, reading skills, grammar skills, etc...
In this lens, I will only feature games that will help you learn hiragana and katakana. If they also happen to let you practice other aspects of the Japanese language, I will mention it, but the focus of the reviews here are based on those two early alphabetical systems.
All of the following screenshots were taken by me. Feel free to reuse them however you want. No attribution is required, though it would be appreciated.
Unless you like to import (or steal), the only Japanese-learning game you can buy in the United States is "My Japanese Coach". Unless you're desperate, I really cannot recommend this game. You're better off investing in an imported game. My Japanese Coach seems good at first. It starts off with romaji (something I don't usually recommend), goes to Hiragana, Katakana, teaches you vocabulary, grammatical concepts, and then kanji. So what could be wrong with it?
The game is basically one big flash card; you learn words in batches of 10 and then move on. Although you can review older words, whatever the shuffle function is seems to have been poorly coded as you usually end up with fairly recently learned words. The hiragana writing recognition is poor, and some of the kana have the wrong stroke orders taught! Likewise, a lot of the Kanji also have the wrong stroke orders. This may sound like being picky, but having the proper stroke order is very important to the Japanese people. These strokes are decided to help your penmanship, and are often used in various educational games to recognize what you write. If you start off with this game, learning the wrong stroke order, when you do eventually decide to move onto educational games from Japan, you will have to recondition yourself for the right stroke orders.
Anpanman to Asobo: AIUEO Kyoushitsu
Play with Anpanman: AIUEO Classroom
Anpanman is a lovable character adored by Japanese Kindergartners. Because of this, all Anpanman games are aimed at a very young audience, one whose literacy skills mostly depend on hiragana and maybe katakana. This makes all Anpanman games worthwhile for a kana-learner. This specific game, the AIUEO classroom focuses on reviewing those kana systems. There are various minigames, some more interesting than others. Only the best games were featured in the screenshots below.
~ Find the hiragana that matches the one shown
~ Put the hiragana in AIUEO order
~ Locate the words (in hiragana) that match the picture
~ Look at the current's word's last kana and find another word that starts with it
~ Read the kana shown into the microphone
~ Write the missing kana
~ Put the hiragana on the left and the Katakana on the right
~ Read the hiragana word and find its katakana equivalent
~ A collection of other mini games you can use to win cards - all of which have text about the various aspects of the Anpanman universe for you to read about!
Note: the only Anpanman game you shouldn't consider is the ABC Kyoushitsu, because it's to help Japanese kids learn the roman alphabet - which you already know!
Kaite Oboeru DoraGana
Write and Remember: Dora(emon)'s Kana
While AIUEO Classroom is fun, it's not quite as educational as this one. Kaite Oboeru Doragana focuses more on writing skills. You can practice all of the hiragana and katakana, including a demo of each one's proper stroke order that you HAVE to follow. You can even practice first grade kanji.
If you go to the games section, there are various games that also focus on building vocabulary, practicing hiragana, katakana, and first grade kanji.
Soreike Anpanman is not an educational game. It's a real game. You play an Anpanman as he tries to help his friends and other people. A lot of times that usually means going around talking to people, collecting cards, and playing a few minigames. Most of the time however, you're just moving from one story point to another. In this aspect, it's really more of an interactive storybook than a game.
But because there's voice acting, it's a good way for you to compare if your hiragana and katakana reading skills match what the people are saying (and you can of course try to see if you understand any of it!). It's not the most fun game around, but I found it to be good practice and it i fun to see how much you can understand after all!
If you are capable of keeping up with the story somewhat, I would recommend moving on to learn 1st grade kanji. Kanji will help you learn more vocabulary.
What to look for to determine Kana games
If you want to venture out into games not mentioned here, be sure to consider the following:
1. Is the game based on a mascot for young children?
2. Is the game popular among 7-8 year olds?
Anpanman and Doraemon are both Japanese characters that have very young audiences. Similarly, Pokémon games are often played by young kids so the text is usually written in hiragana (if you don't mind learning new pokémon names and getting a list of the moves in Japanese).
Kodomo no Tame no Yomi Kikase
Children's Stories on the DS
The DS isn't just for games, it's also for ebooks! There are 6 Kodomo no Yomi Kikase. All of which have
~ 3 Stories
~ Stories are written in either Japanese (hiragana) or English
~ Stories can be voiced in Japanese or English
~ Various silly mini games that really have nothing to do with learning
Out of the six games, I recommend getting the later ones as they tend to have more Japanese stories and just overall better fonts.
All the Recommended Yomi Kikase "games"
A Kanji learning DS software that has a section for hiragana and katakana practice, though the focus is on Kanji.
When I write the kanji ds games page, you'll be able to see how it fares up as a kanji learning game.