I love being a parent. It gives me excuses to check out cool educational software for my daughters. ItzaBitza offers a combination of art, reading, creativity, and exploration as well as a reason for kids to get used to using a mouse! In addition, it's fun for parents to play along with their kids — unlike far too many games I've played with them recently.
The general theme behind ItzaBitza revolves around selecting a background setting and drawing things with the mouse to interact with the setting on screen to collect stars. As one collects more stars, they unlock new settings and can do new things. The five settings or playsets are "Home Sweet Home," "Let's Go Camping," "Play in Space," "A Farm Life," and "A VERY Scary Haunted House" (just in time for Halloween).
The game follows the same basic sort of idea as Scribblenauts, which is available for the Nintendo DS. This, however, is aimed squarely at younger kids, probably in the four- to six-year-old age range (though my eight-year-old liked it too). Instead of having to write words to create things on the screen, one is given a set of words that one clicks to get little tasks — like draw a house, a window, a rock, and so on. Even if the house as drawn isn't great, the game figures out that's what it's supposed to be and animates it.
It is these little animations that make the game work, and the fact that one doesn't have to be an artist for the animations to pay off really helps. Kids can go through the entire game at their own pace, working as they will. Add to that the fact that no two sessions will ever be exactly the same and the game is a definite winner.
ItzaBitza also contains a lot of little, unexpected things, which really add value — and endear kids — to the game. For instance, one day after playing the game, my eldest daughter told the story of how she and her little sister (age four) had to try and get milk from a cow. They kept clicking on it and all it did was poop, but they eventually got the milk and giggled like mad for the better part of 10 minutes. The folks at Sabi Games have an amazing understanding of what makes kids tick and how to keep them entertained while simultaneously teaching them about cause and effect, reading, and how to use their creativity.
The game is receiving good reviews from a number of sources. It was just named to Dr. Toy's Best 100 Children's Products of 2009 list. It has also received glowing reviews from parenting and technology experts and recently won a Creative Child Game of the Year Award. The game had previously won a Parents' Choice Gold Medal Award; an Editor's Choice and Gold Award from The Children's Technology Review; a five-star review from USA Today; The Toy Man Seal of Approval, eco-Recognition Seal, Award of Excellence and eChoice Award; an Editor's Choice Game Award from The Computer Times; and a "Best Tech for Kids" mention in BusinessWeek.
Honestly, the only issue this reviewer found with the game is that after one clicks on a word, a question appears. The player then has to mouse over the words one at a time to have the computer read them. While the option to read a single word at a time might for work kids of a certain age, for younger kids to not get frustrated quickly it might be better to have an option to read the whole question at once as well.
Parents looking for a creative way to engage youngsters ages four and up should definitely consider ItzaBitza. The game is a great way to spend some time with one's kids and let them explore their creative side while still learning.
Itzabitza does not have an ESRB rating, and is geared for kids four and up.