9 April 2013

[SquareGo] The Adventures of Rubberkid - Hands On

It can be difficult to create a game for children that successfully balances fun with education, and from what we've seen of The Adventures of Rubberkid, its creator Charles Jackson has made a great attempt.

The game stars our eponymous hero, Rubberkid, who decides to take a stand against bullies by creating a special suit made out of rubber-bands that he uses to bounce any insults thrown by bullies right back at them.

Read the rest of the review over at SquareGo, or hit 'Read More' below!

Rubberkid's levels are fairly simple: to start one, the player picks a classmate they want to go help, then takes part in a minigame where bullies hurl insults – in the form of projectiles – towards the helpless classmate, which Rubberkid must block, causing the insult to bounce back and hit the bully and remove them from the game. If all the bullies are cleared from the screen, it's a win; if Rubberkid's friend is hurt by too many insults, it's a fail. Some levels are modeled after the arcade game Breakout: the player moves Rubberkid into the path of a scrunched-up piece of paper, which bounces around the screen and takes out bullies, but can also ricochet off of the walls and hit Rubberkid's classmate.

Winning a minigame adds the classmate to the school's “Anti-Bullying Club”, and lets you read a little bio about the person you helped – poignantly describing how the classmate's life would have turned out had Rubberkid looked the other way while they were being bullied, and how the classmate's life will now turn out thanks to Rubberkid's intervention. The classmates are a diverse lot, including representations of groups of people who often receive a particularly hard time with bullying during school, such as a character with learning difficulties, a foreign student, and (from what I could infer from this unfinished version), a student with a wheelchair, two students bullied for being “too fat” and “too skinny”, and a homosexual couple.

The art style of the game is very simple and cartoony, with bold, bright colours and cute characters intended to appeal to kids; it fits in well with the rest of “The Critterverse”, Jackson's shared universe that includes other kid-friendly game titles.

Concerns could be raised about how effective Rubberkid will actually be, if Jackson achieves his goal of getting the game in libraries and schools. A common problem with educational games is that their message can easily be dismissed if the player doesn't engage with the game, by finding it boring, proscriptive, simplistic or patronising. There is also the potential issue of what Jackson actually wants to teach children to do when they see their friends being bullied; the majority of the game's focus is on the player taking on the role of someone who literally puts themselves in harm's way to defend their peers, after all, but there's very little time given to other effective – and less risky - methods of dealing with bullying. Some of these concerns can be set aside considering that the game is primarily aimed towards younger schoolchildren, many of whom won't be ready to untangle the messy web of human interaction and morality, but it bears thinking about how Rubberkid might be used alongside other bullying-prevention techniques.

We've yet to see some of the minigames and classmates, and the audio has yet to be included, but what we've seen of Rubberkid looks promising; it's always a good thing to see another game that encourages and supports learning, especially for children, and The Adventure of Rubberkid looks like it will be able to balance education with equal parts fun.

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