By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)
Language learning can be fun with the right app on your smartphone, but to find one that performs well in an engaging video game is few and far between. Influent is one that can assist, but it’s not without a few flaws in its design. It’s more of a vocab building and memory tester than anything else.
Navigating around the virtual space is semi-intuitive; there’s a digital joystick to move Andrew Cross, your avatar, in the apartment and that’s where the limitations come in. Depending on the platform, the rendering quality will vary from being very cartoon-like to being photo-realistic. The “first level” concerns learning about the objects that are around this home (an apartment) and not how they’re used in everyday speech. Depending on the language (there’s a choice of 15 that one can buy to master), it’s easy to learn since they’re just romanizations of the English word (in Japanese speak).
Motivating myself to go further with this app is tough. Part of the problem lies with whether I can use what’s learned right away. For kindergardeners, this app may well be very appropriate to use. It’s not as engaging for anyone older and needing a structured approach to language learning. There are mini-games that’s a twist on the ‘shoot and destroy’ genre, and I didn’t find them as tough or fun. It’s assumed one knows the character set for a particular language (like Russian) and this program won’t teach how to write them.
A few weeks into this app’s release, I’m getting there. A few words I rarely use in Japanese (the module I tested) are becoming second nature again. As for learning new verbs—essential for communicating effective sentences—I haven’t gotten far to discover and recite.
I became bored with the exploratory options within this app’s virtual environment. That is, It doesn’t look like I can leave the apartment. Also, without an enthusiastic yattah or gambatte from the AI drone (be it a female or male voice), I haven’t touched this program much beyond week three. I’d love to see a more engaging virtual humanoid agent instead of a robot in this game. Or rather, I’d love to see what a Japanese developer can do to really ramp up the cute factor in this game developed by L.A. based Three Flip Studios.
Influent won’t replace more verbose apps. It’s a supplemental tool to help build vocabulary and after that, it’s up to the user to stay encouraged and wait for the expansion packs to find more practical words to use in everyday speech.
3 Stars out of 5