Three-year-olds don't need a $400 Xbox or Playstation, but they might still clamor for their own gaming console. Today I got some hands-on time with LeapFrog's latest product, called Leap TV. This $150 gaming console system is tailor-made for children aged three to eight. Available this holiday season, LeapTV comprises a console, camera and controller that you hook up to your TV.
Think of it as a kid-friendlier Wii. LeapTV will come with one child-appropriate game at launch and 9 cartridges for purchase for $30 each — each designed by LeapFrog's team of specialists to help kids learn. Some of the titles I previewed include a sled game that challenges kids to find letters and a karate game that teaches kids to identify shapes. LeapFrog says it will have at least 100 videos and games, ready for purchase as either cartridges or via its digital download store, by the time the holidays roll around. LeapTV comes with 16GB of storage.
Unique controller is flippin' fun
Not only is LeapTV's controller designed for kids' smaller hands, it also operates in two different modes for more ways to play. In Classic mode, the controller is optimized for two-handed play of more traditional games that make use of the joystick and A/B buttons. Flip out the handle, and the device takes on Pointer mode, which lets kids use it as a baseball bat or tennis racket.
Thanks to a built-in accelerometer, they can also use the controller to operate vehicles such as a sled or cart. A wrist strap prevents drops, and a help button gives kids tips and hints any time they encounter problems. The controller runs on two AA batteries, which LeapFrog says will last for up to 25 hours of gameplay. Each additional controller costs $30.
TV-Mounted camera puts kids on TV
The system's 640 x 480 camera reads children's movements and lets them interact directly with elements on the screen. During my time with the karate game in LeapFrog's Sports game pack, it instructed me to hit specific shapes (in this case a circle) out of a range that would appear around the screen.
I found the camera very accurate in reading my actions for the most part, as I hit circles and avoided squares and triangles. In these camera-based games, kids (and this 26-year-old reporter) also get quite the workout as they bounce about trying to match actions or hit objects onscreen.
LeapTV's console connects to a television via an included HDMI cable and has built-in Wi-Fi for downloading content. At $150, LeapTV is half the price of the Wii U ($300) and carries some novel features that cater directly to younger ones.