About a year ago I thrifted an old-school Leapfrog Leapster for my daughter, and it was a total hit with her! It was old old OLD, too – one of the first models, big and bulky and gray. I don’t even think you can find it anywhere anymore. Although it was touch screen, it wasn’t near the quality and sensitivity touch screens nowadays have, but Emma still loved it. It had already been through a lot when we received it, so it didn’t last too long in Emma’s 2-year-old hands. When it died, she was very very sad, and I made up my mind that I would get her a newer Leapster at some point in the future.
Fast forward to now. Thanks to the wonderful people at Leapfrog, I was sent a Leapster Explorer to review! Emma has been asking for a Leapster for her birthday (in May), so it really came at the perfect time. She also started preschool this month and I was hopeful that this would be a good educational toy for her. Leapfrog is known for their games that are educational yet appeal greatly to young minds, and they have terrific reviews of their Leapster 2, Leapster Explorer, and LeapPad, so I was very excited about this.
About the Leapster Explorer:
With the Leapster Explorer (recommended for ages 4-9), your child can play games, read ebooks, watch videos, look at flashcards, and even take pictures with the Leapster Explorer camera attachment! You can download games, videos, and ebooks online in the Leapfrog App Store, or buy cartridge games. The LeapFrog Learning Path allows parents to see their children’s learning progress!
Our Experience with the Leapster Explorer
I have lots of info, pros, and cons to share that I hope will help you when making the decision whether the Leapster Explorer is right for your family! Read on. :)
Here’s what you get when you buy a Leapster Explorer:
- The Leapster Explorer game console
- The Software Installation CD-ROM and Quick-Start Guide
- Parent Guide and Instructions Booklet
- USB cord to connect from Leapster Explorer to computer
Unpacking and setting up was a breeze for me. I actually did it myself after Emma went to bed so that I could have it all ready for her to play in the morning. I removed the screen protector, put in 4 AA batteries, and it was ready to go! At first, you go through a start-up video which tells you how to get games and use the console.
Here’s a quick overview of the Leapster Explorer’s features:
Design and Screen Sensitivity:
I think the design is great – not too chunky but not too small and fragile for little hands, either. The stylus has space you can store it when it’s not in use, and I like that it’s not in the way. I like that the headphone jack is on the bottom, the control buttons are similar to other popular game consoles, and the volume buttons allow the sound to be pretty loud, but also very quiet. The touch screen is amazingly clear with great graphics and without too much glare, is more sensitive to the stylus, and is bigger than other Leapster models.
Apps & Games:
The first thing you realize when you start up your Leapster Explorer is that there isn’t much that comes with it in the way of pre-loaded games. You get one free game, like it says on the packaging, but you only get to pick from two inexpensive ($7.50) downloadable games. We were able to choose from Sugar Bugs (get the teeth clean within a certain time to move on to the next level) and a train game (move the tracks around so the train can make it to its destination). There were also a couple of cute ebooks and videos that we could choose from. I chose the Sugar Bugs game and although Emma plays it once in awhile it really doesn’t appeal to her (should have chosen the train game!).
The saving grace for those who didn’t buy a cartridge game with the console is the preloaded virtual pets game on the Leapster Explorer, and I can’t tell you how much Emma LOVES it (she’s very into animals). She can play it for hours – it is by far her favorite game. You can feed, bathe, play with, and learn with your pet, and change his or her appearance, pet type, and name. It really is very fun, and I appreciate that there is letter writing practice involved (see screenshot on left).
The only thing I really don’t like about it is that there is an inventory and when you run out of snacks and shampoo, you have to hook the Leapster Explorer up to the computer and redeem “tokens” that are earned through gameplay for more shampoo and food for your pets. And despite hours of play on this game, Emma doesn’t seem to earn many tokens, so she’s telling me she needs more snacks and/or shampoo multiple. times. a. day. It doesn’t just not let Emma feed or bathe her pets, either – it tells her to hook the Leapster to the computer to get more. I really wish there was a way to disable that, and I don’t see why she can’t have ways to earn more shampoo and food on the console instead of making us hook it up to the computer. From what I’ve read, you earn tokens by playing games, so I’m hoping when we get a few cartridge games this will even things out and she’ll get more tokens and have more to do besides play with the pets.
Update: I was able to get my hands on the Mr. Pencil Saves Doodleburg cartridge game and it is a hit! It doesn’t completely solve our pet game token woes, but Emma does seem to have more than she did before. I have to say that I do understand why they made tokens something your child earns so that he or she can take care of their pet – it’s real life, right? But I still wish it was easier to earn them. Maybe that’s something that will change in the future. :)
If you want more games (and you will), you can easily go online and download more game and activity apps, or there are 25+ cartridge games you can buy. The app store pops up the minute you hook the Leapster Explorer to the computer, so it’s super easy and convenient. Games and activities range anywhere from $7.50 to $25.00.
Quick suggestion to Leapfrog? Freebie games and apps every once in awhile would be AWESOME. :) Or even some kind of rental program where we could pay a certain amount each month and have access to everything. I would love that!
Access to LeapWorld!
When you buy a Leapster Explorer, Leapster 2, LeapPad, or Tag Reading System, you are given free access to LeapWorld, a safe online environment for your child to play games in. It’s part of the installation package, so when you insert your installation CD and hook your Leapster Explorer to the computer, the screen that pops up and lets you buy and download apps, redeem your tokens, and follow your child’s learning activities also gives you access to LeapWorld. Your child creates a character and a pet, and is able to explore the world, playing games along the way. It’s a lot of fun and something Emma is most definitely interested in.
Monitor Your Child’s Progress:
Parents are given the ability to follow their child’s activities on the Leapster Explorer. I can see what games Emma has been playing and how long she has spent on them (that includes online games in LeapWorld), see what her top skill is (right now it’s the alphabet), and get suggestions for other games she might like.
So, after all is said and done, is the Leapster Explorer worth buying? I say yes! Emma can play with hers for literally hours, and that’s before we’d even bought any real games! Yes, initially I was disappointed that there weren’t more pre-loaded games and that I have to pay at least $7.50 every time I want a new app, but I decided that it’s still very very worth buying. I would recommend that you buy through Leapfrog.com and build a Leapster Explorer/Game bundle, getting a percentage off your order and free shipping! Or Amazon.com has a bundle with the Leapster Explorer, Leapster Explorer case, and Globe Trotter game.
The only other thing I want to note is that, although the Leapster Explorer can also be used a camera and video recorder, you have to buy a separate attachment to be able to do that ($24.99). It does come with what looks like really fun activities (drawing on and putting clipart on your photos), and it appears to take great pictures, so I think it will be worth adding on to our Leapster Explorer and plan to get it for Emma’s 4th birthday.
Another reason I love the Leapster Explorer? Emma asks every day to play with it and so it’s become wonderful for quiet time (meaning some uninterrupted quiet time for mommy, too!) and is a strong incentive for her to “earn” her Leapster time. Finally, my little girl is given a reason to be responsible! And I really don’t mind letting her play knowing she is working hard to keep a steady hand and trace the letters of the alphabet, or is learning to spell short words, or is learning about numbers and math through these games. I really love it!
Note: I would like to thank the awesome folks at Leapfrog for sending me a Leapster Explorer for review purposes. This post is 100% my own opinion and thoughts!