Game Review: Animal Jam (PC)
It’s no surprise that I love video games. It’s also not very surprising that I love kids, considering my Elementary Education major. What may be surprising though is the fact that there exists a free online game that is not only wildly addictive to me, as a 24 year old aspiring first grade teacher, but to children everywhere as well — And not only is it great for kids and their parents in that it’s entertaining and an awesome reward for weekly chores being done, but it’s awesome for teachers and young students in that it’s an incredible learning experience to boot!
Sponsored by National Geographic and designed to be used in tandem with a National Geographic Kids Magazine subscription to get the most out of this educational dynamo, Animal Jam “enables kids to celebrate their imagination and unlock their creative capacity as they adventure in a lush online virtual playground.” (via SmartBombInteractive.com)
The game is geared for children between the ages of 6 and 11 years old, but can be enjoyed by both a younger and an older audience as well. A player starts out by creating an animal, which will be their “avatar” and visual representation throughout the land of Jamaa. You’re able to choose from preselected words to create a unique name for your new animal, and are able to use in game currency to purchase additional items and accessories for their avatars or dens through any of the various shops.
Currency in game is split into two categories — Gems, which are earned by signing up for a paid membership subscription, playing any of the games in Jamaa or by exploring and unlocking new areas and achievements, are easier to come by and can be used to purchase most of the items and accessories throughout the game. Diamonds are a more recently added currency, and are the “newest way for Jammers to get some of the coolest and rarest items in Jamaa!” (via Animal Jam’s Daily Explorer Blog, an awesome and informative counterpart to the game itself, which offers news about recent updates or changes, as well as online safety tips and contests for the players).
In game “dens” are customizable homes that are available for purchase — Many of these are very detailed and expansive, playing into different themes for each, such as a Gingerbread Den offered during one of the past holiday seasons, or the “Water Park” den, which includes a water slide!
Developers at Smart Bomb Interactive are no strangers to creating successful and immersive games for children — Other titles of theirs include the browser based Sky Legends game as well as the Xbox Live Arcade-based Snoopy: Flying Ace, which just goes to show that they know what they’re doing.
Animal Jam uses Adobe Flash to run, and works on many different browsers and operating systems, making it very accessible to a lot of different people. Each player account requires a Parent Email to be attached during account creation so that parents can play an active part in their child’s online activities. Through their in game Parent Dashboard, parents can control different settings for their child’s playing experience, from changing their chat settings so that they have more/less typing freedom in game to being able to “lock” the account so that play time can be used in an at-home reward system.
The Jamaa world is split into different sub areas, each with its own theme and collection of shops and games to play, that are displayed on an in game map. Each area has its own section on a really neat feature called a “Journey Book”, which requires players to investigate each area’s surroundings to discover different animals specific to each region and learn about their species. Once an area is fully explored and all animals and plants have been discovered, the player earns a reward, which can be anything from an accessory for the player’s avatar or an item for their den.
Animal Jam has made leaps and bounds since its initial development in 2010, resulting in over 10 million active players today. The game manages to seamlessly balance both educational facts and learning with social interaction and addictive gameplay that keeps the kids they’re aimed at entertained and having fun even while learning about different animals and plants in the wild.
Creating an Animal Jam account is free, but there are optional membership packages that can be purchased either on the Animal Jam website, in select retailers throughout the world or via their online shop, Animal Jam Outfitters. The online shop offers gift certificates for in game currency, membership and physical plushies and apparel for children. Some of these items come with an in-game bonus, which is fun for the very active players who want a cute Fox plushie to hold in game, as well as out!
Fun things to check out in Animal Jam:
+ Rare Item Monday: Every Monday, a random store in the game is chosen to host a previously unavailable item from one of the past events or holidays. Children are encouraged to explore each store to locate the rare item, and purchase it for their den or avatar.
+ Adventures: Play with other Jammers to defeat the Phantoms, save the Bunny Burrow and earn rewards! These have different levels and each Club member player is able to display their Adventure level icon throughout the entire world of Jamaa.
+ News Crew: One of my favorite parts of the Daily Explorer Blog are the posts involving the Animal Jam News Crew. Every so often, a new contest will go up in which Jammers have to write a news article on the subject presented. The winning article gets displayed on the blog and shared with everyone!
+ Tunnel Town: Made by the creators of Animal Jam, Tunnel Town is a new app-based game made for iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch. In it, you get to help bunnies from Jamaa build an underground empire by digging tunnels, buying decorative items and furniture!
+ Parties and Events: The game has several themed parties that occur during timed intervals throughout the day, as well as special events that happen throughout the year such as the recent Summer Carnival or the winter Jamaalidays.
+ Play Wild Fund / Big Cats Initiative: 40% of the net proceeds from all Big Cats Wristband sales go toward the Big Cats Conservation, which helps support the endangered “big cats” like tigers, leopards and lions. Players can also donate gems in the Appondale area of the world map to the conservation, and they get to choose which cat they donate to!
Overall, Animal Jam is a great choice for parents whose ideal gaming experience for their child includes adorable graphics, educational information at every turn and a safe and parental controlled social interaction system. The game can be used to instill important themes and values into a child’s early life, such as responsibility for their own purchasable items and an awareness about the impact that we have on our environment and the animals that share it with us. Praised by critics and parents alike, Animal Jam is definitely something you’ll want to check out if you’ve got a great young person in your life — Or even if you hope to teach them someday, like I do! 🙂