When it comes to kids MMOs, one of the most important things is getting into the game as soon as possible (for kids, that means 10 minutes ago). Long downloads feel even longer with kids hovering over you, watching the bar slowly inch along. Luckily, JumpStart was easy to set up and got us into the game very quickly. Registration requires a parent's name, date of birth, email, and password, and then you can add a child's name or nickname, with the option to add the child's birthday (to celebrate in-world) and gender. The kid's name is not visible to other players; it's needed to allow you to have multiple characters for each account you create. Once registered, you select a look for your character and choose from a menu of words to build your name.
JumpStart uses the Unity engine, meaning you can run the game in a browser or in fullscreen mode. The world is colorful and a bit cartoony, but it's nicely done and runs very smoothly. You can get around on foot or by purchasing a ride, or you can use the map to jump directly to any location. Each area of the world is themed differently. A couple of them even emphasize the educational quality of the game; there's a science lab and an ant farm, complete with giant ants and a maze of tunnels that players can explore. Currently, there's a Fourth-of-July-themed area, complete with a soda slide, a giant jello mold that players can swim inside, and a giant record player that plays golden oldies. There's quite a variety of activities available in each area as well. Some, like Main Street, have fun things to interact with, while others, like Adventureland, have a storyline that contains several tasks, like completing an obstacle course and taking on the trouble-making Punk Punks. Everything is very open-ended, so you can visit places and do activities in any order you wish.
In JumpStart, there seems to be no end to the number of games available. They range from browser-based, arcade-style games to several varieties of educational games. Players can access them in the world or select them by clicking the controller button that opens a drop-down menu.
The real question is, how are the educational games? The good news is that they're a fun, decent way to review or supplement learning for kids ages 3 to 12. The games have several settings that allow you to adjust the difficulty of each game, and there are many themes for players to choose from. The jetpack game asks kids to navigate with their jets to find the correct answers for questions about basic letter recognition and more advanced topics like finding adverbs. The sports games -- basketball, volleyball, and football -- challenge players to complete basic math and reading skills. Meanwhile, the Quizinator offers science-based questions to players on topics like the solar system, ecology, the human body, and chemistry. Like the other games, the Quizinator has many levels of difficulty, so it's challenging for kindergarteners up through the sixth grade.
JumpStart is free-to-play but does give you the option to become a member with a subscription. Joining allows you access to more levels of the educational games, four free downloads from the library of other learning games, and a pet that you can hatch and raise in game. The nice thing is that everything you purchase in the game is bought with in-game coins that you earn; there is no purchased currency. While there were many players sporting fun rides and colorful clothing, you don't necessarily feel the need to purchase anything because the content is really front and center in this game. Some MMOs really put the hard sell on buying stuff or subscribing, but I didn't feel that was the case with JumpStart. We ended up buying a membership, not because we felt we were locked out of too much but because we enjoyed the game and felt it was worth the money to do so.
Overall, JumpStart is a fun game for kids who are preschool and up. The game offers a fun world to explore and an endless list of games to play. It also does a nice job with the learning games, which combine light learning with a fun game setting.
The MMO Family column is devoted to common issues with families and gaming. Every other week, Karen looks at current trends and ways to balance family life and play. She also shares her impressions of MMO titles to highlight which ones are child-friendly and which ones offer great gaming experiences for young and old alike. You are welcome to send feedback or Wonka Bars to firstname.lastname@example.org.