(We received the Leapster Explorer from LeapFrog for review.) Let me first say that we are longtime customers and fans of LeapFrog. Though the Leapster Explorer is recommended for ages 4 to 9, my son who turned three this past month loves it. I am not sure if all three-year-olds would be able to manipulate the stylus and play some of the games, but he was indoctrinated into gaming using my iPhone at two. He definitely has the hand-eye coordination needed to play it. I have seen over the last few weeks that he’s getting better and better at some of the games. Of course some of it is above his cognitive level, but that doesn’t stop him from trying. On the other hand, the system is great for my five- (almost six) year-old who just finished kindergarten. She does have the skill set to work on the math and reading games and is challenged as she progresses through the levels. I always feel like kids will be interested in games featuring characters they are already familiar with. Available games include Disney Princess, Toy Story 3, Dora the Explorer, Penguins of Madagascar, Ben 10, Disney Fairies, Wolverine and the X-Men, NFL Rush, Spongebob SquarePants, and Star Wars: The Clone Wars. We have been playing the Penguins, Princess, and Toy Story games. They do like these games, but I will say they enjoy the games that are not branded just as well. The Leaplet apps are downloadable apps including e-Books, videos, and more games. I personally think that downloadable apps are a great idea. First of all, that means that there are fewer cartridges to keep track of. Second, it means that less packaging and resources are being used. As an iPhone user I am used to buying apps and I think that downloadable apps for gaming systems like the Leapster Explorer should be the future. The e-Books are selections from the Tag library. Just like the Tag reader, you can touch words, listen to the stories, and touch pictures to hear sound effects. Integrating the Tag books into the Explorer is a great idea because it just adds to the possibility for kids to enjoy reading no matter where they are. Though there will only be six books released at launch, more will be available soon. Videos include Letter Factory, Talking Words Factory, and Math Circus. I was so impressed with the video quality! We put one of the DVD’s on the TV and played the same one on the Leapster and we couldn’t see the difference. We have a few of the six game apps loaded onto our Explorer. My daughter likes the Harmonies game where the child gets to conduct four singers. But what really got my son hooked is Jewel Train. In this game, the child must arrange the pieces of the railroad track so that the train can collect every jewel on its way to the station. It’s a logic game with 25 levels. I thought there was no way my little guy could figure this out, but it has really captivated him. I am not sure what level he has made it to, but my husband and I both had to play it until we got to level 25! When they say it can withstand kids, LeapFrog isn’t kidding. Ours has been dropped…a lot. Not to mention that my son drags it around by the stylus. The stylus did come off, probably because my son is so rough with it, but I popped it back on. A minor criticism is that the slot for the stylus is in the left hand side. If you put the stylus on the right hand side for right-handed users, then the stylus cord crosses the system to put it away. Since the majority of people are right-handed, I think it should also store on the right hand side. Our system came with the stylus on the left and I switched it over. We went through the first set of batteries in a few days because when one child wasn’t playing it, the other was. I threw in rechargeable batteries the second time. They will offer a recharger as one of the accessories. So I’ll tell you what my biggest problem is with the Explorer: We don’t have TWO. Seriously. Both kids love it and jockey for playtime. I plan to pre-order a second one so that both of my children can have one. This will be especially great to entertain them on car trips. The best news? Mommy can finally have her iPhone back!
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