As a young boy in a public school on the East Coast in southern New Jersey, I had my standard fill of edutainment games, such as The Oregon Trail and Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?. These were interactive experiences designed both to educate and entertain. Like, now I know that dysentery is a terrible thing for anyone to get, extremely detrimental to one’s colon and health, and that it will severely impact your chance of seeing the end of your covered wagon’s journey to Oregon’s Willamette Valley. But enough about the highs and lows of 19th century pioneer life because I’m here to talk about bugs. Flowers, too. But mostly those creepy-crawlies that, from my point of view, exist solely to freak me out and slither into my open mouth as I sleep.
Aniscience is a fine piece of edutainment, performing both actions of entertaining and informing well enough, though I do wish there was a little more interaction from the player. Well, easier interaction, to be honest. To start, it’s still in development. You can basically play a demo of the first level, and there are promises of more areas to come. Ultimately, Aniscience is a cutesy, mouse-driven journey about discovering nature, its laws, and the principal species of plants and animals. Or, in the case of the demo level, all things that live in the dirt. Y’know, insects galore.
Here’s how one plays Aniscience. You control the tiny brown mouse, either with the arrows keys or, I assume, if on some kind of touch-based device, with your figure. This cinnamon-brown mouse by the way reminds artistically of the characters from Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and I’m perfectly okay with. Anyways, by lightly dragging a magnifying glass over a selected object (animal or plant), you can get a page of facts on the screen. These are real, honest-to-science facts, too. I mean, look at all these common shrew details:
Other than that, you can click (or tap) on the specific animal/plant in question to watch it animate slightly. That’s basically the experience, backed by a soft, friendly soundtrack of happy keyboard notes, as well as birds chirping. It’s inviting, simplistic, and visually pleasing. I still wish there was more interaction, like maybe comparing different bugs and flowers to one another or somehow modifying the scene, like adding in food or a predator and seeing how things change. Also, having to drag a magnifying glass over each and every thing you want to examine is tiresome. I get that the developers probably wanted a very straightforward control system, but I’d have preferred having the examine on one mouse click and the animation on another. It’s not a deal breaker.
Aniscience is a pretty fun way to learn about nature, even if some of the bugs are super gross. You are rewarded with exploring by learning about a new critter or flower, and while that might not sound immediately satisfying…it is. I wish you could collect these fact cards in some kind of journal, that way you could both have a goal of finding them all in one area and can easily pull them up later to view without having to go back to the specific thing in question and re-magnifying glass them. Again, not deal-breakers. I’m viewing this more from the “Is it fun as a game?” perspective, where I’m sure others coming to it just for education purposes aren’t even thinking about stuff like this. I mean, again, that mouse is pretty dang adorable.