Driving Theory Training Nintendo DS review

Put Grand Theft Auto and Mario away! It's time to take your driving test! Hurray!

As a driver of many years, the idea of revisiting the hallowed halls of the driving theory test fills me with a sense of joy much akin to that of visiting Great Aunt Ethel at Christmas time, who can’t see straight and wants to slobber me with wet kisses. Yuck.

Yet somehow, I got to wondering if I was still on par with modern test takers, could I withstand the heat? One has to know these things for bragging rights down the local cross stitch bar. So when Atari produced their latest offering in the form of an educational tool for the DS that promises to use actual questions from the real Driving Theory test, I took the challenge with a certain degree of interest…and dread. It’s a test, after all. You are not dancing in the doorway.

Since there’s very little to this package, we should be able to whip through it pretty quickly. The first comment to make is that the interface certainly leaves much to be desired. It’s clunky and unimaginative, with the same sound track running in the background almost the entire time you’re using the game in any mode. Fortunately you can turn the sound and/or music on or off, so long as you can find the option to do so. The interface isn’t terrible but it certainly reveals itself to be a drudge to find everything you’re looking for and understand where everything is. Considering how simple a package it is, this shouldn’t be.

The game’s strengths are threefold – performing mock tests, reading the highway code and indulging in the signs directory (which includes the sign game and memory tests). Thrown in are some other things like minigames, which are fun for about five minutes and I enjoyed the memory games especially. But in truth, these are limited and very short lived in terms of enjoyment for most people. hey also don’t really prepare you in any way for the test to come, aside from fractionally increasing your chances of correctly identifying a road sign. I discovered whilst reading the signs subsection of the Highway Code section that there is an actual sign for ‘no vehicles carrying explosives’, which is a car with an explosion coming out of the top. Wow! I feel safer already. Terrorists everywhere are sure to reverse away and go somewhere else to detonate when they see that…

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Okay, that was cynical. I did actually enjoy the signs and highway code sections, because they are fit for purpose – they teach you what you’re going to need to know. The practice theory tests are also fit for purpose, if you can do several of these and pass well just before you take your actual test, there is a very good chance that you’ll ace the real test simply because the questions used in this game are actual real questions. It’s hardly advanced thinking I know, but it needs to be said. At the core of the game, it works for what it’s supposed to.

Hilariously, someone thought it would actually be a good idea to throw in simulated driving experiences where you turn the steering wheel with the stylus and use the D-pad or the buttons to go forwards or reverse. These ‘tests’ are nothing short of frustrating, laughable and pointless since your theory test in no way requires you to know how to steer (using a terrible interface) a vehicle into parking bays or through car parks. Errors are awarded to you if you touch a kerb or hit another vehicle in the top down view with the dash set in front of you as an in-car view might use. This is easily the worst feature or point in the whole package, and should be avoided like SARS.

If you want to swot up on your road signs, there are three ways to do this; memory, expert memory and sign game. Memory is a pelmanism-style affair where you have to reveal matching road signs in pairs before the timer runs down. Expert memory prefers to briefly show you a single road sign and then asks you to spot it amongst a growing array of others against the clock. The sign game is the most quirky/annoying of the three and gets you to read a sign description and then build the sign in several stages based on shape, colour and so on. These modes are all right for a quick go, but there’s not much lastability here. It’s all about the test questions for cars and motorbikes, really. The rest is padding.

The bottom line is that there’s only one real reason to get this – if you or someone you know is looking to pass their driving theory test soon. Let’s not pretend that this is going to be a fun, value purchase for already qualified drivers, or those with no current interest in the test.

This isn’t a game per say, it’s a training device and as such, it is useful and covers the bases you’ll need. Presentation could have been better but if taken simply as a tool, it is fit for function and in a price range that suits the value you’ll get out of it (i.e. not having to retake your test because of a lack of knowledge and practice). I would recommend this to anyone taking a test in the next few months, or new learner drivers starting out. Outside of that buyer group, Driving Theory Training holds nothing of interest and the minigames hold no lasting appeal past a 60 second flutter for amusement value. This is to French speakers what a crash course in GCSE French would be – pointless. For a learner though, this is about as much fun as learning driving theory is going to get – and its portable.

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3 out of 5