Influent is a sandbox language-learning game which aims to make learning a new language fun and accessible.
For the most part it does a pretty good job: in the interest of thorough testing, we’ve played the game both in languages we’re fluent in, and in languages we’ve never studied before. We’re happy to say that Influent works fantastically as both a revision tool, or as your first step towards becoming the polyglot you’ve always dreamed of.
In Influent, you play as Andrew Cross, an independent inventor who appeals to Firestarter to crowd-fund his lawyer’s fees. Andrew has invented a brilliant invention known only as the Sanjigenjiten (三次元辞典, which actually means “3D dictionary” in Japanese), which uses technology only he understands. Andrew has taken the Sanjigenjiten to a corporation which could market his device, only to see it rudely stolen by some bad guys. Now, Cross has to sue the hell out of them in order to get his device back and to stop them from profiting on his IP. A unique sense of humor flows throughout Influent, making it a genuine delight to sit down and play: something that can’t often be said about educational games.
The game is set in Andrew’s apartment. As you walk around, the Sanjigenjiten scans everything it’s pointed at and displays the translated name of the object in the target language onscreen – giving you the spelling and native pronunciation as you go. Literally everything in the game can be scanned – right down to the walls and floor. You can also interact with the world to open cabinets, or crouch under your bed for hidden, hard-to find words.
As you collect words, you can add them to the Sanjigenjiten’s memory by clicking on a little add button, forming vocab lists after every 10 words for you to drill and master. The more you drill, the more you master; the more you master, the more you can find.
Mastery of your words is a simple process. Once you’ve scanned an item, it’s added to your master vocab list. At every 10 words this list is cut off, allowing you a bite-sized list of words to drill. A word will pop up on screen, and you have to point your Sanjigenjiten at the object that it relates to.
Once you have made the right choice enough times, you’ve mastered it. It doesn’t matter how bad you say you are at languages – Influent does a remarkably good job of helping you to master basic foreign vocabulary in no time at all.
As a further reference to Kickstarter (in a game which was actually funded by Kickstarter, adding to the list of in-jokes to gamers everywhere), you can unlock a stretch goal once you’ve mastered enough words; your prize, is a remote-control spaceship. With lasers. This should be a fun new way of playing the time attack mode, allowing you to master your vocab in a different way, but as we are about to see, it needs a little work. All in all, the idea behind Influent is pretty impressive, it just lacks polish.
Influent is endorsed by several highly prestigious bodies – such as the University of Tsukuba and MEXT (the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology in Japan). With such prestigious official bodies supporting it, it should come as no surprise to learn that the game is fairly accurate in terms of language quality. We tested the game on polyglots, and people who barely speak their native tongue: both learned their new vocab with a smile. From a teacher’s perspective, Influent would be a godsend in the classroom.
There’s also a huge amount of languages available to purchase as DLC. Each pack will set you back $4.99/£3.99, which may seem expensive – but considering the price of the base game, it’s actually a pretty good deal. As if that wasn’t enough, there is support for another eight languages coming soon, with a further twenty one planned.
However, despite everything that it gets right, Influent is not without its flaws, suffering from some crippling bugs which downgrade what could have been an incredible learning tool, to simply a good game.
Most notably, mastering words can throw up some screen tear, shuddering visuals and lag as the game tries not to crash. This happens every single time you master a word, and soon becomes a nuisance. It’s an issue which could be fixed in a future update, but it’s worth noting.
Secondly, there are issues with the controls. Come back to the game after a week of not playing, and you could spend more time trying to reacquaint yourself with the controls than actually passing your vocab tests. We spent 15 minutes on one vocab set because the ceiling fan kept getting in the way of a games console we were trying to click on. We wound up having to crouch to avoid the low ceiling, because we couldn’t get the camera to sit right.
The game also allows you to control a toy spaceship, which lives next to your TV. While piloting it, instead of simply looking at an item, you need to fly your ship and fire lasers at objects as their words pop up either on-screen or over your speaker. Sadly, the handling of your ship is pretty sluggish, with a turning circle reminiscent of an articulated lorry.
Our final complaint relates to the vocab list itself. Imagine that you’re a language teacher wanting to use Influent to teach your pupils a new language. You instruct your students to open their save file and drill the Fruits and Veg vocab list for a test next week. The problem here, is that the students have all gone about playing the game in their own way – and have thus tackled the words in their own individual order. This means that every student has populated their master vocab list in their own way.
You can rearrange these words to form custom vocab lists – which is a great feature – but if you only have, for example, 36 words, you can only use the first 4 pages of your master vocab list. You can’t split those 36 words into 7 pages of Fruit, Bathroom Items, Clothing, Furniture, Electronics, Parts of the House and Miscellaneous categories.
What would have been a better feature would have been the option to auto-sort your vocab into pre-defined lists.
Influent is an Indie game, made by a small number of developers; it would be churlish to expect the same level of polish as something coming out of the stable of Triple-A publisher; but we can’t help but feel Influent contains some clear issues which have been overlooked, and which impact on the overall experience.
If these things were to be addressed, we’d happily revise our score to 8/10 – or possibly even 9/10; but as it stands, Influent just isn’t quite at that level yet.