The mind-controlled and virtuously titled Focus Pocus was released in October 2011 by the Australian NeuroCog Solutions, and the American brain-computer interface manufacturer NeuroSky. Back then we informed you about the game’s important features, the mini-game structure, and the scientific background that qualifies Focus Pocus as an educational game helpful for children with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). Last time we couldn’t play the game itself but NeuroCog have been kind enough to offer us a demo so we can share our very personal thoughts about Focus Pocus.
Before going into details we must recap the basic concept of Focus Pocus. This game has been designed from research aimed to help children aged 7 to 13 struggling with learning difficulties or even ADHD. The unique structure of Focus Pocus aims to improve the children’s memory, impulse control, and ability to concentrate on a given task. To achieve this goal Focus Pocus uses the NeuroSky MindWave, a wireless headset which records the child’s brainwaves in a completely safe way, and integrates the recorded data into the game-play.
Learning by Playing
Although Focus Pocus is installed on the user’s computer, after each playing session it synchronises with FocusIn, an online parental reporting extension. FocusIn is a complex feedback system – accessible with the parents’ own username and password – that generates daily reports of the player’s performance. It highlights the areas where the child has achieved or needs further improvement by differentiating the following five areas of mental abilities: Memory, Control, Focus, Relax, and the ideal balance of the last two, named Zen. They can be examined together on the overview page or in details separately. FocusIn displays the player’s progress on graphs, analyses in the form of automatically generated texts, and gives the parents useful tips and explanations of each mental area.
The serious scientific background doesn’t mean that your child would not enjoy Focus Pocus. The game is funny enough to engage any kid who loves magical tales with spells, dragons and not too scary zombies. Impersonating a young wizard, the player has to play through a wide range of mini-games, all introduced by a long-bearded Wizard Master.
The concept works, and not just because Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings have made the sorcery tales so popular. The dozen mini-games gather different genres, from classic memory games to turn-based boss fights (in a classic Worms style, where you can modify the landscape and kill your enemy by using different weapons). The simplicity of the games never lets you forget that Focus Pocus is aimed at children, but even adults can greatly enjoy some of the games, like transforming an ostrich into a coat-hanger, or a dragon into a toaster, solely by the power of their minds.
Most of the mini-games require little interaction with the mouse/keyboard. Pressing the space-bar is usually enough to launch a fireball or to select a specific colour or monster when it appears on screen. In many cases you do not have to push any buttons but just rely on the MindWave headset. For example when you ride a broomstick, grow a floor-touching beard or fight other wizards, your only task is to focus, relax, or stay zen as much as you can.
Since the entire game is made for children it is hard not to notice that some games are surprisingly difficult even for adults. You would think that an adult will win all games easily and achieve all stars at the same time. In fact, the game is very strict and you have to be really on top of your mental capabilities to please the old Wizard Master. The game will adjust to your performance though, getting easier if you are having trouble and harder if you perform well. After each mini-game you get a quick overview of your performance, including the exact number of your mistakes, and the mental points (best/average/total) you have gained. Although these results are based on pure facts (data coming from the headset), the game could be a little more permissive. It is confusing when you are the first to reach the finish line in the broom stick race but the game gives you a “Failed” message. This is presumably because you did not win the race with enough mental points, but it is not clarified, and a child’s disappointment in such a situation may be totally understandable. At this point we feel that the game needs some clarification, but a future patch can solve these minor flaws.
Visually Focus Pocus resembles in-browser flash games more so than the latest console titles, but the graphics are humorous and cute enough to amuse any player. Unfortunately it does not support 16:9 resolutions so latest displays will show the game in 4:3 format with bars on both sides.
Focus Pocus has a catchy soundtrack that can easily become your child’s favourite song, and there is a good chance that you will end up singing it together (check the video below). In general, the sounds are really good, for example in the Telekinesis game, when moving books between shelves we can hear the quietly vivid background noises of a library.
Despite its relatively high price ($149 without the headset) we think that Focus Pocus offers enough for the money. The 12 mini-games come with loads of extra features: beside the FocusIn reports, there are 2 license keys with each product purchased, a good amount of content to unlock, character customization – you can select the gender of the main character and the colour of their clothes – and different game modes. For example in Challenge mode you have the option of creating a personal mini-game line-up, and in Multiplayer mode you can compare your results with a friend’s.
Probably you would not let your kid play Focus Pocus alone – this is not because of explicit contents, rather the game does need some assistance simply because it’s more than just a game. The young players might have questions regarding the numbers at the end of each mini-game, but the creative and funny ideas make this serious game truly entertaining. Focus Pocus successfully addresses the children but at the same time it functions as a potential educational tool for ADHD – a disorder too often treated but never really cured with medications.
Focus Pocus trailer video:
Focus Pocus game play video:
A couple more Focus Pocus screenshots (click to enlarge images)
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