Lingotopia – Review
Lingotopia lets you learn a language of your choice while exploring a handcrafted city. Did it turn us into linguistic wizards? Here’s what we think.
Lingotopia has a very attractive pitch if you are someone who enjoys learning languages like me. After all, I’ve always held that video games have a unique capacity to teach you languages by immersing you in exotic locales. Indeed, many of us have used video games to learn foreign languages, whether it is by memorising combat lines in a shooter or exploring towns in a role-playing game.
It would seem like a no-brainer, then, that if a game focused exclusively on language learning, a powerful learning aid could be developed. Indie project Influent tackled this concept with some success, but there is a new contender in the market.
Lingotopia comes from German studio Lingo Ludo and at its core, its goal is similar to Influent: you explore a world and rack up a vocabulary in the language you wish you learn. Unlike Influent, however, you get to explore an entire city, bursting at its seams with colour and filled with whimsical characters.
It’s a shame, then, that the game is a complete disaster.
After picking your target language, you start the game disoriented on a beach as the sole survivor of a shipwreck. A little girl serves as your guide, teaching you words and leading you from one character to the next. Along the way, you encounter objects with blue outlines. Clicking on them reveals what the object is called.
Right off the bat, the game did a good job making me feel the disorientation of the protagonist by throwing tank controls at me. As if that isn’t anachronistic enough, they happen to have extremely sensitive turning. Getting used to moving the protagonist took some getting used to. What I never got used to, however, was the protagonist’s languid pace.
The problems were only beginning. Soon, I found that the camera clipped through world geometry, revealing all the ugliness of one-sided walls. As if that wasn’t enough, I found that my guide was also able to clip through objects and pass through impossibly narrow gaps between buildings.
At one point, reproducible across playthroughs, she walked right down a bunch of rocks and began walking on a flowing river. Frustrated that I wouldn’t follow her, she would return to me, summon a floating exclamation mark, and then return to the river. This went on indefinitely until I found a bridge to take me to the other side of the river, and the guide finally took me to my next character.
But it gets even worse. I discovered that if you walk backwards, your own character clips through walls. I decided to experiment with walking backwards towards the river, and I ended up clipping right through it and falling endlessly into a void with no way to get back up. I ended up having to restart the game.
Mind you, this was my fourth restart of the game, after:
- The game’s UI broke during a conversation
- My character got stuck between two walls
- The game’s UI broke during a conversation again
The characters themselves have dialogue that you are supposed to interpret bits and pieces of. After every line of dialogue, you are asked what a particular word means. This way, you build up words in your dictionary, which you can… well, you can’t really do anything with them. They just stay there for your studying pleasure.
In my first playthrough, I picked Japanese to learn, a language I know at an intermediate level. I understood a fair bit of the dialogue, and I even picked up a few new words, which made me suspect this game is oriented towards intermediate learners. Indeed, when I tried a second playthrough in German, I found almost all the dialogue going over my head.
The critical problem with the game, though, is that I spent the majority of my time simply walking around, trying to lethargically get from one character to another. For a game focused on language learning, there is actually very little language learning involved.
The game makes no attempt to test what you have learned, or to use it in the context of the world. There are no puzzles, not even simple fetch quests or conversation options. There is no sense of progress beyond picking up words, which is something you can do much, much more efficiently using tools like Duolingo, Memrise, LingQ, or Anki.
It’s a shame that the game is so utterly useless at what it’s trying to do, because there is a very raw lump of potential buried somewhere beneath the butchered execution. The world of Lingotopia is legitimately calming and colourful, with such animal characters such as rabbits, tortoises, birds and deer. I particularly liked that the aqueducts double as an elevated railway, complete with stations modelled after fruit.
It’s baffling enough that this game has been considered ready to ship, given how technically broken it is, but even from a language learning perspective, it doesn’t seem to have been playtested. NPC chatter in towns appears as speech bubbles and disappears faster than you, as a language learner, are likely to read. Recorded dialogue for characters varies tremendously in loudness, forcing you to abruptly raise and lower your audio volume. At one point, the game taught me patently incorrect Japanese by asserting that the kanji 僕 is, in fact, the same as the particle は.
At its asking price of $20, it is impossible to recommend Lingotopia to anyone. Even if it were distributed for free, I would consider it a waste of time, both as a game and as a language learning tool. Save your money and buy a textbook or a subscription to an actual language learning resource instead.
Lingotopia is releasing on August 16th for PC, Mac, and Linux. This review is based on a review copy provided by the game’s developer. When the game releases, it will be available for $20. Not worth any money you can throw at it.