Trancelation uses arcade gameplay as a vehicle for helping you learn a new language, all while trance music plays. It comes from developer Mythic Owl and publisher Baltoro Games, and while the game’s heart is in the right place, it’s neither a powerful language-learning tool nor a particularly exciting arcade experience. There’s a specific niche of language learner who could find value in it though.
Arcade sans excitement
The gameplay in Trancelation is very basic. You control a dot that has to collect other dots, and those other dots are labeled with words in another language you are trying to learn. Meanwhile, killer dots also shoot across the stage. There are four game modes: “Training,” where the next dot/word you collect will always be the correct one; “Questions – answers,” where you collect a word and then must select the dot with the right translation out of four options; “Questions – letters,” which is the same as the previous one but you only see the first letter of the word for each answer dot (It’s basically “Hard mode.”); and “Pairing,” where there are always four words as dots that pair off two and two.
Consistently selecting correct answers in Trancelation creates a combo chain, which begets higher scores. There are also rudimentary power-ups like shields and the ability to destroy killer dots for a while. Completing challenges unlocks new maps that offer new barriers (usually literally lines you can’t pass through) or things to interact with, like portals. However, the challenges are sometimes arbitrary and even specifically require you to play poorly sometimes. It’s a bit odd.
That’s forgivable though. The real problem is that Trancelation is just too simple to keep one’s attention for longer than 15 minutes at a time. Boredom builds fast, and on most of the levels, dodging obstacles is so easy that a level will only end if you get a lot of wrong answers (depleting your health to nothing) or if you just choose to kill yourself. The game has an optional Arcade mode that removes the language-learning component entirely, but I genuinely can’t conceive a good reason to ever play it. Also, there’s no accounting for taste, but I thought the trance music was really bland too. Trancelation just doesn’t work — as a game.
A maybe-decent Duolingo supplement
Trancelation offers seven language-learning options: English, Spanish, French, German, Polish, Russian, and Chinese. Understandably, it can’t teach grammar. It can only teach vocabulary, which it does in curated groups centered around topics (family, animals, common adjectives, numbers, etc.), and random fun topics like Morse Code are thrown in too. And admittedly, with Spanish (the only language offered I had prior familiarity with), it did a pretty decent job of offering synonyms for words, so that the player learns a plurality of relevant words for a given situation.
Since Trancelation won’t teach you pronunciation, if you’re not already studying a language, it won’t be effective for teaching you a new language (especially Chinese!). This game exists strictly to supplement what you’re already learning in school, a book, or from Duolingo. And frankly, a daily dose of Duolingo is likely to be more effective than 15 minutes of Trancelation.
Nonetheless, Trancelation does do what it aims to — I did quickly find myself relearning or newly learning Spanish words, even though I was bored for all of it. If you’re looking for something to help with rote memorization of basic vocabulary of a new language, and for some reason Duolingo isn’t enough for you, this game is a decent option to spend a few minutes a day with in bed or on a train. But it’s likely to feel more like eating your vegetables than eating an ice cream sundae.
A review code was provided by the publisher.