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Talkman review

Great
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AT A GLANCE
  • Pronunciation games for practise
  • Tons of phrases for all occasions
  • Value for money
  • Impractical in real situations
  • Translations are approximate
  • Max is annoying. Kill him

As every Englishman knows, speaking foreign languages is impossible. Spend three years ramming your ears with schoolboy German and, at best, you'll be able to order a pork sandwich and tell girls you like swimming.

Get a GCSE in French and - at most - you'll be able to ask for directions just well enough for some sneering garcon to reply in perfect, contemptuous English.
Blunder outside Europe and things get even trickier - Korean comes with an alphabet that involves 'stacking' letters on top each other, Japanese has two-thousand characters to remember and Chinese has five different tones that can completely change the meaning of, say, 'Ma.'

Why not just stick to England, thicky? The Peak District's lovely this time of year, apparently. If this is your attitude, you clearly need Talkman. It's pitched less as an interactive phrasebook and more as a clever way to meet/impress people and have fun.

Instead of simply looking up phrases and saying them yourself, the reasoning goes, why not remove all the embarrassment of dodgy pronunciation by simply getting a  talking bird called Max to do the chatting for you? No, really, why not?

First up, the technology's clearly excellent. Though you might have to give your patter a Yankee twang - this is the US English edition, after all - it'll pick up several thousand phrases with accuracy.

It works via key words, so 'Would you like a coffee?' will offer up alternatives like 'Would you like to have a cup of coffee with me?', 'Would you like to go to this place with me?' and, bizarrely, 'It's really cold, isn't it?' Pick one of these and Max will burble out the equivalent in whatever language you've picked, then, er, do a little dance.

If you trust the other person with your PSP, you can let them reply, switching the on-screen text to their language and giving them a list of responses ranging from 'Yes!' to 'Please go away.'

'Emotional' questions - like ones that you might try to chat someone up with - offer the option to include degrees of emphasis, with Max winking, fake-blubbing or flinging confetti, depending on whether you opt to go positive or negative.

For ease of browsing, phrases are chopped into 28 situations (shopping, meeting people, skiing...) and if you can't be bothered speaking into the mic, you can browse the options from a set of sub-menus. It's supposed to be 'fun', too, so Max clinks glasses and winks and messes about on the golf course.

There are problems with this, of course. For a start, it isn't always clear what phrase is going to be where ('Can I have your phone number?', for instance, is under 'Meeting People', not 'Telephone') and you'll often have to flick between menus to carry a conversation.

Chunky loading pauses make this bad enough, but Max also insists on jamming in 'funny' asides whenever you change scenes (typical 'joke': 'Don't take me in the ocean - I'm afraid of sharks!' Ha ha ha!), meaning that you're going to have to pick somebody patient to chat up.

It also offers limited practise options, including pronunciation and listening tests - but this isn't really a serious study guide. For one thing, the phrases aren't direct translations but rough equivalents - the 'coffee' question actually translates as 'Shall we go for a tea or something?' - so you can't rely on slotting words into new sentences.

For another, although repeating a phrase/question will prompt Max to spell it out in Kanji or Korean, there's no way to see it in English letters. Though this is apparently deliberate, to encourage listening, it also means that you can't always be entirely sure how to pronounce what's being said.

Talkman's a bit more of a novelty than an invaluable new way to communicate. Though you really can't fault it value-for-money wise (it's only a shade more expensive than getting three phrasebooks), it's not practical.

If we were heading off for the World Cup we might invest - the Euro pack includes Japanese, French, Spanish, German and Italian - but we probably wouldn't take our precious PSP to a football match or nightclub any more than we'd wave it about in a dark alley trying to find the 'please don't mug me' button.

Still, it's an excellent excuse to finally use that fey-looking wrist strap you got with the value pack.

Import Talkman now, or wait until May 2006 for a UK release.

More Info

Available Platforms: PSP
Genre: Other Games/Compilations
Developed by: Sony

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