Osmo's Detective Agency Offers Geography, Culture, and Mysteries to Solve | Tech Review

Globe-trotting gumshoes use map skills and AR in this new addition to Osmo's hands-on learning collection.

Osmo’s new game, Detective Agency ($39), engages kids in geography and world culture with colorful animal characters and settings. The augmented reality, hands-on learning game, where users must solve mysteries to move on to the next challenge, comes with four two-sided maps, a map holder, and a magnifying glass pointer. The game, which is sold separately and does not include the required Osmo base and reflector, works with a free app available for Android and iOS.
Detective Agency has two modes of play: Story and Travel. Story Mode is scripted, progressive play. Travel Mode is free play. Initially, only Story Mode is available. Players unlock Travel Mode by solving the first few mysteries. Detective Agency comes with four two-sided maps, a map holder, and a magnifying glass pointer. The game, which is sold separately and does not include the required Osmo base and reflector, works with a free app available for Android and iOS.

Detective Agency has two modes of play: Story and Travel. Story Mode is scripted, progressive play. Travel Mode is free play. Initially, only Story Mode is available. Players unlock Travel Mode by solving the first few mysteries.

Story Mode consists of solving a series of thefts, perpetrated by a cast of silly criminals. Most of the mysteries are solved across multiple stories. For example, a painting is stolen, and a portion of it is found in three different stories. The same nefarious thief is guilty of the first several crimes and is eventually caught and put away as the culmination of multiple completed stories.

Each story consists of an introduction to the crime and location, followed by a series of clues the player finds on the map, which leads them to the stolen object or the thief. Clues range from landmarks, such as the post office in Osmo Town, to characters or objects on the map.

Story Mode is scaffolded well. The difficulty level can be adjusted for player age and skill level. In Easy, all clues and informational text are automatically set to be read aloud. At higher levels, however, players can read the text themselves. The clue difficulty also changes with the level. Easy clues are less difficult due to size, recognizability, or fewer objects to be found. Difficult clues are truly challenging, especially as the player progresses.

The first stories return to the same two maps repeatedly, giving the player a chance to get familiar before moving on to a new map. More familiarity helps when the game moves on to increasingly difficult clues. Items such as soccer balls and bananas are hidden throughout the maps. Players may be asked to find as many of them as they can, or to find something very specific—such as all of the characters who are sad—which can be difficult to do under pressure.

Once Travel Mode is unlocked, players can explore any map they choose. Travel Mode has standalone activities that guide exploration, but are not connected to their progression through Story Mode.

osmodetectiveagencyWhile Detective Agency is a game with a scripted progression, there is a nice amount of choice as well. Students can choose from dozens of avatars to personalize their individual profiles, which tracks their progress across multiple Osmo games. With each fully solved theft, players earn an object, such as a fish bowl, a painting, or a dinosaur skeleton. These objects decorate their office, where each mystery is introduced and wrapped up.

Detective Agency has bright and fun animation combined with beautiful photos of the real places around the world where the stories take place. Facts about people and places around the world are scattered throughout each story, ranging from the interesting to the just plain silly. The way the game gets progressively more challenging will keep even older kids coming back.

The game isn’t perfect, however. While the included maps are sturdy enough for home, the folds will weaken quickly with repeated classroom use. The magnifying glass pointer tool may not hold up in a school setting, either. It is made from fairly lightweight plastic and will break easily if a player gets a little rough, which is possible as students get frustrated when the reflector doesn’t recognize the pointer. According to the Detective Agency forum on myOsmo (the online educator/parent portal) this can happen if the light is dim or shadows appear on the map. Regardless of the reason, it gets frustrating when you find the right object and the camera can’t see it. The problem can be solved, or avoided altogether, by making sure the map is in direct light.

The characters also speak in an irritating, repetitive gibberish while waiting for the player to find the clues, compounding this frustration. Luckily, only students playing in Easy level need to have the sound on, so the chattering characters can be easily silenced.

VERDICT: Osmo has a long line of well-designed games that effectively and creatively transform classroom technology into hands-on learning, and Detective Agency is a fun addition. At $39, it is well worth the price, and it remains affordable even if you need to buy the base at an extra $54-$74. The company has leveraged the universal love of searching for hidden objects to teach students about the world, and the result is entertaining, engaging, and informative.

 

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