A mysterious force has sucked all of the color from the once-vibrant Noun Town. As a result, all of the town’s former residents have moved away. Now, you, the last, determined inhabitant of Noun Town, must return the town to its former glory through… language learning?
That’s right! Welcome to Noun Town, a new game which adds the element of fun to the sometimes boring and frustrating – but always rewarding – task of learning a new language. Through learning and practicing new nouns, your character is able to slowly but surely restore color to Noun Town, luring its chatty, friendly residents to return as you do so. Along the way, you’ll collect and re-assemble robots, help some very demanding residents fulfill their desires with the Learning Rush mini-game, plant colorful flowers, and more!
Gamified language learning is nothing new (I’m one of many who regularly “appeases the all-seeing owl” with daily Duolingo lessons) but Noun Town still manages to put a fresh spin on it. The story of restoring color to the island is a simple one, making the game perfect for all ages, but is highly satisfying. There’s really nothing like the feeling of completing another set of noun lessons and seeing that patch of color spread further and further, turning what was once dingy gray into a riot of rainbows. Sometimes, I got so caught up in wanting to see an area of the island restored to full color that I practically forgot I was also learning new words in the process!
When it comes to the actual language learning aspect of the game, Noun Town generally does very well. The game is up-front about the fact that it focuses almost entirely on learning nouns (hence the title), and that it would not serve as a full substitute for taking a language class or studying from a textbook. If you go into Noun Town expecting to become fluent in the language or languages you choose to practice, you’ll wind up disappointed. But, if you use Noun Town as a supplement to other language-learning tools, such as the aforementioned Duolingo, you will find it a fun method of practicing your nouns that genuinely feels more like a game than a study session.
There’s a few different ways to learn in Noun Town. The first and simplest is opening up Noun Boxes in one of the town’s various locations (cafe, bakery, farm, etc.) and studying the names of the objects that comes out. I like that the game doesn’t just have you open the box and be done with the word – to actually bring color back to the world and unlock the item you found, you need to practice it at a Learning Kiosk. Noun Town truly understands the fundamental principle that repetition is key to language learning.
It also doesn’t overwhelm you with too many words at once – you are encouraged to study your nouns in five-word chunks, and the game actually locks you out from learning any more until a cooldown timer of several hours has completed. Yes, Noun Town does give you the option to manually override this setting, but accurately cautions that learning nouns in large groups is less effective for long-term success. You can then practice all of the nouns you’ve learned via timed practice lessons that refresh every few hours.
There are a few mini-games that you can play in addition to the standard noun learning, such as using machines to generate different-colored seeds and then planting the seeds and growing flowers all over the island. While all of the mini-games are fun, I think that the strongest is definitely Learning Rush, where you are challenged by the town’s residents to identify as many items as possible in a short period of time. It feels the most like a traditional “game” of Noun Town’s features, and is honestly quite addictive – I often found myself playing several rounds in a row.
However, Noun Town does have a few weaker features and a few kinks that will hopefully be worked out as the game continues its Early Access period. While I really like the idea that Noun Town’s residents will gradually return as you bring more and more color back to the area, the conversations with the characters are not super well-implemented. They assume a familiarity with the language’s grammar that isn’t taught anywhere else in the game, and, if you don’t understand what a resident is saying, your only option is to translate it entirely rather than learning it via questions or context clues. I like the idea of having the residents inject a little bit of grammar into an otherwise vocabulary-focused experience, but I think it needs to be reworked so that you aren’t just reading full sentences that you almost certainly don’t know yet.
My other concern is that, while there are several languages available to study even in the game’s current Early Access form – including Spanish, French, Japanese, and Chinese – the gameplay and layout of Noun Town is generally identical no matter what you are studying. This can lead to the game feeling quite repetitive for those who want to use it to study more than one language. I understand that it’s impossible to make each language feel entirely unique, but it might be nice to see some variety in vocabulary sets and conversation topics that relate to what is being studied at the time, especially as more and more languages are presumably added in the future.
While most of this review has been spent talking about the language-learning aspects of Noun Town, I do want to briefly touch on a few other things. I absolutely love the wild, colorful, somewhat abstract art style of the game – it makes the moment when you see an area in color for the first time extra satisfying. The residents’ designs are really fun too – I love how it’s not just people who live in Noun Town, but humanoid animals, bizarre cloud-like creatures, and a host of other strange beings. The option to organize and decorate each area once you’ve filled it with color is also fun, although I admit that I did not spend a lot of time in design mode because I was so eager to learn more and more words!
Overall, Noun Town is a fun and educational game that serves as a great tool for learning vocabulary. It won’t make you fluent in a language, but would pair extremely well with more formal study or other language-learning softwares, apps, and games. Its colorful setting and focus on small amounts of daily learning make it perfect for all ages, and I’m excited to see what new features and languages are added as the game continues to develop!
Kate played Noun Town on PC with a provided review code.