Picoo won't be a brand that rings a bell of familiarity in our brains in the same way that Sony Playstation does, but its 'console' announced at CES 2022 is certainly worth keeping an eye on, especially if you have kids.
If the recent buzz around VR headsets and Metaverse has you concerned for the future then it might be a relief to know that projects to encourage children to put down their tech and leave the house once in a while are still being developed. Namely, Picoo has created a screenless, handheld, outdoor gaming console for kids that encourages outdoor physical activity disguised as games like Whack-a-mole.
It's a stretch to call it a console, but the torch-like design is incredibly user-friendly. In fact, while innovative, the Picoo console is pretty spartan on actual tech, requiring no internet connection to use (though you do need to use an app for an initial setup), and with games that use feedback systems, including haptics, lights, accelerometer detection and sounds to run, allowing the control to flash if, for example, children find each other while playing Hide & Seek.
The only buttons you'll find are a single on/off switch, so there's no sedentary thumb-swirling or button-mashing involved. Some of the games are very physical, such as 'Zombierun', which involves players trying to infect each other in a glorified game of Tag, and players know if they've joined the 'undead' light on their Picoo changes color.
Thankfully it can automatically alter game difficulty based on a player’s capabilities too, so there's no need to stress about having kids with varying levels of fitness. It can even prevent fights by automatically pairing players together in games that need teams so that nobody is made to pick who they want on their side.
In an interview with GamesBeat, Iris Soute, CEO and co-founder of Picoo said that “There is this big attraction for children to play sedentary games. But kids still really enjoy playing together, face-to-face, outdoors. That’s what’s missing with video games. Video games offer very one-dimensional ways of communicating. Once children are outdoors and playing outdoors, they get to enjoy a different kind of energy and fun I think that’s the most compelling element we have over video games.”
A Picoo starter set costs $250 (around £180 / AU$350) and includes four controllers and five game cards. These cards are scanned into the controllers and can communicate with other Picoo controllers via radio networking, and the system is expandable with additional controllers and games available for purchase. The games are actually very reasonably priced too, coming in at around $5 (£3.50 / AU$7), a far cry from the lofty prices seen in actual console games.
Opinion: good Picoo, now add Pokémon
This sounds like a genuinely fascinating project and I'd love to see it take off. Outside of educational environments like schools though, I can't see this competing easily with the current age of interactive game experiences we currently have, and financing enough Picoo controllers for an entire class is going to take some serious fundraising.
Kids do love brands though, and while creating games based around current trends likely won't elevate the Picoo to the same status as a proper console like the Xbox Series X, it might make it a better sell. We saw the world go crazy for a few months when Pokémon Go was released back in 2016, which was little more than a walking simulator that rewarded you for leaving your home.
Perhaps introducing branded collaborations and games could be what's needed to get kids on board, though it's early days yet. With any luck, the current project as it is will hold enough appeal for children to show an interest, especially youngsters who have yet to experience 'proper' game consoles.
Yes, it would be great if children could be deterred away from addictive gadgets and technology and experience the outdoors like generations past, but this bed has already been made and kids love video games. You'll have a hard time completely separating the two, so creating videogame-like experiences that can be enjoyed outside with friends is a nice middle-ground that shouldn't be sniffed at.
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Jess is a former TechRadar Computing writer, where she covered all aspects of Mac and PC hardware, including PC gaming and peripherals. She has been interviewed as an industry expert for the BBC, and while her educational background was in prosthetics and model-making, her true love is in tech and she has built numerous desktop computers over the last 10 years for gaming and content creation. Jess is now a journalist at The Verge.