Review by David Thomas, Common Sense Education | Updated September 2016


Dungeon-crawling adventure where code is king

Subjects & skills

  • Critical Thinking
Grades This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
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Pros: Writing code to play the game makes coding less intimidating and more fun.

Cons: Teachers will still need to do some planning, and the web-development course is a little less magical.

Bottom Line: While not the first to blend coding with play, CodeCombat offers a stable, engaging, and accessible model.

CodeCombat would make a great platform for a full-year computer science course or an after-school, game-based code club. Because the game focuses on play to learn coding, teachers will need to find students motivated by the idea of battling knights and ogres. And because the game emphasizes doing, rather than rote memorization and programming concepts, teachers will need to be prepared to build assessments around the curriculum and help students as they learn how to master the code -- and the game. As players get more advanced, they can learn to create and share their own levels, offering long-term motivation and development for burgeoning game programmers.

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CodeCombat is an adventure game and curriculum that teaches kids coding fundamentals. Whether they're stuck in a dungeon surrounded by enemies or racing across a battlefield prepared to conquer a foe, CodeCombat puts players into the action. There are tons of levels and multiple courses including Computer Science 1-5, Game Development, and Web Development. Along with an individual version for home, the classroom version for schools allows teachers to select courses and monitor progress, as well as access a number of curriculum guides, lesson plans, cheat sheets, and more. Other features include clans, student-created games, and multiplayer arenas.

Unlike other hack-and-slash fantasy games, CodeCombat players control their on-screen characters through programming. Want a knight to run down a hallway and taunt an ogre? Write a little JavaScript or Python that directs the character where to move and what to do. Want to roll a cannon across an open field and lob a bomb onto a patrolling enemy? Program the coordinates and launch your missile by calling the correct function. Each puzzle-like level challenges players to win the level by typing in code and running it to see what happens. Before kids know it, they've worked through the fundamentals and some advanced programming concepts and, in the process, outwitted some lumbering monsters.

CodeCombat's "play first" approach gets kids gaming long before it occurs to them they might want to learn a little programming. Fundamentally a game played by writing code, the site never feels like code school. Instead, the code works like a magical language, where properly formatted incantations animate the on-screen characters. While many educational games have tried to make learning more fun, this is a game in which the real challenge is to make fun more educational.

The CodeCombat community has been expanding resources for teachers and learners. The teacher dashboard, curriculum guides, progress journals, and activities go a long way to scaffolding learning. The open-source community has also provided a number of translations to meet student needs. Teachers would do well to check out this site to see an educational game done the right way.

Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

Using code to control game characters makes it easy to get started. High-quality graphics make it feel like you're modifying a real game. Challenging puzzles keep players experimenting to find the best way to wipe out enemies.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

Although there are plenty of code games as well as games that let you code, CodeCombat provides a unique hybrid. It challenges players to write code to control on-screen characters to complete specific goals.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

Hints, tutorials, and level walkthroughs help players keep from getting stuck on tricky code programs while teacher aids and curriculum provide a structure for using the game in the classroom.

Common Sense Reviewer
David Thomas Director of academic technology

Teacher Reviews

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Featured review by
Jenny A. , Classroom teacher
Classroom teacher
Casita Center for Science/Math/Technology
Vista, CA
Java Script Coding through a gaming world!
This is a great interactive coding website that made it more fun than just coding in general. However, I would say that it would not be applicable for elementary students. If so, you would have to have an after school class to host students who were definitely interested to take part of it. It reminds me a bit like World of Warcraft meets Harry Potter in the realm of Java Script coding.
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