I am happy to announce that I have been given the chance to review the Imaginext Apptivity Fortress, a castle-themed play set that incorporates an iPad case into the base of this toy, allowing children to use this device to explore a related knight and castle-themed app as a flat, horizontal play surface in landscape mode as well as flipping the iPad case up to a vertical position to interact with this app in portrait mode as well. Truth be told, this is an iPad accessory toy that my husband was very eager to get his hands on after he saw the impressive size of this toy while we were doing a little research before this play set arrived. The look of this play set is large and impressive, with muted grey and brown tones to emulate the stone facade of this castle, which includes a knight figure and two ladders to climb to windows or to the roof of this structure to keep children engaged as a stand-alone toy when the iPad is not in use. Also included with this fortress play set is a flag and a cannon that can be used both as props in creative play as well as a joystick of sorts within a game included within the app of the same name. I like the fact that these pieces can be moved about this castle to multiple areas at which they can be clicked into the base to create action sequences that children can create themselves, moving around their character, these other pieces and possibly other figures from other toys they are already are playing with. Out of the box, there are a few moments of very mild assembly where one snaps a few plastic pieces into the base of this toy to give it more support when in the vertical position as well as widening the play surface for children to enjoy when they use this toy with or without the included iPad. After installing the free of the same name into one’s device, adults will be impressed with the ease of incasing their iPad into the base of this toy that includes Otterbox technology that will protect the screen and body of the iPad from bumps and scratches. Be sure to plug in the speaker cable into the headphone jack and after installing two AA batteries, turn on the power to this play set to hear the sound. Once players have turned on the app and found their way into the main section of this application, an animated scene with excellent narration is played, explaining the set-up to this medieval adventure from the knight’s point of view - the main character one is playing who has built this fortress to protect the gold he discovered which is under constant attack from outside forces. If this set is positioned into landscape mode, with the iPad lying within the case of this toy flat on a table or other surface, players will be able to explore the courtyard of this fortress which includes gold coins one can collect by touring the courtyard.
From this courtyard, one can play three different arcade-styled games such as flying a dragon to collect gold while avoiding obstacles, battling another player or by one's self in which is a fight against another character. There is also an area where one can defend one’s gold against trolls. These sections contain swordplay, sword throwing and shooting fire balls from the dragon to defend against obstacles. I appreciate that the implied violence is very light, as the trolls or other characters sound only moderately hurt on an “ouch” level when hit to keep these games light and family-friendly. [img id="Dragon-300x225.png"]
I am also really impressed with the panoramic view seen of the kingdom while flying the dragon as one tries to collect coins, creating a look of vast space to enjoy - especially nice with the limited space of the iPad as the knight takes up a percentage of this footprint as he moves around the screen. I have the same fond feelings for the courtyard scene as the knight explores, here moving in every direction as he surveys the castle grounds, including the natural beauty of lush green grass, other greenery and bodies of water to cross with the aid of stepping stones which create an immersive courtyard that I can believe exists within this application. Do be aware that even without the purchase of the play set, children can play with this app for free, using the digital squire character to play the games found in the courtyard section of this app, holding down two fingers onto the screen instead of a plastic figure.
His abilities are not that of the knight, but it is nice to have the option of choosing characters as well as testing some of what this app has to offer before purchasing the play set. Those who have purchased the play set will also enjoy having the squire as a characters to play as as well, giving this app some variety as children work towards unlocking other characters to choose from. [img id="Fortress-300x225.png"]
To enter the fortress portion of this app, flip the iPad into a vertical position, as doing so, one will get to visit inside the castle as this app will take users to this section of the app automatically. Do explore all that there is to touch or move such as books, chandeliers or other objects as well as the king and a few other characters. One can also choose a photo from a camera roll to be included as a painting in this castle as well as open and close windows which will show the view from the camera of the iPad - a nice touch, bringing the children’s world into this application. While walking around, one may venture into the knight’s room where one will be able to put back together a suit of armor broken apart with the tap of a finger. Also, from here, access a game that the included character, the knight, can play, fighting against trolls who are intent on stealing one’s gold. I enjoy how the background of this arcade game includes what the camera of the iPad sees as its backdrop, allowing these trolls to look as though they are storming through my office - a nice touch. To play, either use the included cannon as a joystick, shooting at these trolls with the tap of a button - nicely set up for both left and right handers - as well as tapping these trolls directly on the screen or even touching a troll and tapping a button to fire, giving children a variety of ways to control this arcade-styled game. It is worth noting that other doors in the fortress are locked until one collects or earns enough gold coins to gain access to these rooms, playing as other characters such as a troll, archer or wizard. If desired, one could also simply buy gold coins as in-app purchases or buy additional plastic characters which, like the knight, will unlock these games. Also available in the Treasure Room is the option to buy a better sword or single-use potions - elements my son will have to earn if he is interested in these added details. From what I can tell, the price points of a magic potion for 500 coins or a new character for 10,000 pieces of gold seem pretty standard compared to other games. However, I do think it will take a child around my son’s age and experience quite a long time to be able to unlock the characters and areas that take up such prominent space in the castle as this time spent collecting gold is longer than needed to properly motivate - perhaps to the level of possible frustration. For the price tag of this Imaginext Apptivity Fortress, I would love to see the amount of gold coins dropped from 10,000 to 5,000 or even 3,000 to truly encourage children to keep playing, giving them the option of other players as well as time frame that is more realistic. Because I have not had the time to unlock any of these other players, it is difficult for me to speak to these added areas of this app. However, from what I have read, the activity and game play seem very similar to the games the knight plays, but with the use of a different mode of flying such as riding an eagle, dodo bird or magic cloud instead of a dragon. The weapons thrown are changed a bit as well, making me wonder if these additional characters may be anti climatic to some if too much time or money is spent acquiring them. This is the first time my son has actually had access to any game where earning or purchasing gold coins or the equivalent has been a part of game such as this, successfully avoiding my son’s time being spend on arcade-type games since I prefer him to spend his screen time on educational apps instead. Because of this, I don’t know why I was so surprised at how poorly he performed at these activities, especially the tasks that needed him to use both hands at once to both fire as well as to move his character or joystick. Although I have no love lost for arcade-type shooting games, there is something to be said for being proficient in these types of games for the same socially driven reasons that I was given tennis lessons as a child. As much as I do not want my son to be spending his time sitting on our sofa playing arcade games - a slippery slope to be sure, I also want him to be comfortable spending time with his friends if they as a group choose to play action-based games, such as at our local library, where they allow neighborhood kids to play Wii games together, and it is noticeable how the children from unplugged families feel left out as they try unsuccessfully to keep up with the other kids. Although the limited controls of this play set are not to be compared to those from Wii, Playstation or the like, this is a nice introduction to playing these kinds of games while still rooted in a traditional play set - a toy my son asked to keep playing with after he was finished with the included app. As a garage sale frequenter, I find it sad how children my boy’s age sell their old toys such as wood train tracks or building blocks - toys that a boy of five years should still be able to derive pleasure from, but in these situations it is obvious that these kids got turned on to video games at an early age, and now true toys for them are a thing of the past. For a child like this, the simple games and activities from the Imaginext Apptivity Forest may not be satisfying enough as the game play may be a bit subdued compared to others, lacking some of the speed or fire power many games that we avoid include. However, for families like mine who want to keep their children playing with toys as long as possible - yet giving them a taste of arcade-like games, this may be an interesting choice. I do think that with the use of the thoughtfully produced animated opening and excellent narration, Fisher-Price has created an immersive experience that a creative child can play - with or without the iPad installed, and I would love to see more of these video clips used in other cutscenes as well. The case within the iPad feels protective and secure, and installation of the iPad is quite simple indeed. We highly recommend this toy and related app to other families looking for a companion toy for the iPad. It would also be nice if physical support of some kind could be included, such as a decorated cardboard box to take the place of the iPad when not installed to protect the screen protector from damage when children are playing with this toy as well. I would also like to see the ads for other toys and accessories moved to a parents’-only section as I hate giving my son fodder for toy-begging of any kind. Even with this note, I am quite interested to see if other Apptivity play sets will be released in the future, although I in no way would expect an iPad-related toy to take the place of classic toys that children are already playing with.