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Yoku-Gami Review

Posted by Nick Papageorge on July 8th, 2011
iPad App - Designed for iPad only

Yoku-Gami is a game that represents, to me as a parent, everything that is right in the app store, in relation to games for kids. It's a puzzle game that looks and plays like a standard match-3 game but is, in reality, anything but.

It is designed by the great mind of Reiner Knizia, a German board game designer heralded for his simple designs that lead for complex gameplay. Being a fan of his, I jumped on Yoku Gami and it's been a game my daughters and I have enjoyed immensely, and I feel happy in knowing that they're not just playing a mindless game, but instead are really working their brains as they play.

The entire goal of the game is similar to match games, clear the tiles. But how Yoku-Gami works is this: "If the greatest number in the group equals the total of all the other numbers in the group, you have a successful turn". So if you select a 3, 2 and a 5, your 3 and 2 equal 5 and you remove those tiles and get a score. That score is based on how many numbers are in the group and if you create groups of 5 or more numbers, you then get a bonus.

There are 3 different modes. Endless is just that, it continues until you can go no further. In Arcade, your goal is to clear a whole role or column of numbers, the game also ends when you can go no further. In Level Mode you try to clear as many numbers in each grid. You start with 24 levels, and at the end of each level when there are no more turns, you lose as many lives as there are numbers left. You gain lives when you create groups of 4 or more. As long as you have lives, you continue progressing in the game.

I was incredibly surprised with how far my 6 year olds got in the game, but for some reason, they were able to go quite far for their age and math skills. I know they are a bit young for it, and it isn't a game they can play for hours, as the difficulty does continue to ramp up, but they have enjoyed what we do play together quite a bit. As well, a nice touch to make it kid-friendly, is that good old "Yoki" is always there to tap on and get a hint from when needed.

If you have a child that might be struggling with math, or one that loves math and just wants a fun way to put his/her skill to the test, I honestly believe Yoku-Gami is a stellar choice. I'd never want to leave a child in front of any gaming system for hours, but this really is an honest-to-goodness learn-while-playing gaming that does exactly what it sets out to do, and I do not doubt that it will certainly be a help to those kids who struggle with math.

I'd also like to make it clear that it is equally great for parents. As silly as it might sound, I've seen an honest increase in my math skills through playing it, and honestly that's worth the price of entry right there. All-in-all, Yoku-Gami is a hidden gem that I wish more people knew about, and I hope you enjoy it as much as we have.

abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz Review

Posted by Nick Papageorge on June 22nd, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Yes, the name of the app I'm reviewing today is the entire alphabet. From this point on, I'll refer to it as abcdefg for the sake of my fingers.

I stumbled across this app thanks to the title, it initially seemed like a unique way to learn the alphabet and practice word sounds, but I soon found it was that plus a lot more and it turned into a favorite of mine and my daughters very quickly.

Upon opening abcdefg and hitting play, you're presented with a simple and easy to access play field. The alphabet is split into 2 halves, one on each side, running lengthwise on your device. At the top 4 different words: "Gravity", "Crickets", "Vehicles" and "Birds". At the bottom are 5 buttons, "Recycle", "Arrow", "Bomb", "Camera" and "Info". Honestly, this is all that you need to know to get started.

Simply take a letter from either side and drag it into the middle of the screen. When you let go, the letter will go off on its merry way. When my daughters first grabbed it, they dragged a few letters and nothing happened. Once the letters hit the edge of the screen, everything changed.

With gravity (the option selected by default), the letters simply move with your device. Each time the letters hit an edge, the "sound" of the letter is played.

Vehicles zip around the screen, making sounds as they move. Crickets skitter and make sounds when they group up together. Birds is the most diverse, with varied sound, tempo and pitch depending on where/how it's placed.

As each letter moves, it leaves a unique trail behind it, making a visual representation of the soundscape you, I mean your kids, are creating and it's easy to stop a single letter, group of letters, erase the whole picture or take a snapshot of the insanity using the buttons below.

People might dismiss abcdefg, but if you look closer at what the app actually provides, I think you'll find that it's an invaluable tool for kids. In the app, you're a conductor of sound, and you learn concepts like pitch and tempo. You also get a quick into to physics, seeing how the different letters move and interact with each other, things you don't often see in "kid" apps these days.

While abcdefg is no replacement for music lessons, it allows children to draw outside the lines of music and just perform these strange experimental mini-concerts with letters. Some of the things I've heard my daughters create simply blow my mind. They have to experiment in combining sounds together, finding ones that match in tone, pitch, whatever to create an appealing and melodic sound. They also end up with these crazy pictures of letters strewn everywhere. They get to interact with art in a way that I've never really seen, at least not in this medium.

I can honestly say that I think any kid would benefit from putting their hands on abcdefg, even if it's just to increase familiarity with the alphabet and word sounds. Beyond that, it's an introduction to physics and a way for kids to create experimental soundscapes, by simply placing letters on a screen, turning that into honest to goodness music.

For the price and for the features offered, abcdefg is much more than a simple novelty. It's an app that I recommend for kids and adults of any age. It's never too early (or too late!) to make crazy music and pictures. I look back in regret, wishing that I'd have had something even close to this as a kid, it might have gotten me that much more interested in creating and experimenting with music and sound.

Halli Galli Review

Posted by Nick Papageorge on June 3rd, 2011
iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad

I know, Halli Galli is probably one of the silliest names for a game on the app store, but I urge you to look past that and spend some time with a simple and incredibly fun set-collection card game for the entire family.

I have to say that this is one of the most frequently played and one of our most requested. Its execution, while simple, provides flexibility that will work as a great challenge for adults, but is easily played with children as young as 3 years old.

Halli Galli is broken into 3 modes, and although the goal in each version is to collect all the cards, how you go about it varies. In each game, you have a split set of cards, and each turn one card from every player's deck is placed on the board. When playing against other players, it's a race to ring the bell, and I'll explain further how each mode works below:

Junior mode - Our MOST played mode and the most accessible mode in the game. In this mode, you watch the cards until you see 2 smiling clowns that are of the same color. If you're wrong, you give one card to each other player. If you run out of cards, you're out of the game and the first player to collect all the cards, wins.

For more complex playing and for older kids and adults, the other 2 modes are great.

Classic - In this mode, each card is of a type of fruit and has a specific number of fruits on each card. Once you see a a set of cards that totals exactly 5 fruits of one kind you ring the bell. The same rules for Junior apply for winning.

Extreme - This is where it gets really complex and challenging. The cards deal faster than other modes, and you ring the bell when you see 2 identical cards or when a monkey appears and there are no lemons, an elephant appears and there are no strawberries and when only a pig appears. Another difference is if you're wrong, you "Go to Jail" and your cards get placed under the bell. The next round you win, you only get your jail cards back. Lose a round while in jail you're out. Everything else is the same.

Each version has 3 different modes. Arcade, Single Player and Multiplayer. With Arcade, you're the only player and if you're wrong, you lose 3 cards (there's no Jail in Extreme). Single Player pits you against 4 computer players with 3 difficulty levels and Multiplayer allows you to play with 2 - 4 people.

I have had so much fun playing this with my 6 year old twins. Huddling around the iPad makes you realize just how perfect a platform it is for these types of games. And it's great, you don't have to set up any cards, you don't have to worry about the bell not working, or someone missing hitting it. You just get to really bond as a family and play a unique and fun game.

I also think it's an excellent educational tool that will get your kids (and you!) to really learn to focus your mind to watch for matches, and is a great way to improve your reflexes and hand-eye coordination.

I cannot recommend Halli Galli highly enough, it's a game that will grow with your family no matter how old they are. And most importantly at the time of this writing both the iPhone and iPad version are on sale for $0.99. You can't even buy a plain deck of cards for that price!

Go Go Mongo! Review

Posted by Sharon Cohen on May 23rd, 2011
iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad

He’s a weird looking character, but Mongo is cute and loveable all the same. In the lowest levels of the game, he loves to eat vegetables and fruits, which is a big plus in my book. This is especially important given the growing number of overweight children. It’s at the top level that he’s eating donuts and cookies. Perhaps these treats could be more healthy? "Aw, mom!"

Go Go Mongo! is simple to play and a perfect way for preschoolers to learn how to tip their iPhone or iPod back and forth from side to side so that the falling fruits and veggies fall into Mongo’s mouth. The menu is easy to follow for choosing different levels. At each level, five pieces of a specific food need to be caught. The food that Mongo is supposed to eat is shown and named, so your children are learning as they are playing. At the higher levels, they need to distinguish one fruit or vegetable from another. This is a good cognitive skill for a preschooler. You probably will need to help at the beginning, and then your child will enjoy playing alone.

When your child catches everything without three mistakes, there are stars and a “Good Job.” I always like to see a game when the kids are rewarded. When three mistakes are made before getting all the food, which I did on purpose to see the fruits and vegetables get squashed, then it’s time to try again. Instead of just a “retry” box as comes up now, I’d like to see the narrator say something positive like “Let’s try again!” or “You’re getting the idea.”

Since the game is keeping track of the number of fruits or vegetables that Mongo’s eating, you could also use this as a very simple counting and addition/subtraction game. You can count together when each food starts falling. The number of stars that your child receives at the end depends on many fruits or vegetables are caught minus those missed. Colors are also another skill, since each of the foods falling from the sky is brightly colored. The music and scene changes seasons when going into the different levels, so then it’s time to talk about how these times of the year differ.

Both the game and the music are entertaining and catchy, as is Mongo’s grunt of pleasure when he gets his treat. It’s good for a laugh when he bangs into the corners when tilted too much or when the food, like a banana, gets smashed. And, while your children are laughing, they are developing their fine-motor skills, building their memory abilities and learning.

Toddler Toy Factory Review

Posted by Sharon Cohen on May 4th, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

What child would not want to make toys? That’s what I thought when I saw the name of this app. The app, itself, offers a number of different coordination and cognitive skills, but the title is misleading. The author says it was approved by his/her own toddler. Well, that toddler has a lot more ability than mine ever did! I would actually call this “Children’s Toy Factory” app rather than “Toddler” Toy Factory, because it has more abilities at the level of preschool and even kindergarten than toddler. In fact, the memory game in the “hard” mode could even be played by an older child or adult—admittedly, my memory is not the best, but I even had difficulty remembering where everything was in the “hard” mode. Best for a toddler’s age is the counting in the “Ship” room. I like the music that accompanies the app, it’s whimsical, and the sound effects add to the app’s entertainment value.

The Toddler Toy Factory does offer a good selection for long playing and learning time, and I like the fact that the child can advance upward from the “easy” mode as the skill is acquired in two of the rooms. In the first room, “Make,” the child reads the letter on the left hand side of the screen and chooses the correct letter from mixed up letter blocks on the right hand side. Then the letter is dragged over, so both letters match and then dropped into the toy machine. As each letter is dropped, it spells a word and out pops the toy that is spelled. The word is repeated, so the child knows what was made and how it is spelled. This is not an easy concept, either, and parents will need to explain it to the child. As the toys are made and piled on the factory floor, they can be tossed around and then back into the machine, if desired.

The “Find” room is an old-fashioned matching game, which is always fun and great for memory skills. The children will most likely be on the easy mode for some time. As the correct matches are made, the toys are dropped to the floor. Once again, they can be tossed around or put back into the machine’s spout to clean up the room. The toys are added to a number counter up top when the go back in. Adding a voice over counting the toys as they go in would add another counting skill. In the “Ship” room, the children drag and drop toys from the shelves into a barrel for shipping. The numbers are counted out loud until the last one is ready for shipping. The “easy” to “medium” to “hard” mode increases the number of items, so larger numbers are learned.