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Fluke HD Review

Posted by Nick Papageorge on July 5th, 2011
iPad App - Designed for iPad only

Fluke HD is, in my opinion, one of the best Sorry/Ludo clones on the app store today. It is one that has held my daughters' attention for months now, and one that we absolutely love coming back to quite regularly to play as a family.

The game, as you can imagine, is quite simple. You have 4 tokens that you need to get from the star to the finish. You can play by yourself with computer controlled players (easy, medium or hard difficulties) or with up to 6(!) people... that would be one heck of a full iPad to huddle around! Multiplayer through Game Center is also an option, not a bad idea if you've got 2 devices and want to play separately.

There are currently 4 different boards to choose from: Alien World (which was newly added), Carnival, Mediaeval and Race Track. There's also a promise of more boards to come, which I'd love to see. Included is a link to Fluke's Facebook page where you can chime in on what you'd like to see included for the new boards. The developer is very active here, a fact that is quite promising. For parents who are concerned with their children clicking out to external sites, I need to advise that this is an easy link to click on, even mistakenly so.

Anyway, back to the game. If you've played Sorry, you know the basics. Once into the game, you need to roll a 6 to add another token onto the board. This then gives you another chance to roll the dice. As for the play on the board, if you roll and land on another player's token, it captures it and sends it back to the start. There are also 2 different unqieu actions spaces on the board. The first is a "Special" tile that requires the person who lands on it to follow its instructions. The second is the "Teleport" device, which will send your token off to another teleport space of the same color, possibly sending you back some spaces.

Fluke honestly surprised me. I knew from what I'd seen that I would like it, but I thought it would get boring rather quickly. Well, it hasn't, and for an app at this price, that's an impressive feat.

I am a firm believer that the iPad is the answer for board gaming on the go, and Fluke is further proof to that. It provides a simple and easy way to access a very high quality "Sorry" clone no matter where you are. No longer do I have to worry that I've lost a piece to the game (I STILL can't find where a red Trouble token is and haven't touched the game since that happened!), and I never have to worry about cleaning it up afterwards. Also, unlike the board game, you get the variety of having multiple board selections here that don't just change how the game looks, but the strategy in how the game plays. A short board is a short, simple game versus a longer board that allows for more strategy. It's simple, but it's something that seriously adds to the longevity of the game.

My say is that if you want to enjoy a really great and fun family board game, Fluke is without a doubt the way to go. The developer cares about the title, and has succeeded in creating something that's easy for a wide age range (it require no reading skill) but also succeeds for adults. It's neither unattractive nor boring, an unfortunate fate of many clones on the app marketplace. You really can't go wrong, and as of my writing it's $0.99 - I cannot think of a better way to spend a buck.

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.

Moo, Baa, La, La, La Book Review

Posted by Nick Papageorge on June 9th, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

I'm going to come right out and say this. I love Sandra Boynton. To me, she is the most prolific children's story writers to come out in this generation, specifically for younger children. I put her alongside Dr. Seuss and Robert Munsch, and that's high praise.

"Moo, Baa, La, La, La" is produced by Loud Crow, the makers of the PopOut! book series (Peter Rabbit, Night Before Christmas, etc). Their books have been showcased by Apple for a reason, they are top notch in quality and production values. Designed to simulate a real "pop-up" type book, they include characters that spring when you touch them, tabs that move various parts of the book, and windows, doors and such that open and close. It really does give the books a tactile feel, and I honestly believe these books have more interactive elements than most on the app store.

It's clear that "Moo, Baa" is a silly book. It starts out normal, with a cow saying "Moo", a sheep saying "Baa", but the next page you lift up a curtain and it's 3 singing pigs saying "La, La, La!".

Like with most books in the app store, you can choose to read it yourself or have "The Big Guy Read it" for you. This book has an especially special narrator, Sandra Boynton's son, Keith (trivia fact, Sandra's middle name is Keith).

Inside, interaction ranges from touching Rinos to hear them Snort and Snuff, pulling back dogs like a slingshot to send them running at 2 cats saying "Meow". As the dogs leap after them, they leave their collars behind to hang in mid-air, a very cute touch.

Like most "board books", it's short, coming it at about 12 pages, but it's no slouch. Each page offers so much to the touch, almost everything you see does something, even if it's as little as a sound. My daughters spent probably twice as long enjoying the pages, the interaction, the art and the humorous sounds as they did of just the story. Hearing them laugh while touching each of the singing pigs at the start never gets old.

Now, the story itself is probably targeted to younger children around the age of 1 - 4, because of its simple language. The sentences are simple and they mostly consist of animal sounds except for the last of the book. It's a magical ending and one that will yield different results for everyone who reads it.

I would like to make it clear that even though the book is designed for younger children, you don't have to be young to enjoy it. My daughters are 6 and it is still one of their favorites. Because they're now fairly advanced readers, they're able to read the entire story easily and without having to struggle. In the path to learn how to read, I find this is far more important than pushing kids to read longer words before they're ready. I figure they'll probably be done with the book in a year, but between the physical book and this, I've gotten an easy 5 years out of it, not a lot of books that have that kind of staying power.

So, is "Moo, Baa, La, La, La" worth your $3? Yes, yes and yes. It's a simple story that's an amazing read for children, especially ones who are very young. It scales to older children who are learning how to read, and allows for easy comprehension. The app design is great, and the interaction is one of the best on the app store. You owe it to yourself, and your kids, to check it out.

The Going to Bed Book Review

Posted by Nick Papageorge on June 7th, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

"The Going to Bed Book" is one of two Sandra Boynton books available on the app store (the other is "Moo, Baa, La, La, La") and like "Moo, Baa" it is a fantastic book with top notch production value that takes a great story and adds some unique and wonderful interactive elements, making it a joy to read both as a parent and for our children.

"The Going to Bed Book" is produced by Loud Crow Interactive, the makers of the PopOut! series (Peter Rabbit, Night Before Christmas, etc). Loud Crow has been featured in the app of the week as well as New And Noteworthy because they're fantastic. They are designed to simulate a real "pop-up" type book, with characters that spring from the page, tabs to move back and forth, windows/doors to open. It really does give the books a tactile feel, and I honestly believe there is more interactivity in their books than almost any on the app store to date.

As with most of Sandra Boynton's books, they are very silly, and "Going to Bed" is no different. It's a story about a boat full of about 10 animals getting ready to go to bed. You get to follow them through quite a few different activities to get them there, starting with scrubbing them clean in the bath to scrubbing their teeth in the sink.

This interaction in the book is similar, in a very good way, to the PopOut! book series. There's not a single page that's left out from interaction. You can tilt your iPad and it'll swing a chain that's hanging, you can touch on an animal and they'll bounce like they're on a spring. Another you touch will squeak, moo or make some other sound. I hate to spoil this, but it's too good not to talk about... At one point in the bathroom, you get to turn on the hot water tap and very slowly and subtly, it starts to fog up the entire iPad screen. It's terrifically realistic and once it's done, you... I mean, your kids, get to use their fingers as a squeegee to clean off the screen. Yes, it's silly, but it's a really nice touch.

The story is about 13 pages long and allows you to either read it yourself or "Have the Big Guy Read It". The narrator is perfect as his voice is deep, warm and inviting, like the perfect grandpa. With the narration off, you can touch on each of the words to hear them spoken aloud, something I find important in the path to learning how to read.

On that note, the language in the book is very simple. There is more of a complete story here than you'll find in "Moo, Baa", but the language is still very easy to understand and comprehend. I'd still say the age range for the direct target would be 1 - 4, but I can confidently say that this would be a hit for children as young as 6 months to as old as 6 or 7 years old. My daughters still absolutely love it and I believe they will at 7, a testament to the quality of the story and humor.

It is clear by now that I'm smitten with these books. But it's not that I'm blinded by the author, if the books weren't good I'd be the first to say it. But they are good. No, they're great. They're experiences that shaped my daughter's early years of reading, and I hope that you'll find they do the same for yours, too.

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!

Kidz World Pro Review

Posted by Sharon Cohen on May 12th, 2011
iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad

With thousands and thousands of apps available for adults and children, there will be some great ones, some that are so-so and some that are poor. And, of course, an app that one person loves another person will not think is that great. This happens with food, books, TV shows, and, well, just about everything. This the way that I am going to review Kidz World Pro: First, let me tell you my overall thoughts about the app. Then, I’ll take the other side and find some positive things to say.

Kidz World Pro calls itself a “creative application” that will keep your children busy. Its description of the app talks about the “the love and feelings between a parent and a child,” “bliss” “euphoria,” “alphabets are the first thing children recognize before they speak their first word” and, finally, “we hope that you’ll find another memory to cherish with this application.” Based on this description, I thought that this app would provide a “blissful” way for parents and children to interact and learn together. This is great. I believe that there should be many more apps adults and children can enjoy with one another, instead of the child just playing or learning alone. Then I tried out the app. Basically, Kidz World Pro is the same as many library books for toddlers and pre-schoolers that show different pictures of letters, numbers and objects. I remember sitting down with my sons with some of these books when they were learning to talk. I pointed to the picture and said, “This is a ball.” When they were a little older, I pointed to the picture and said, “What is this?”

Kidz World Pro includes the alphabet with a picture for each letter, pictures of fruits and their names in no special order and the same with vegetables, numbers, shapes with the number of sides, and colors that do not show how mixing colors make another color. There is also a series of children’s rhymes and the Jungle Baby story with difficult-to-read type. There is no interaction with the visuals on the pages. I would much rather go to the library and get a word book and look at the pictures. This is especially true since some of the fruit and vegetable names are not correct in American English, such as “bilberries” for blueberries.

That being said, I promised the other perspective. This app would be educational to use when you go to the grocery store and are looking at all the vegetables and fruits. Your toddler or preschooler can look at the pictures and keep busy while in the grocery cart.
When my kids were young, I used our time together in the car as a learning experience. Your child can look at the app while you’re driving along, and you can count together, talk about the colors and what things he/she sees outside with the same color, or talk about favorite fruits or vegetables. There are lots of games you can make up using the app as an added educational tool. The app would also be helpful for people who are learning the English language either in the U.S. or another country.

What Am I? Farm Review

Posted by Sharon Cohen on May 2nd, 2011
iPad App - Designed for iPad only

It’s always a pleasure to see a children’s app where there are several different games or activities for the player. Otherwise, both parent and child are quickly disappointed. The What Am I? Farm app, another in the series of What Am I? Pets, includes four different activities for your son or daughter. These activities build language skills and dexterity at the same time. The animal sounds provide another learning tool. Plus, it’s fun to play. A leader board is included, so your children can continue to best their scores.

Remember playing those games where you mixed up the different parts of a body and were able to put a head of a mustached man on top of a body of a woman in a bathing suit on top of legs of a cowboy? Well, you get the point. It was always good for a laugh. The “Mixed-Up” activity is the same, except that the child is matching farm animal parts that must answer a question, for example, “What animal is yellow?” Your child needs to match all the body parts that will be the right answer. A right answer brings children’s cheers. This activity gets a high grade for cognitive learning.

In the “Matching” activity, you child will drag the right animal across the screen to the right one of three animal choices. A minute countdown keeps track of how many matches can be made in the time allotted. Then, it’s possible to try again and beat the record. “Sheep Shear” is even a good activity for parents when they want to let off some frustration from a busy day! Using your finger, how fast can you or your child sheer the sheep and let the wool fall to the ground? As soon as one sheered and embarrassed sheep is done, another one appears. You have a minute to see how many you can shave clean. This game would also be fun for some older toddlers. The animal is sheered differently depending on the device used. On the iPod, the shearing occurs with the touch of your finger. On the iPad, the sheep can be sheered by tilting left to right.

The last game, “Peeka,” also combines a number of different cognitive and dexterity skills. Your child will be asked to find an animal and then needs to swipe from page to page to see where it is hiding on the farm. After hearing the question “Where is the ….?” your child will need to have a mental image of the right animal and then go hunting for it. The animal sound and name of the animal appears when finding the right one. For all the games, I suggest an easier-to-read typeface for those children who can read. Also, it would be helpful for those who cannot read to hear the clue again. Perhaps zoo animals will come next?