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Firehouse Adventure Review

Posted by Sharon Cohen on July 27th, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Ah, happily an app that is not an ABC and not about animals on a farm! Instead, it’s about firefighters, which are a favorite with many preschoolers. While showing different situations for firefighting, your child will be getting lessons in app manipulation and eye-and-hand coordination—tapping, tilting, touching and drag and dropping.

Here are the eight games: 1) In Ladder Rescue, your child will need to tilt the device to reach the window to save the animals. When three animals fall without being caught, the game is over; 2) Your child drives the fire truck down the road and needs to tap and vehicle and jump over cars to make its way to the emergency. After three accidents, the game comes to an end; 3) There are animals that need saving in the trees and the firefighter must reach them by tilting the device and not get hit by falling objects. How many animals can be saved before the firefighter is hit three times by these objects?; 4) Fires are in the building and your child needs to touch the screen to make the water spurt out of the truck. The game ends when three fires are left raging; 5) Animals are falling and must be caught by the safety net that your child will drag under them. The game continues until three animals are not saved; 6) Find and Rescue is one of the more difficult games. The firefighters must be moved through a maze by tilting to reach the animals. The game ends when three firefighters come in contact with fire instead of the animals; 7) Helicopter Drop is another somewhat tricky game, since your child needs to anticipate when to tap the helicopter so that it spurts water onto the fire while its flying by. With three misses, the game is over; and 8 ) In Firefighter Gear, it’s necessary to find the right items a firefighter will wear and use in different emergencies. With each game, the children get points every time they are successful until they completely light up the firefighter and win a trophy. Then they are rewarded with some information, such as on fire safety or firefighting tools.

Showing the work of firefighters is not an easy concept, and I’m sure that the developers needed to give thought about how to depict firefighting situations without the horrible consequences. Animals are used instead of actual people, so that the game becomes less gruesome when the animals fall out of the window and are not saved. The app shows children the different emergencies that confront firefighters and the skills, tools and abilities they need to be successful in their work. Some of the games are easy enough for older toddlers and some are more challenging, even for preschoolers or older children.

As I mentioned earlier, it is good to see an app that is not the typical ABC. The children learn about a profession that intrigues many of them at this young age, especially boys. Which raises a question: The term “firefighters” is used instead of “firemen” for a reason. Although they are significantly lower in their numbers, women also fight fires. Yet, where are the women in this app? Another question: Why do the children need to wait until they win a game before receiving some specific information about firefighting? Why can’t each of the games have a pop up that provides information while the game is being played? This is especially the case in the Firefighter and Gear game. Why wait until the reward for explaining how each tool is used? The last question is one that I would have to give a great deal of thought before knowing the answer. How can firefighting be depicted without animals falling to the ground, firefighters being burned up or hit on the head with flying objects, firetrucks crashing and fires continuing to rage when the water is not extinguished?

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.

Kids on the Farm Review

Posted by Sharon Cohen on May 31st, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Putting aside the fact that there are many apps and games about farms these days, Kids on the Farm is a cute, fun game for preschoolers to play by themselves with some initial guidance and parents to play together with their toddlers. It combines simple games with such skills as counting, colors, matching, size and sounds. The graphics are very simple, so it is easy for a young child to differentiate elements on the screen. In some cases, the children receive positive reinforcement “Great Job!” when responding correctly and a mild “Try Again” when they do not have the right answer. However, as I will explain, the app needs some revisions.

Each screen has a separate problem to solve with farm animals. In the counting screen, the child has to find the “cows” or “horses,” which are added up as they are found. Unfortunately, there are inconsistencies that need to be revised on the next go around. For example, the counting headline says, “Touch 4 Calves” and the child narrator says, “Touch the calves.” If a child only touches two of the four calves and then hits the arrow to go on to the next page, the narrator does not say, “Touch more calves,” or “You have some calves to find.” This is when it would be good for you to jump in and say, “Whoops. Can you find any more calves before we go on?”

In addition, especially with younger children, parents should also review the different names of each animal. For example, pictures of cows are also called “bulls” and “calves.” Similarly, sine screens ask the child to touch an animal of certain color. Or, a screen may ask the child to touch all the animals that make a certain sound that is made. Once again, the headline and narrator may say, “Which animal makes this sound?” and the animal shown may only be in the same family. The screen always shows baby chicks, for instance. When your child hears a rooster’s crow and is asked “What makes this sound?” it is necessary to equate the baby chick to the grown male hen.

In one of the games, the child has to find the “small” animals. Here, size does not equate to what the animal is in real life, such as a big horse next to a small chick. Rather, size is based on the graphic shown, for example, the horse may be shrunk down in size and the lamb enlarged. Sometimes, the difference in size between the animals is minor, so it may be difficult for a younger child to know which animal is larger. When making the right choice, the child hears that animal’s sound. The matching game consists of pairing up the right mother and baby and the “Which Animal Comes Next,” is a pattern game, such as dog, cow, dog, “what comes next?”

All the games get progressively more difficult, which is good way to continue learning and keeping the child’s attention. Overall, the educational concepts of Kids on the Farm are important for children of this age to learn. With improvements, some noted here, this could be a better learning tool.