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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.

Fruit Memory HD Review

Posted by Nick Papageorge on June 23rd, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Fruit Memory HD is, in my opinion, one of the nicest Memory-type games available on the app store, and is one that my daughters and I have a ton of fun with on a regular basis.

The thing that first caught my eye with Fruit Memory was its very clean and attractive art style that really stands out on the app store in comparison to other apps of its type. That, plus, it was all of a dollar. And because of the price, I didn't have huge expectations as all I wanted was a simple, attractive memory game. But once I loaded it up and started playing it with my daughters, I realized very quickly that every now and then a dollar provides a lot more than a dollar's worth of fun and entertainment.

When you start up Fruit Memory you're presented with an selection page that contains quite a few options, but is incredibly easy to navigate. The game can start with as few as 12 cards or as many as 40, scaling the cards in size to accommodate.

The next option allows for the selection of players. You can play on your own and keep a local leader board of how long it took to complete as well as how many moves it takes. There are separate entries for 12, 28 and 40 cards, and there are unique fruits to be found even at the 40 card level.

Once you start everything up, you get to pick your character, avatar, however you want to describe it. There are 16 options and, wouldn't you know it my twins always argue about which character they want to pick. The character designs don't seem like they make much of an impact, but they really do. The faces are made up of various internet emoticons (>.<, o.O, ^_^, T_T) and so on. Very, very cute.

The options make it really easy for even younger children who are not able to read to start up the game. The buttons are large, and very clearly marked, making it very easy for even a 2 year old to set up a game.

After you're done and you jump into the game, the layout is, simply, perfect. Each person has a tab at the bottom of the screen showing their avatar and their score. If you get a match in a turn, you can go again, otherwise it moves to the next player. It's designed nicely for a tabletop mode, and when you have 4 players it becomes 2 on 2, just great for families. One thing that I absolutely love is that each time you guess right, your avatar jumps up and down in happiness. Again, it's a simple touch, but it adds to the attractiveness of the app.

The card backs are, as the title suggests, fruits. The shapes are easy to recognize and differentiate and are very colorful. There will be no issues if your child is color-blind, either, as there is no repetition based on fruit color.

I've had my hands on quite a few other memory apps, some that are much more expensive or much fancier, just out of curiosity to see if they improve upon Fruit Memory and, at this point, I've yet to find one that I would pick in its place. The clean, simple and very visually pleasing aesthetic of the app combined with the attractive sound effects and adorable "characters" is something that is a huge hit with my whole family and, without a doubt, will be for yours too. Heck, it's a buck! You can't go wrong!

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.

Piano Ball App Review

Posted by Sharon Cohen on June 14th, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

The app Piano Ball is a great way to begin to bring colors and sounds into your babies’ and toddlers’ lives, especially since they can make their own music with just a simple swipe or tap of their little hand. Young children are not very coordinated at this young age, so something as simple to use as this app, is just the key for little ones. It’s an easy way to develop motor skills. Older babies can just shake the iPhone or iPod, hear an array of musical notes and see a shower of stars. Then a random musical picture pops up on the page and its word repeated, “drum.”

You can introduce your young ones to new sounds by letting them listen to you playing the drums, horn, piano or xylophone. As they get older, you can tell them the names of these instruments. (I remember as a kid how I thought there were only two “X” words in the alphabet: X-ray and xylophone.)

The app has a variety of choices. First, there are four different balls: Color Ball, Tune Ball, Rainbow Ball and Instrument Ball. The piano keyboard is transformed into different colored pallets with the Color Ball, so the young musicians can learn their colors. With the Tune Ball, older children can play five popular songs by following the lit-up stars—and then get a rousing applause for their efforts. Then the song is played again for listening. More songs are to come in the future.

Or, if your children want to be more creative, they can play their own songs as the stars swirl around the keys. They can also change instruments, to the jazzy drum for example, and make up a song. If parents want to keep toddlers from switching from one mode to another every two seconds, there is a feature lock. This way, the child can be focused for what? About three minutes, which is par for a two-year-old. The Rainbow Ball turns the keyboard multihued. The tiny little arrow in the back left corner brings to back to the menu.

Of course, this app actually does not teach music. There are no notes, scales or musical letters. However, it’s a fun way to stimulate your child’s auditory and visual senses. The app says it’s for players nine months to five years of age. Think more along the lines of the younger ages. With all the other musical apps available, your five-year-old will be ready for something more challenging.