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Coolson's Artisanal Chocolate Alphabet Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on July 3rd, 2013
iPad App - Designed for iPad

As some readers may have noticed, I do not personally review many word games. Very few word games gain my attention because I am terrible at these types of puzzles, finding them for the most part frustrating and demoralizing.

Therefore, it is quite a compliment from me to have enjoyed reviewing Coolson's Artisanal Chocolate Alphabet as it is a word game that has won me over with a charming narrative, wonderful sense of style and an abundance of whimsy that I have greatly enjoyed.

This app can be played as a straight word game with the Whimsy mode turned off or kept on to enjoy this game in a charming and fun context of a young adult looking for work when he is hired by Coolson’s chocolate factory where artisan chocolate squares are produced. Your job is to pack boxes with these chocolates, but you take it upon yourself to pack these boxes creating 2-5 letter words, many of which interconnect to create crossword-style shapes.

Simply drag the letters one wishes to play off the conveyer belt and place them in empty letter boxes, but do try not to let any chocolates fall off the conveyer belt and into the garbage as one loses accomplishment stars, although this game can be played long after these stars are lost.

For many levels, this game works for me, as the building of 2-5 letter words is less about spelling and the understanding of English language nuances such as where vowels and consonants are most commonly placed to think ahead, especially in terms of the interconnecting words one tries to plan ahead for.

I adore the charming illustrations that tell this story, the character of the boss, Mr. Coolson, a penguin with a gruff demeanor, and the scenes showing how the main character in this story spends the weekend - all delightful moments that kept me playing.

These illustrations, drawn by hand and presumably outlined in ink and colored with watercolors, are splendid, with lettering just as appealing, telling this very nice story that really drew me into this game.

I must confess that I have only finished the first month of this game, structured into three months as seen on a calendar of days that one works at Coolson’s. At first I really enjoyed the challenge and although I was not always quick at these tasks, I was able to happily muddle through these crossword-styled puzzles.

I do feel it is best to think about these word games fluidly as if one is married to a specific that one is trying to spell, as this way the game can seem dragged out and difficult, so it is far better to let the letters inspire words, finding the balance between planning ahead and the willingness to move things around when new letters become available.

Having said this, there are points later in this game where I have multiple intersecting words completed, and I am looking for a single letter which never comes - typical letters such as a “T,” “N,” or “S,” letters often chosen at the end of Wheel of Fortune for their commonness, including vowels such as “A’” or “E.”

Now I am all for changing the word I am trying to spell from “STOLE,” to “STORE,” or “SPOKE,” maintaining the other intersected word's wholeness, but there are times when none of these letters I need are offered, only the same letters unhelpful in the situation seen multiple times repeated, so I change the word I am trying to spell - if not the entire intersecting puzzle itself - and now new letters which are not useful are offered, including those I could have used before changes.

There are moments when this plays out where I ask for not easier game play, not fewer intersecting words, or fewer five-letter spellings, but for more, dare I say, “fairness” in these puzzles, as it can feel as if one is playing against a child who enjoys cheating, as I wait for minutes, as a test, for a letter remotely useable sent onto the conveyer belt, delayed as if by spite.

Harsh words, I know. Do understand that I find creating the word “cat” during Scrabble an accomplishment, so I am not truly the core audience for this or other apps like it, although I am pleased to say I had my moments while being on a roll where I collected achievement stars - moments I am proud of, making the delightful narrative scenes directly after all the more satisfying.

I am sure that seasoned word puzzlers would not have the level of difficulty any other way, and it is a compliment, even if a backwards one, to say that this app has upset me, as I typically would never get involved enough in a word puzzle app to care before deleting it from my iPad.

I would love to see a “relax” mode where the letters are found on the conveyer belt that represent how often the letter is used in the English language, with no letter being unseen within 26 random letters offered, instead of the withholding of important letters that I came across during these later puzzle levels.

On another note, I am very happy to report that the cut scenes starring the lead of this game and Coolson himself be seen in the Break Room found on the main menu of this app - good to know if you would prefer to play this game without interruption or would like to view the witty animation without completing each of these levels. I would also love to see how each weekend is spent as well - illustrations I greatly enjoy - as well as any other illustrated moments possible not already shown in the Break Room.

Also of note is the chance to battle both another player sharing the same iPad or with a stranger over the internet mode that I for obvious reasons have never tried. I will do so, however with my son when he gets old enough to play this game - in late grade school I assume. Soon after he will probably leave me in the dust unless he too inherits my lack of spelling ability.

Although I found frustration during parts of this game, I cannot talk highly enough about Coolson's Artisanal Chocolate Alphabet, especially for those good at word puzzles in general, as I am not.

I do, however, greatly and whole-heartedly appreciate the included narrative and cartoon-like, hand-drawn illustrations. This app is wonderfully realized for the app these developers envisioned. I would love to see a “Beginner” mode included in the future as well.

Pettson’s Inventions Deluxe Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on June 3rd, 2013
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Pettson’s Inventions Deluxe is a unique and highly engaging problem solving puzzle app for children as well as adults.

Meet Pettson and his cat Findus, and help them build fantastical contraptions while keeping in mind the laws of physics as players add different parts to the machine-like cogs and belts as well as unique items such as a ramp made out of cheese or a flower pot.

It is tempting to compare Pettson’s Intentions to a Rube Goldberg machine, and although I think this comparison has some merit, I do not believe it is spot-on as Rube Goldberg device solve simple daily problems such as turning on a light switch with the use of a convoluted and over-built invention. Here, however, there is more of a sense of nonsense as one may devise a way to open and close monster cages as the creatures when loose may scare an animal making it run, pulling a lever behind them, watering flowers to make them instantly grow which may lure a cow to graze, as well as tasks that could include washing a pig or making it snow around the house with the use of an ice cream cone and a windmill.

This deluxe app consists of the content of Pettson’s inventions 1 and 2 and includes six new puzzles as well as the ability to race the clock to play against someone as the screen of the iPad is then split and users play head-to-head on the same device.

It is worth noting that this app has a few really important options, as one can get a visual hint of how to solve the problem at hand by not just being told the object, but by also seeing a visual clue allowing users to see what it looks like to make a dragon happy instead of just hearing the description. Another option is to having only the parts needed for the specific invention or including other items that will not be needed for the puzzle, thus increasing the difficulty of these sections.

When ready to work on these puzzles, one will note that certain clues are given throughout, as pins to attach gears may be included, or there may already be gears within the invention that one needs to attach a belt to as well as pipes in need of being fitted or pulleys which take shape when dragged onto the invention area of the page, center screen, as all the items to be used in these contraptions can be seen lining the perimeter of the page.

As one becomes more familiar with these puzzles, the tools one can add to the inventions will become more familiar as they work consistently the same way from puzzle to puzzle, also noting that there is some color coding that is also included - a nice touch.

I also appreciate how the power to these inventions can be turned on while building to see how the plans are working so far, allowing players to see what more needs to be done.

For the most part, I find the level of difficulty in this app good, and I have been able to solve the majority of these puzzles on my own without too much frustration.

It is nice to know that one can find walk-throughs of much of this app on line if needed, as I did for a scene where one needs to suspend a weight in mid air, and I could not find the sweet spot from which to hang the anvil. It would be nice if the app had help like this within the app as well for children who may feel stuck.

Pettson’s Inventions Deluxe is a wonderful app for logic and problem solving. The inventions one creates are highly creative, and I am quite fond of all the quirky details found within.

Cheesy Chess Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on April 24th, 2013
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Cheesy Chess is a creative and fun mouse-themed logic game with heavy chess elements.

This app reminds me a lot of the slider puzzles I had as a kid where plastic tiles will ultimately make up an image but needed to be slid within this puzzle, keeping in mind that only one piece can be moved at once.

Here, imagine a mouse king who needs to progress through this slider puzzle at the top center to leave this board, but the other puzzle pieces need to be moved out of his way to do so.

The interesting chess elements included are that the pieces are each styled to look like chess pieces, with the option to view these puzzles using classic chess piece stylings or using mice which dressed as these pieces, such as king, queen, bishop or pawns.

As one may expect, these pieces move according to the rules of the classic game of chess - an interesting, effective set of parameters for this game of logic.

I appreciate how as each piece is moved, the other pieces now opened up are highlighted in green, and one can drag or simply tap these pieces to move them to their next spot on the board.

This is a very nice game for children new to chess, as it will re-enforce how these pieces as well as the other pieces move as well as how to look at the bigger picture of the chess board, planning future moves as well as seeing multiple options.

It is worth noting, however, that these puzzles become increasingly difficult rather quickly, so I would hope early chess players will be able to share this app with adults.

It would also be nice if each of these levels has the correct answer or hints available - an important inclusion often overlooked in puzzle apps such as this, but I do appreciate the chance to take a step back when the board is deadlocked to try more changes for a better outcome.

The mouse-player board is fun and charming with minor animation included as a reward for a completed puzzle - fun for children. The classic puzzle pieces mode will appeal to adults and older children, and with 100 levels among five stages, there is certainly a lot of content that older players will gravitate towards.

Although I can recommend Cheesy Chess to children new to the rules of chess, don’t let the name fool adults into thinking that this is simply a children’s game, as adults and teens will feel challenged in these upper levels as well, making this an interesting logic puzzle game that I can recommend to a wide age range.

Birds & Bees Connection: Girls Part 1 Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on March 18th, 2013
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Birds & Bees Connection: Girls Part 1 is a cute and educational app designed for moms to share with their pre-teen daughters about the upcoming changes girls will face during puberty.

Intuitive to use, this application opens up to a main menu page that lists such topics as getting taller, developing breasts, sweat and body odor, hair, acne, puberty and emotional changes.

This app is nicely narrated by a girl reading the questions, answered by an adult female narrator. I do love the voice of the woman answering the questions, warm and motherly, while offering straightforward advice for young people, reminiscent to me of how I imagine Judy Blume to sound like and I was impressed by her delivery.

This app includes very basic information for young children new to this kind of information, also including pop-up windows with other fun facts as well as questions for mom such as "Does mom remember her first bra?" By and large, I enjoy the content and agree with the information provided, including a mildly animated moment of a baby actively nursing - a moment I especially appreciate.

There are a few mild points that I wish were elaborated on such as how a popup window offers the advice of keeping a deodorant in one's backpack, but making sure one’s underarms are clean before applying. This may be difficult in public, and I don’t see the harm in a girl ducking into a bathroom stall to apply deodorant if she is feeling sweaty, even without first washing.

I do, however, really appreciate how this app re-enforces never sharing a razor with anyone, including friends or siblings. I also think it is good advice for girls to try to just shave their lower legs as many don’t need to shave above the knees, but this also varies from person to person. I do have my personal doubts that shaving upper legs will actually make the hair grow darker and more course as this app states, although the use of warm water and shaving slowly are good tips for girls to follow.

Likewise, I am not in full agreement with the section discussing acne, as this app focuses on dirt and grease trapped in the pores of your skin as a reason for acne, which may be true for some, but the issues of clogged pores and inflammation have other causes as well and are only briefly touched upon here.

I worry that this section will lead to over washing, especially a concern with the recommendation to use a washcloth and to vigorously scrub as shown in the animated illustrations of this section, complete with squeaking sound effects. I also doubt that a washcloth can rid the face of “germs and bacteria” as this app states any better than using one’s hands or cotton pads, and can also make things worse as washcloths can be a place for bacteria to breed.

It is worth noting that although hormones, puberty and the different emotions one may experience at this time are touched upon here, this app is mainly a good starting point about the changes girls will be going through. Likewise, this app does not offer specific information on periods, feminine hygiene products, any information on “where babies come from,” sexuality, pregnancy or diseases - topics that parents will still need to have with their children at a later date.

Although I do not know the content for the later installments of this app - part 2 and part 3, I will be curious to see which of these more advanced topics may also be covered.

Even if my advice to a daughter may be different from exactly what is offered within this app, I think this is an engaging way for mothers to start these kinds of conversations with their children, and I am happy to say that the illustrative style is fun and colorful, great for young tween girls whom this app is aimed at.

Oddly, this app mentions interactive illustrations which I am at a loss to discover, as this app plays pretty straightforwardly with arrows one can tap to turn pages, yet without any elements I could find that are truly interactive.

This is not a flaw as I do not think that this app needs any distractions to search for as girls and their moms share this time together. I do wish, however, that the iTunes description had less of a focus on interactivity as this promise may lead to disappointment.

Having made these notes, Birds & Bees Girls Part 1 is still an app that I recommend. I do hope parents will share this app with their children so they can add their own personal bits of wisdom as well, possibly opening the door for the more personal conversations to come.

A Christmas Carol Drawn & Told Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on December 19th, 2012
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

A Christmas Carol Drawn & Told is a stellar universal adaptation of the class Dickens tale of the same name.

I am very impressed with the quality of this app which includes more than 300 beautiful drawings, as highly these stylized images are used to illustrate this lengthy story, complete with fabulous narration.

Users simply sit back and listen to this classic story, gazing at wonderful artwork which brings great dimension to this Dickens tale.

These images are often dark, moody and simply gorgeous to look at, making this not just a topical app for Christmas, but ideal for anyone who needs to study A Christmas Carol in school, especially those who enjoy graphic novels as they are often haunting as well as edgy at times as well as beautiful to look at, making this app stand out from other re-tellings of this story.

There is also a slight use of the Ken Burns effect - the panning and zooming of these illustrations to draw the eye - quite effective in the support of this storytelling.

The narration is top-notch in every way, if not spoken a little fast, but not difficult to get used to hearing. A few other voice actors are also incorporated for a great effect which I really appreciate.

I remember reading this lengthy book in high school, and I would have really appreciated this app a great deal. For me, my best comprehension came from both listening to a story at this point from a borrowed set of records from our public library, reading along word for word. This is how I read works like Shakespeare, Catch-22 or Native Son, and it really worked for me quite well.

This app does not include the text, but the illustrations are so very vivid, students of all ages will find themselves engaged, fully understanding and even enjoying this story, especially those students not looking forward to reading Dickens by themselves.

I appreciate that this app is broken down by chapter and allows readers to pick up where they left off as well as including information about Dickens that I found interesting.

I highly recommend this app for all students who are reading A Christmas Carol as well as for teachers in a classroom setting, especially at such an affordable price. I am unclear if this is an abridged version of the classic, but even if so, with almost two jours of narration, there is enough content here to be a valuable adaptation worthy of being used in class to understand the major plot points and concepts.

I would love to see more classic literature adapted this way, as this is a perfectly realized re-telling of a classic story.

Marvin K. Mooney Will You Please Go Now! - Dr. Seuss Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on November 16th, 2012
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

It is always exciting to me when a classic Dr. Seuss story has been developed into a universal storybook application by Oceanhouse Media as they do a consistently good job at these adaptations which include sound effects, narration and the zooming and panning of the original illustrations to draw the reader's eye as well as to sometimes create a sense of movement or action.

Do tap the object and characters within these stories as well, as doing so will label these items with a text as well as narration - great for word association, as is the highlighted text when listening to the included narration.

Marvin K. Mooney Will You Please Go Now! is another such title, based on the 1972 book of the same name, especially exciting to my husband as this was a favorite book as a child, about Seussian character, Marvin K Mooney, who is asked in every way conceivable to “Please Go” by an unseen narrator.

Although a few Seuss-styled words are included, this story in general is a nice choice for young children to read to themselves, written as part of the Bright and Early Books for Beginning Beginners series for young readers, as many of these same words are repeated for great effect as well as for aiding emerging readers.

As is the case for all Dr. Seuss stories, the pictures are grandly stylized and contain a terrific use of bright bold colors. I enjoy the included sound effects throughout this book as well, adding to the richness of this story now that it has been developed for iPad and iPhone.

It is also interesting to me the choice of using “Hail to the Chief” in the background of this app, an obviously political song, as this story has often been said to be about the desire to get Richard Nixon out of office, even with a 1974 reprint changing the name from Marvin K. Mooney Will You Please Go Now! to Richard M. Nixon - a detail that adults may pick up on but which will be over the heads of children.

The one note I do have on this adaptation is that the woman’s narration used here can come across as a little shrill which in many ways may fit this story, but I think children as well as adults would have an easier time listening to this tale if the narration, possibly if the narrator chose to go deeper to show exacerbation instead of what can come across as almost whiney to get the point across.

Having said this, I still recommend Marvin K. Mooney Will You Please Go Now! as a classic story loved by many. Adults always have a choice of reading this book out loud to their children if they choose, complete with the sound effects and background music which can also be turned off if one chooses.

I do look forward to more of these wonderfully whimsical tales brought to iPad and iPhone, but I do hope that easier-to-listen-to narration can be incorporated into other Dr Seuss stories.

PHLIP Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on October 17th, 2012
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

PHLIP is an interesting and engaging puzzle app for both children as well as adults. It is a universal app, but do note that a camera is necessary to make this app compatible with one’s device.

Said to be a combination of the words Photo and Flip, PHLIP is a really creative puzzle app where one uses a photo from their device or snaps a new image to include as the background of an intriguing puzzle app.

Once a background is selected, players can choose the number of pieces their new puzzle will contain - between four and twenty tiles that will rotate independently, breaking up the original photograph.

Gameplay here is simple to grasp yet these puzzles can become quite complicated to complete, as one can tap to select tiles to either rotate or lock as players tilt their device clockwise or counter-clockwise to make these tiles rotate into their rightful places.

I appreciate how the same photo can be an easy or more difficult puzzle, depending on the number of tiles included, making this app a great choice in puzzle activity for children of all ages - preschool and up - as well as adult.

There is a very nice level of polish that has gone into this app, as fun, quirky sound effects are included each time a tile is rotated, and players are also able to see the completed puzzle with a tap, allowing players to also go back and complete their work after being given help if feeling stuck.

The number of moves needed to solve these puzzles is retained but is unintrusive enough - good to know as I don’t always find that score-keeping adds to my enjoyment of a game or activity.

Another function of this app is the ability to challenge friends and family who have downloaded this app with solving puzzles that one has personally created - a nice touch as I can see puzzle enthusiasts sharing photos among friends, sending these puzzle backgrounds back and forth via email.

Although players are encouraged to create intricate photo experiences to capture in order to make unique and creative puzzles, I have had very good success in finding images from my camera that I have enjoyed turning into photos, as my son has taken to creating architectural photographs of his Lincoln Log structures that he enjoys building which have become great fodder for some interesting puzzles.

I enjoy the interactive elements included within this app as well, as players need to select, de-select, and re-select tiles to be rotated, giving busy fingers and minds a lot to focus on, as does the tilting of the device in a way that I think could be very engaging as well as calming to my sometimes antsy son.

Although not specifically educational, I enjoy my own thought process as I work on these rotated puzzle elements, looking for pieces with recognizable landscapes and working my way out from there.

Depending on the image used, these puzzles can be simple, difficult, or simply time-consuming, often requiring focus and patience that adults can adjust for their children or themselves to be challenged at a level they will get the most from.

Although this app was designed for one to create stylized photos to thoughtfully make puzzles, I think this app could creatively take photos very much in the moment that adults and children could enjoy as they are out and about, making this a wonderful puzzle choice to pass the time for all ages.

PHLIP is truly an app that you make not only your own, but you get what you put into this app in terms of creating the perfect puzzles to spend time with.

Mog the Forgetful Cat Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on August 15th, 2012
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Mog the Forgetful Cat, part of the beloved Mog series of books about the adventures of a forgetful, sometimes misunderstood cat has now been lovingly adapted to the iPad and includes stellar narration, interactions and music, each wonderfully crafted to bring a great deal of richness to this family classic.

Children will feel for Mog who is having a bad day, getting into trouble and taken for granted by her family in a way relatable to children who also have trying times getting into things they should not. The ending is especially charming and a little silly as readers will understand what is happening more than Mog does, as she saves the day very much by accident to the delight of children.

I truly enjoy everything about this application. The narration provided by an older woman is simply terrific, making my short list of favorite voiceovers within an application.

I also admire that the original art from the book is used, now including new interactive moments that match the same style of illustrations that people have been enjoying for decades.

Fans of this book will notice the decision to break down the pages that contain a montage of drawings and paragraphs of text into their own pages - the right decision aiding young readers - as well as highlighting the charming new interactive moments and hidden sounds found throughout these pages.

It is impressive how the added animations work so seamlessly within this application as the original drawings images from the book are incorporated, also including the fun bits of comedic action now charmingly demonstrated, such a Mog's dream of flying with birds as well as the jumping and running around cats are known for.

Adults will be smitten by these illustrations, now containing a vintage charm reminiscent of the time period of 1970, modernized here for the digital age yet staying true to the original look of this story.

Terrific musical elements are also included into these interactions as well as the story itself, creating cinematic moments all ages will enjoy a great deal.

I also really appreciate the choices offered in terms of how to enjoy this story, be it just listening to the narration or pulling open a tab containing the text to read along, as well as reading this book to oneself or make one's own recording.

A few nice extras are also included, such as playing a game where readers select the correct emotion shown on Mog’s face to match a correlating word. Those whose iPads include a forward-facing camera can also take photos with Mog that they can then share. All iPad users can incorporate their own photos from their iPad as well.

A short bio of author Judith Kerr is also included, introducing readers to early sketches which became the drawings for this storybook - a treat for fans, to be sure.

I have truly enjoyed Mog the Forgetful Cat. It is a perfect transformation from printed medium into an application. I hope the other Mog titles can be developed for iPad as well, possibly even as universal applications, letting iPhone users to also have a chance to meet Mog. I also look forward to the release of The Tiger Who Came to Tea - one of the most popular children's’ books of all times, also being developed by HarperCollins Publishers.

Let's Color! Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on July 27th, 2012
iPad App - Designed for iPad

Let's Color! is a wonderful animated coloring book for iPad that children and adults will love to explore.

I absolutely enjoy this cute and quirky art application. This app allows children to be highly creative yet work off prompts both seen as uncompleted drawings as well as text, both spoken and written, that trigger children's imagination instead of trying to be inspired by a blank page.

The illustration that children are adding to is also quite child-like, making non-drawers comfortable with their level of drawing skills - an issue my son has as he is aware of this lack of representational drawing ability.

As this app opens up, children are first asked, “What is coming out of the hose?” allowing children to then answer this question with any doodle they see fit with the use of many colors to choose from as well as different sized drawing points and even sticker choices.

Once children add whatever they imagine coming out of the hose, a tap will animate their drawing. Also included are fun sounds which really bring their work to life, here flushing different elements of their drawing out of the hose with great whimsy.

Other topics touched upon are “Can you make it snow?” which duplicates the snow drawn by readers, creating a confetti-like experience that then drops down to the bottom of the page; “Who is riding in these train cars?”, which is a great opportunity to use the included stickers, or even more open-ended questions such asking children what is being drunk out of large twisty straws, or an off-beat request such as “What could be coming out of this trumpet?”

Personally, I enjoy the toilet humor in this app as well, asking children to “Let’s draw poops” in a large yellow toilet center page, allowing the adding images to be flushed away, yet I can imagine some families being turned off by this section.

Although the saving of the original image created is possible, I would also like to return to these pages to re-watch the animated moment created for each section. Unfortunately, the drawing is not saved to re-watch once the page is turned - something I would love to see included in a future update.

I greatly admire how the children’s illustrations are de-constructed in creative ways to fit into this simple page story, and I find this app wonderful to encourage children like my son, who has shown vast creativity in storytelling, yet hesitate when it comes to drawing anything representational for fear of failing his personal standards.

It is worth noting that the first 18 pages of this app are free, with the ability to add another 16 sections for $1.99 as an in-app purchase. I don't typically recommend an app with this format, but “Let’s Color” is a truly special experience with a tremendous value even without the in-app purchase - an option that can be hidden from children’s view, a nice touch.

From my perspective, Let’s Color is a must-download for any iPad owners with children. I admire the storytelling aspect of this app, triggering the imagination of children, complete with highlighted text with cute children’s narration which asks children to complete these drawings.

This is certainly an app that is hard to explain or describe with words alone, and I wonder if I have given justice to the experiences created. Luckily for readers, one can download it as a free app, and readers can see for themselves what all my fuss is about. Please note that another related app from these same developers is also available, Squiggles! If interested, please look for it in iTunes.

Auryn HD - Where Do Balloons Go? An Uplifting Mystery Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on July 16th, 2012
iPad App - Designed for iPad

Where Do Balloons Go? An Uplifting Mystery is a marvelous iPad adaptation for of the popular title of the same name.

I am familiar with Where Do Balloons Go as this storybook is a favorite that is read at my son’s preschool which tries to answer the question of where do balloons go in ways most whimsical. I can understand why his teachers enjoy this book because it is thoughtfully written, abstract yet age-appropriate and includes an abundance of illustrations for all ages - including adults, who really enjoy this book as well.

This application does a wonderful job of using the iPad to add even more richness to this tale as here, narration, music and interactions are also included.

I appreciate how this application opens up with a short video clip of Jamie Lee Curtis explaining the inspiration of this charming, creative story. I also like the fact that Jamie herself walks readers through the use of this application as some of the functions are different from other apps one may be familiar with, such as the use of tapping to pan over to the right side of the screen which keeping intact double page spreads from this book - not to be confused with simple page turning. Hints can also be offered to help readers make the most of this application. Enjoy Curtis's narration of this appellation which is perfect as one can imagine and includes highlighted text, or turn off the narration and read this book to oneself.

Do tap among these pages that are filled with details to look at as well as to interact with while never becoming distracting - a balancing act that the developers at Auryn have been successful at to great effect.

Another clever interaction is the ability to use a fan to blow the balloons found among these pages around the screen, later using this fan as part of an activity where one matches the balloon to the rightful owner - a fun moment that I am sure has just the right level of difficulty for children.

I also have enjoyed a great deal some of the moments from this story which are delivered to app users as black and white scenes that are brought to their full color glory with a tap, including details that adults will smile at possibly more than their children will such as a balloon suspensefully flying to the house upon the hill by the Bates Motel or the balloon-centric titles on a movie marquee - wonderful adult choices that make this tale, both as a published storybook and now as an app, such a joy to explore for all ages. Do search this section for other interactive elements best left for one to explore on their own as not to ruin any fun surprises.

I admire how the sense of movement found among the storybook’s pages is here fully realized including a wonderful scene which brings to life the book’s centerfold - a page abundant with dancing balloons, here accompanied with music and a counter to tick off the balloons which start dancing with a tap.

Another nice moment includes the chance to write on and send digital postcards including the cards seen in the book as well as the last page of the printed version - a nice touch.

Other more involved activities which I really like include a chance to make balloon animals by following directions to make a handful of specific animal shapes or to have fun creating one’s own balloon designs. Oddly, however, when I follow along, invariably my animal is upside-down after completion, so I would also love to be able to rotate my creation when complete to view from all angles as well as flipping my animals right side up.

One also has the chance to create constellations in the night’s sky including numbered stars that one taps to connect, creating shapes that are more intricate than found in other apps with this theme. I do wish, however, that there were a choice for these hidden activity triggers to be highlighted along with the other hints offered, as I did not first find the glowing star marking where to tap for this section. Re-watching Jamie Lee Curtis’s section on the use of this app, however, did give me a good idea as to where to look.

There is one more area of this app to mention, Balloon Theatre, allowing one to use fun elements like hat, hair or mouth choices to create characters backstage that are then dragged into the user's choice of two backgrounds - be it night sky or a wonderfully water-colored sky with clouds. Choosing a personal photo to work on from the iPad is also an option. Be aware that dragging the character onto the stage is tricky at first, but with some use this function works nicely as one can record the performance that players create, complete with the recording of sounds as well as the moment the characters cross the screen.

Even with the plentiful amount of interactions, sounds and other sections and elements, the calm, serene and relaxing end of this charming story makes this app a nice tale both for relaxing as well as for a bedtime story telling.

I am sure that fans of this book will be greatly impressed with this application, but rest assured that those not familiar with this story will enjoy it just the same. For these reasons and more, I whole-heartedly recommend this application.

Tick Bait’s Universe Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on July 11th, 2012
iPad App - Designed for iPad

Tick Bait’s Universe is a wonderful children’s science app for iPad that truly puts the universe into perspective in a way that children can understand, appreciate and enjoy.

Starting out, this app introduces readers a chance to view an ordinary dog, Tick Bait one meter, roughly three feet overhead, as he lays on his back in a backyard typical of many homes. From here, one has a chance to explore the unseen in either direction, zooming in or out closer or further to Tick Bait by the power of ten.

In choosing to investigate Tick Bait closer, the view becomes 1/10 of a meter (about four inches) close to Tick Bait and from here one has a view of the ticks this dog is carrying. Getting still closer makes children aware of the even smaller dog mites that are commonplace - a version of this mite also living on human hosts as well.

Zooming in further reveals the dog mites' cells, and later bacteria and the even smaller viruses as well as even DNA. The app discusses such topics as DNA sequencing and zooms down small enough to atoms, their protons, neutrons, electrons and even the smaller ````quarks which ends this section, as matter can’t be broken down into smaller pieces.

Viewing Tick Bait from higher and higher vantage points is equally impressive, detailing such principles as different levels found within the atmosphere as well as an interesting view of Tick Bait’s house, neighborhood and state in which he lives, pulling out to see the Earth as a whole, later in orbit with the other planets until Earth is seen as simply part of the Milky Way and beyond. It ultimately shows a representation of the entire observable universe, ending this section of this highly engaging and educational app.

Do note that one may want to be view this app in landscape mode to make the most of this application as here, both the images as well as text are available, whereas the image is only seen within portrait mode.

There is so much information to be read about within this thoughtfully conceived application. I admire the structure of this app because of the way that it delivers all the included information. It is as easy to follow as it is engaging - with an abundance of interesting facts as well as fun true or false questions that add related information about topics at hand.

I also admire how one can move back and forth between tenfold distances with the pinch or spreading of fingers, the tap of a button or the scrolling between sections, and I appreciate all the additional information found within this app along the way as well including much about scientific notations and the concept of the power of ten. Because of this, metric measurements are used here but are roughly translated to imperial measurements as well.

Although this app does not contain narration, wonderful sound effects really bring these different vantage points to life, with each sound element well chosen and effective in making this app really come alive, even when simply moving from one tenfold to another, as well as when readers know they have zoomed in and out as far as possible.

This is a perfect science application for older grade school children and beyond, and is an app that adults will genuinely enjoy as well.

Without narration, readers rely on themselves or an adult to read the included text, making this an app possibly not fully suitable for younger children, but with the aid of an adult, I think that bright, curious children as young as late preschool could enjoy this app if it is read to them by an encouraging adult.

I have greatly enjoyed Tick Bait’s Universe, This app is one of a kind and is a wonderful app for home as well as school settings. I am eager to see what other apps the developers at You University Apps may come up with next as this application is top-notch in every way.

Monster Physics Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on July 3rd, 2012
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Monster Physics is a wonderfully creative and educational universal app which teaches about physics and building concepts to young engineers ages ten and up. This app, part of a library of applications from developer Dan Russell-Pinson, is a terrific choice for parents and teachers alike as this app requires focus and concentration as well as being a lot of fun.

There are many components to this app that children must understand in order to be successful with their builds, so I encourage adults to familiarize themselves with this application before showing it to their children. It is great how multiple players can save their game, making this app ideal for classroom settings as well as for families, and it is also cute and fun to have the ability to personalize the monster associated with a player’s individual account.

I would like to encourage users to start off by visiting the Learn section, which covers basic principles of physics such as gravity, friction, speed and velocity with the use of a simple, well-written explanation and animated scenes demonstrating what is being taught using the different pieces that one can later use in their creations.

After players study this section, there are two basic areas one can build machines in. A Build section allows children to create their own devices in an open-ended fashion, and it is wonderful that one can save and modify these machines for later, Yet I think players may have a hard time starting off in this section without a lot of building experience. Instead, I recommend the Missions area that will take players through sections of mini-games where they must build a contraption with various parts to unite monsters with the fruit they are trying to eat. The use of physics, as the title may imply, is top notch, making this a must-have application for young engineers, with the upper difficulty levels such as Challenge and Advanced great mental workouts for adults.

I admire all the work that must have gone into the developing of Monster Physics as the amount of content, assuming that one has the aptitude to complete this application, is impressive. I would like, however, to be able to see more tips given such as those found within the Training section throughout, possibly including even more specific hints as well for those who need it, with the use of helpful text and even a template that one can complete to give players a basic framework to follow while still needing to trouble-shoot the exact details. Even without adding more hints, I do find it a flaw within this app that the answer is not included for those who can’t continue within a missions from a section and need help. I don’t think one should underestimate the educational value of having challenges such as these explained - much more so than being stuck and walking away after hitting an impasse. Luckily, all the included mini-games are unlocked, and one can skip over a problem if need be. Do take as long or try as many times as needed to get things correct. There are no timers or points of any sorts, making this a great app for those who like to take their time and focus on the task at hand.

Even with this note, there is a lot to really appreciate about this application. I enjoy the look of these monsters, and I am impressed with different parts, connectors and special pieces one can use to create working machines both simple and complex making this a stellar application for teaching problem solving skills and critical thinking.

This is also a relatively quiet game that uses ambient nature sounds to a nice effect as all of these building exercises take place within an outdoor landscape. The other sound effects used to bring the different elements alive also bring a lot to this experience, but be aware that one can turn off these effects as well as the music used individually - always a nice touch.

It is easy to recommend the apps developed by Dan Russell-Pinson. They are go-to apps for anyone looking for an engaging education for older children and are-must have applications for teachers who use apps within their classrooms.

Box Monsters Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on May 1st, 2012
iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad

Box Monsters is a very nice physics-based game with a heavy use of gravity and intuitive game play.

Different shapes are stacked precariously on a platform on or alongside a box monster who wishes to be able to fly away home. To help this box monster, tap to remove these shapes which are separating the monster from the platform below that will help project this box monster home when contact is made.

Sometimes the box monster is resting on the platform, but the shapes need to be removed that hinder the box monster from flying away, as well as other interesting details that I enjoy. Do note that these towers of shapes can get pretty wobbly, and if the tower falls over, players need to try again.

I really like this game, the graphics are pleasing to look with a use of bright colors and it is very intuitive to understand in terms of how to play.

Five levels are included which increase in difficulty, and 20 levels are included within each section. I like how although the game follows the same basic premise, specific pieces are added that change how players respond to these puzzles such as triangles that can not be removed or spiky round pieces that will kill the box monsters on contact.

Although the upper levels get difficult, the ease of game play has made re-doing levels in order to have a good outcome not as frustrating as a game like this can sometimes become. One aspect that I don’t like, however, is that some of these shape towers are so tippy that even as a level opens, the towers tumble before contact with the player, and the game must be started over again - moments that I do find frustrating indeed.

I also have had issues of having to re-start levels as one does not always get a chance to automatically re-try levels in the way typical for most of the game - an issue that I hope can be looked into for a future update.

I think that this game, especially the first section, would be a great first physics app for grade school children which can teach a lot about problem solving as well as a very nice casual game for adults.

It would be nice if the information of more than one player could be stored at once so families can share this app amongst themselves with the games of various family members saved separately, but even without this function, I have enjoyed this game and the amount of puzzles offered. I look forward to more levels being added to Box Monsters in the future.

The Artifacts Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on April 27th, 2012
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

The Artifacts is a superb universal interactive storybook app that will appeal to many ages of children, especially older children in late grade school, middle school and even high school as well as beyond.

Meet Asaf, a collector of just about everything, from art to antiques, caterpillars to flora as well as anything and everything else that interests him, much to the dismay of his parents who do not share his passion for collecting.

One day, much to Asaf’s dismay, he arrives home to see his room bare and his collections removed. It is only now that he finds out that he is moving with his parents to a new house, and that collections are not permitted in his new home. Although his parents may be able to control what is allowed inside their house, they cannot control Asaf’s mind, and it is here that he creates vast new collections of fantasy, daydreams and facts all his own.

Asaf is a character after my own heart as I too am a collector of things far and wide, luckily having never been asked to get rid of my collections as my parents share this same trait to some degree, and I confess that we have gotten rid of very few of my son’s toys throughout the years, ever increasing the storage areas of our home to accommodate such belongings and effects.

The story itself is striking, with the emotions of isolation and alienation expressed as simple text and rich imagery that stick in my mind in places typically reserved for favorite passages of literature, film or other forms of art.

The treatment of Asaf and the behavior of his parents are extreme, yet surreal and dreamlike, allowing myself to be drawn into this story without judgment, yet creating an emotional experience which children need to be ready for, making it perfect for kids in upper grade school and up if not older, through adulthood.

My mind races to nuances depicting bleak moments from Roald Dahl stories - lonely, austere moments from the animated film “Coraline,” or surreal moments from the live action feature “Where the Wild Things Are” if for nothing more that the tones and emotions found within moments of storytelling that are bouncing around in my mind after finishing this app.

I have seen few such well-realized interactive app with older kids in mind. The majority of interactions are wonderful, imaginative and poetic as are the wonderfully stylized artwork found among these pages. The style of writing is quite minimalist, creating a wonderful dichotomy with the illustrations which can be lush with detail or minimal themselves for a great effect.

Although a large part of me wants to go into great detail about my favorite scenes or elements of this app, it is my gift to readers not to ruin these moments for themselves as words will not fully express or explain the emotion felt when experiencing this app for the first time.

As strongly as I feel about this app, I have decided not to share this story with my son, as I think the idea that parents - who presumably understand their children and want the best for them - would take away everything that they hold dear quite heartbreaking - especially for a kid like mine who really enjoys a lot of stuff around him.

There are also moments of heavy language with use of such words as “The Offense,” The Betrayal,” “The Dearth,” or “The Crime” in reference to moving away from home with all one’s worldly possessions gone, which adds a lot of melancholy to this app quite effectively in ways that may burden younger children such as my son.

There is little that I would change about this storybook.The one note I would like to make is that there is a witty moment when Asaf collects his thoughts while in the bathroom, with the tubes, creams and other items commonly found there and that have labels such as “concepts,” “Inferences,” or “Notion Potion,” yet the hand-written text is very small and hard to read, even on the larger screen of the iPad. This is unfortunate, especially for iPhone users who will be looking at these words on an even smaller screen - a real missed opportunity for readers but in no way a reason to bypass this otherwise wonderful app.

I do hope I have done this app justice as I would typically write in more detail my favorite moments within, but I don’t think these details would be doing readers any favors.

It is also worth noting that this app includes an interracial family, which has no real bearing on the story at hand, but it is just nice to see as I am hard-pressed to think of many other apps which include other interracial family units - refreshing to see, to be sure.

I hope this review has encouraged readers, both parents as well as teachers, to download this app for their children as well as for themselves. I am happy to see an app of such quality with a very reasonable price tag, especially for being a universal app - something I hope other developers will take notice of as the price for iPad and universal apps keeps creeping up.

Smash Your Food HD Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on April 20th, 2012
iPad App - Designed for iPad

Smash Your Food HD is a highly entertaining app for iPad dedicated to the better understanding of the amounts of sugar, salt and oil found within foods that are commonly eaten.

With five levels included, players are asked to determine the amounts of these substances by reviewing the nutritional facts of each food in question and then watching as these foods get pulverized - much to the delight of children.

I really like that although a nutrition app, this app shows children how math can have a very practical application in their lives as the grams of sugar and oil, along with the milligrams of salt, must be converted to the units of measure found within the app, specifically sugar cubes (4 grams per cube) 1/8 teaspoon pours of salt equaling 288 mg each as well as teaspoons of oil (4 grams per spoonful) After these calculations are made and the answers are entered, one gets to smash the food, and boy does the food get smashed!

Do keep a calculator handy to make these calculations easier, especially the 288 that one must divide into the sodium mg of foods to come up with the number of 1/8 teaspoons of salt that one is looking for in an answer. It is also good to know that 1/2 measurements are not possible so players must round up or down to a whole number - another math element taught with a real world application.

Impressive HG videos are shown of each food being pulverized by a vice that closes down, smushing and smashing these foods in the messiest ways possible, complete with fun, squishy sound effects. My son at four does not fully get the heath aspect of this app but loves to smash the foods within this app. Few apps have brought the smiles and squeals that this app delivers, creating a truly addicting experience for both him and for me.

Complete meals are included by the 5th level, as are “crazy” levels that include a “super-sized” load of food - just for fun really - as the splat here is, as one can imagine, all the more epic.

I enjoy the visual of not only the food being flattened but the look of the food elements being filled into beakers below the smashing machine, as sugar cubes, salt shakes and teaspoons can be seen doing measurements, sometimes overfilling these beakers with sugar cubes being heard dropping off screen as the beaker has been filled and the sugar presumably backs up into the machine, as well as the oil that may spill out over the beaker when too much continues to be poured.

It would be nice to be able to enter in one’s best guesses on sugar, salt and oil after seeing the food mashed, as the level of oil that get squeezed out of some foods is quite telling, allowing people to use their understanding of these ingredient amounts based on info previously learned from this app instead of doing the math, especially since one can gain stars for answers not only spot-on, but for showing an understanding that a food stuff is higher or lower than the amount allowed per meal players are allowed. Be aware that stars are not given for previously correct answers, confusing for us in the beginning of playing this game.

It is a nice touch that the info of six players can be stored within this app, and that each player has a different limit of sugar, salt, and oil that is the maximum allowed per meal. I do find it unfortunate, however, that this app features only the most junky and the most obviously bad-to-consume foods, with no choices that are fully actually allowed under the guidelines that one learns about in the beginning of this app based on the player's age and level of activity, even making certain junk foods look like a lesser-evil food because healthy food options are not offered.

I also find that the nutrition elements are overly simplified as here, all fats are bad fats, which in the real world is not the case - yet among these foods, it is very much so. Topics such as fiber, protein and glycemic index are also not covered, being beyond the scope of this delightfully disgusting app.

In a future update, I would love to smash a bowl of guacamole, yogurt, watermelon or a pomegranate, as well as choices such as rotisserie chicken, sushi, grilled salmon or a simple plate of beans and rice to show food choices that one can eat without regret. I would also love to see foods that are worse for people than one may imagine, such as muffins, which are notorious for high levels of sugar and oil as well as more Chinese food choices, a cuisine that if cooked without concern can be full of crazy amounts of oil - something that even many adults don’t realize or choose to ignore, or a salad loaded with creamy dressing - another common downfall.

Even with the notes given, this is a highly entertaining, addictive application that will certainly entertain children. I a happy to announce that Smash Your Food HD has won the Michelle Obama's Apps For Healthy Kids contest, and it is nice that emails including tips and advice are available to be received each time one completes a level.

I hope that more levels and foods can be added in the future, ideally with healthy food substitutions to encourage good nutritional choices, helping players choose foods other than those included within this application.