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A Jazzy Day - Music Education Book for Kids Review

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

A Jazzy Day is a lovely universal interactive educational storybook that teaches children about the instruments used to play jazz music. Narration is included as well as the ability to read this book by oneself.

Children will enjoy how this app opens up one morning as a daddy cat wakes up his two kitten children early to spend the day learning about jazz, taking a trip to hear Big Band music, meeting musicians and learning about their instruments. The illustrations are cute and include watercolor details that are always appealing. Mild interactive hotspots are also included that will trigger banter and subtle movements from these characters with the tap of a finger.

Soon, the jazz instruments are introduced. I really like the different sections and instruments found here such as the Rhythm or the Bass Section which are articulated with both words, illustrations and animated moments when instruments are tapped, allowing children to see and hear these instruments being played.

I enjoy how animals are used as the musicians such as trumpet-playing dogs, trombone-playing mice or saxophone-playing goats. Really cute details are also included, such as head-nodding or toe-tapping and tail-wagging as the animals perform, really getting into the playing of their music, as well as individual fingers strumming the bass, pressing the keys of a flute or trombone with the chest moving in and out the way one would expect, as well as other charmingly accurate details within these illustrations.

There is a nice interactivity found within this section as children can trigger these animal musicians to play their instruments, but I especially like being able to tap to play the vibraphone - a favorite instrument of mine.

I enjoy how these animals are styled to be very cool as the cat dad wears his red beret to the jazz hall. The other animals wear hip hats or sunglasses or the like, making them look jazzy themselves.

The included instrument sounds are great as well and have been recorded by professional musicians - a nice touch.

Some other sections are included, allowing players to tap to hear the sounds of the instruments as well as to move them around the page and stretch them with their fingers to enlarge them to see details.

I also enjoy the two games: “Find the instruments” where one is asked to find the instrument in question from a page of instruments as well as “Which instrument sounds like this?” where an instrument sound is played that one needs to match to the correct picture. I found these sections nicely done, but I wish it were easier to choose either game because as of now, a tap will bring players to either game rather randomly.

There is also a section that reinforces the names of letters found in these instruments, such as “p” for “piano or “c” for clarinet.

I really appreciate that this app has chosen to focus on jazz music as the other music apps I have seen through iTunes tend to be focused on classical music appreciation instead. For this reason and more, I can easily recommend Jazzy Day for toddlers and the preschool set.

Who Stole the Moon Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on April 30th, 2012
iPad App - Designed for iPad

Who Stole the Moon is a lovely, sleepy tale for iPad, perfect for bedtime about a boy who is worried that the moon has been stolen when he can’t see it out his bedroom’s skylight one evening before bed.

Concerned, he leaves his home to go ask the nocturnal animals if they had stolen the moon to no avail, but is led in the right direction to Owl, who has the correct answer and is able to calm this young boy.

This is a charming story, nicely written in a style reminiscent of traditional folktales that adults will enjoy as much as children will. I also really like how this app offers a little educational material along with this sweet, simple story, explaining about nocturnal animals and about how the moon can hide behind clouds. The illustrations are nicely crafted as well with a good use of color, especially the sapphire blue chosen to represent the sky that looks especially nice against the back-lit iPad.

This book also contains an impressive number of languages to choose from, each including its own language specific narration and text, also allowing for narration or included sounds to be turned off individually as well - always a nice touch.

I have enjoyed meeting each animal introduced within this story, including cute details children enjoy such as a fox playing with her cubs, badgers eating cat food, or a mole shopping for worms to make tea. Each animal also has its own theme song that can be accessed within the story section itself or in a separate dedicated section.

This app includes some fun interactive elements as well as four activities that are included, and although they are pretty typical of extras found among children’s apps, I admire their quality in terms of illustrations used and very nice music included within.

There is a memory game section involving the turning over of tiles in order to create pairs. Nice varieties of this type of game are included, each with its own distinct style of cards that need to be flipped, such as one shape per card, a specific number of shapes per tile creating a nice nod towards subsidizing as well as charming insect drawings, each game including 12 cards to flip over.

Sixteen smaller cards can also be included within a game, here involving animals or fun monster and space themes, allowing children to play memory in a way that is a little more challenging.

The final section includes 36 cards to look under to try to match three cards this time instead of two. This change increases the difficulty level nicely, including the insect motif as well as simple sketches all in the color red, really adding to the amount of detail one must look at in these tiles when flipped over to differentiate each other. Some simple solid color tiles are included as well that contain a lovely marbled water-color look, also seen throughout this app as are perfectly imperfect textures found within this well-done application.

An arcade-style is included where one lights up randomly flying fireflies with a tap. This game is nicely challenging yet avoids over stimulation with the included gentle lullaby-type music. It is a nice touch that the background changes with a selection of earthy green backdrops - great for replay value.

In another area of this app, sixteen puzzles are included, each broken into 25 or 64 pieces which perform like classic jigsaw puzzles, each including a lot of game play. I like the audible click heard when the pieces are fitted together, but I think these lengthy puzzles should make available the reference image seen when choosing a puzzle for children who need a little help because no other hints are offered.

A finger-painting section is available which includes 16 blank sketches than need to be filled in with color. A variety of brush strokes are offered, creating interesting designs with either a tap or a drag of a finger. There is a rainbow of colors to choose from, including four different shades of each color - all really nice choices that combined with the unique brushes, create an effect closer to a painting experience, possibly with an airbrush, than simply scribbling.

Although it is interesting that the paint brush point varies with every tap, it would be nice to select the point size as well as to create details more precise if one so wishes. It would also be nice to have an “undo” button, but the eraser can help fix small mistakes that children feel they may have made coloring in these pictures. I would also like to see a solid line be able to be drawn. As of now, only series of dots is allowed.

A section also exists of the animal songs found within the pages of this story. I like that a separate section exists as these songs, nicely done, are also a little lengthy and takes me out of the story a bit to play them while reading the book. Each song can be listened to or sung with the aid of lyrics that appear sentence-by-sentence in time to the music. This prompt may be enough for older children to sing along but new readers may need more help from an adult as this method is less than true karaoke-style in which each word is highlighted when it is time to be sung.

I do like, however, how each song contains the text that is sung as well as illustrated with simple drawings that correspond to each tune. Parents may need to explain the vintage phonograph used to play these songs, complete with horn, record spinning and the crackling that can be heard when switching between songs - other nice details of this section.

I have enjoyed Who Stole the Moon and recommend this app as a very nice bedtime story choice for toddlers and preschool age children. I look forward to the new apps that WindyPress will develop in the future.

Kids Fun for iPad Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on April 18th, 2012
iPad App - Designed for iPad

Kids Fun for iPad is a charming interactive app that boasts over 70 short activities for children. I am excited by this app as it is not only content-rich, but the mini-games and activities are of a very high quality that really impresses me. An iPhone version of this app is also available.

This app is nicely intuitive as one begins on a main page that contains ten sections that one can chose from. Simply tap to choose. From here, one can choose from another menu of related choices, nicely organizing the abundant selections to choose from.

Children will appreciate how these sections are animal-centric and include an area dedicated to matching, such as an animal to its food, babies and their adults, animals with their homes and an interesting way to teach shapes - both geometric as well as animal silhouettes.

Users can play peek-a-boo with various animals while viewing different habitats such as those found in the ocean, Arctic, jungle, countryside or forest.

A sticker section is also included, allowing children to decorate different habitat landscapes with the animals found in these areas, sometimes including animal sounds or movements - nice touches that I wish were incorporated in all sticker choices.

A well-done spot-the-differences mini-game is included, allowing children to find the missing or different objects between two similar images. I like how this app keeps count of the five differences one is looking for as well as how one can tap either image to mark the differences found within - a helpful element to be sure.

Ten coloring pages are included as well. Here, one fills in the spaces of these cute animal drawings with the paint-bucket method of coloring and includes a good selection of color choices with the mailing of completed work made possible - also a nice choice.

A fun slider activity is included as children can tap their way through different animal heads, torsos and leg choices, creating both unique as well as complete animals. Animal sounds are also incorporated within.

Children will also enjoy the five animal puzzles found within this app. These puzzles include nine pieces each with a faint view of a reference picture showing one where the pieces belong as well as the use of a magnetic-like pull of the pieces guiding them into their correct spaces. This creates a satisfying experience as well as a nice level of hint without making these puzzles too easy.

Animal sounds are taught, nicely grouping creatures in their like habitats such as jungle, ocean, or forest.

I have also enjoyed the connect-the-dots section of this app as here one just needs to tap the number in sequence - easier for toddlers and young preschoolers who are still working on their fine motor skills.

Traditional “memory” games are also represented as one needs to turn tiles over in order to make pairs.

The look of these activities is uniformly wonderful, with bright stylized illustrations as well as the use of the circle found in the layouts throughout this app. As the menu pages, areas to color, puzzles spot-the differences sections and others are all found within circles for a vaguely vintage feel possibly reminiscent of decorative plates or needlepoint seen through an embroidery hoop, elements that I appreciate.

Children will also be smitten by the animals popping up or scurrying across the page that they may be working on as well as the lovely use of chime sounds when page selections are made as well as the random animal complete with included sounds found on the main menu page, and thoughtful use of ambient animal noises.

This is a really nice choice of application for young children as hours of game play are included. Being educational as well as charming and a lot of fun, parents will feel good about their kids spending time with this application.

I am impressed with the simple, sweet and stylized look this app has, making me interested in seeing what other apps the developers at toomanyscreens may come up with in the future.

Safari Party

Posted by Sarah Reidy on March 15th, 2012
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Safari Party, developed by PIXOWL, Inc., is a universal puzzle/arcade app featuring cartoon animals and people drawn by a well-known French cartoonist and blogger, Laurel. To clear each level, players must move the animal icons around the screen to make groups of four. Once groups of four are formed, players may tap the groups to make them break up and disappear (think Bejewled Blitz). A certain number of animal groups must be cleared in the time allotted to pass each level, getting more difficult as players progress. There are several modes of gameplay: Arcade, Speed, Expert, Zen, and Multiplayer (recently added).

Despite the cute, cartoonish animals and their colorful habitats, the gameplay of Safari Party is actually quite challenging. My son (age seven) had no problem clearing the first five or so levels, but it took multiple attempts for him to go any higher. Because each level is timed, this app is fast-paced and exciting but may be a little stressful for some, too. Players can keep track of how many animal groups they have collected by looking at the tally at the top right of the screen and can also watch the timer scroll as it is visible along the bottom of the screen. Animals start to shake when the time is close to running out, however, as long as new groups of four are still being formed, extra time will be added to the clock. It is also possible to earn special achievements and “cheats,” which will help players to clear each level. Players can also shake their devices to scramble the order of the animals on the screen, so that more matches can be located in time.

Safari Party is one of the few apps that not only attracted the attention of my two kids and myself, but also caught the interest of my husband, who finds the app to be quite addictive. As both of us are former fans of Bejewled Blitz on Facebook, it is no surprise that we also like Safari Party. My husband and I take turns playing, competing with one another to progress to a higher level. I also play the app in a cooperative way with my son, as we help each other identify and group the animals. He particularly likes the look of the animals and their habitats.

The only criticism that I have of Safari Party is that when each level is cleared, a cartoon of a woman shows up on the screen to congratulate players, and I find them to be somewhat stereotypical in appearance. These women are wearing outfits meant to go along with each animal habitat, ie: Jungle-wear, Mermaid-wear, etc, and while each of them is pretty and appealing, one is drawn with cleavage showing, which I feel could have been avoided, as this is a children’s game. All in all, Safari Party is a charming and challenging app for ages 6 and up.

Line Up Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on March 13th, 2012
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Line Up is a wonderful interactive educational app that teaches about patterns in ways children and their adults will be smitten by.

I really enjoy this app - a great application to be aware of because parents have their choice of apps dedicated to pattern awareness within iTunes. I have enjoyed a few of these apps with my son, but a favorite of mine is definitely Line Up, from the developers at Busythings, a company that should not be overlooked.

Here, players need to first focus their attention on the line of men at the bottom of what appears to be a cross between a fire station and some sort of assembly line, consisting of ultimately two platforms dedicated to changing the color and size of a cartoony man-like creature to be added to the end of the sequence. Options will include adding color to these characters that start out as basic white, ultimately giving size options as well.

To style this character with a specific color or size, first tap the correct paint canister, leading the man to a paint shower where he is painted. Medium and hard levels will include the need to transform the height or girth of this man as well. To do so, choose the appropriate squashing or stretching machine that will re-reshape the man to the desired size and shape.

There are so many whimsical details that make me smile, such as the use of the painting machine, where the man closes a shower curtain for modesty, raising one arm up and then another to bathe himself in the correct color, as well as the fireman’s pole that the character slides down to the next platform to be sized, traveling this way to find his place on line and in sequence.

I also appreciate the details included in the sizing machines, with devices included that will connect and stretch the man larger, squash him shorter, or include side panels that will squish from the sides, making this character slimmer as well. Fun, irreverent sound effects are heard when these size changes are being made.

When the line is complete, if correct, the men will dance together with music in ways most endearing, really compelling players to keep working with this app to see the next little dance that could be performed - almost as a piece of mini performance art.

It is also fun to watch what happens if a mistake is made, with the other men covering their eyes in disappointment, the character leaving the sequence with his head hanging in a way that is full of whimsy without making the player feel bad about mistakes made.

I love the language-neutral aspect of this app, as these characters mumble in ways players will find amusing without speaking in a specific language, making this app understandable for children of all backgrounds. There is also an impressive list of languages that are supported as well, presumably for this app's instructions.

This app does a great job of teaching patterns and sequencing in ways that will be quite unique for the players. There are many quirky animations and details, keeping kids' attention as they play one of three levels of difficulty individually or play through each level from the easiest situations of only changing the man’s color to the additional size element added, with more than one man to be added in the sequence and three size machines to navigate in the most difficult level.

I have quickly become a huge fan of Busythings apps in general as their library is quite diverse with an impressive visual style and high quality seen throughout. I encourage readers to look into these educational applications as they tend to be universal and very affordable. Busythings is a developer that I will be keeping a close eye on, and I look forward to reviewing more of these wonderful, creative applications.

Play & Match Kids Logic Game Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on March 9th, 2012
iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad

Play & Match Kids Logic Game is a fun and educational game for preschoolers and older kids that enables children to match corresponding images of familiar subjects in this inventive logic game.

Intuitive to use, this app opens up to four large boxes filling up the screen in quarters as well as four smaller boxes lining the bottom of the page. Tap correlating small and large images to make matches that cover topics such as animal habitats, related objects such as pen to note pad or remote to TV, sports equipment to their matching play surface, be it hockey rink, table tennis or boxing ring. Basics such as counting, colors, time and transportation are also covered, as well as other topics.

Thirty of these mini-games are included, and it is nice that one can scroll through, looking or trying out screens that one has not yet worked up to in sequence - nice for adults looking for a specific area of interest such as animals for their children. I appreciate the lack of any sort of timer or score-keeping as well, allowing kids to focus, concentrate and take their time with these thoughtfully designed logic games.

The look of this app is very nice, with a good use of bright colors and lovely illustrations that convey very well the concept one is trying to get across without any clutter or ambiguity.

Because of this, I find the lack of direction offered within this app actually refreshing, as most children of the target age of preschool and up could be handed this app and start making matches using their own brain power to figure out how to play as well as asking for help from an adult if needed.

I did find some mild biases, such as a grandmother figure being matched to sewing needles and yarn while the grandfather is matched to a newspaper. Because no wrong answer truly exists here, men and women could equally enjoy both hobbies, although adults will have a clue regarding what this app is looking for.

Another mini-game focuses on occupations where the only woman is a teacher in contrast to the men who have other more varied jobs such as astronaut, sailor or chef. Other times, children may not have the life experience to know all the objects or situations found, like boxing gloves and a boxing ring, but the process of illumination can also be used when needed, and adults can help fill in any holes children may have with their knowledge or understanding of the subject matter.

The simple style of this app is very appealing as is the lack of a lot of sounds made from within this quiet app. Here, matches will trigger only subtle twinkle sounds - first with the individual large and small box matches being transformed to a happy yellow star with a blue background. Ultimately this image will become a full-screen page between individual matching puzzles. If a mistake is made, an orange screen with a sad face appears momentarily. A noise is also triggered to let children know that their last match-up was a mistake, allowing children to make these mistakes, yet to keep playing until they get the answers right.

I highly recommend this app for preschoolers. This app would be a great quiet game, and I can see it being a useful application in home, school or special needs setting for older children with the help of an adult who may help by talking through the cognitive reasoning needed to make correct pairs.

KidsMag Issue 03 Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on February 15th, 2012
iPad App - Designed for iPad

KidsMag Issue 03 is the third app in a series of interactive, educational apps for iPad, reminiscent of the children’s magazine Highlights.

KidsMag Issue 03 has a lot to offer toddlers, preschoolers and older kids as well. Consisting of 32 pages and over 50 activities, this app provides a nice amount of content that will keep children occupied for a long time.

My four year old son really enjoys this app, as such topics like pirates, the sea and trains are included - subjects that he has much interest in.

Structured like a magazine, one can tap on a cover story that is of interest as well as digitally flip through these pages. An interactive table of contents also allows one to view all the sections at once and then select a page with the tap of a finger.

Nice narration is included, allowing non-readers to enjoy the puzzles, stories, matching sections, pattern completing as well as other activities.

Do note the question mark also found top left of the screen available to explain how to interact with these areas.

I appreciate how many of these games include multiple pages one can gain access to with the shake of the iPad, greatly increasing the content beyond that found in a printed magazine which does not contain extensions of the same activity - be it a hidden object puzzle or sticker scene with a collection of different backgrounds to choose from.

Fans of the other apps in the series will be happy to see that the characters of Teo and Bianca are back. Here they visit the beach with their family. Parents will enjoy how this story is first told within a series of illustrations akin to a simple storyboard with no text or words, allowing children to use their imagination to tell their own story based on what they see. Children can also tap on an image to hear and see this story with included text and narration. Interactive elements such as helping Teo and Bianca pack their bags or tapping areas of a page dedicated to sea life are also included.

Letters and their sounds are also taught, as children are presented with objects found in the sea and are asked to find the item that corresponds to a letter in question - a section my son really enjoyed.

The topic of trains is nicely explored. Children will find a lot to tap on as they learn all about what one would expect to find at a train station and the differences between modern and old-fashioned trains. A highly interactive train dashboard is included, allowing children to tap, press or turn buttons, switches, levers and dials as they look out onto train tracks from the point-of-view of the conductor.

Numbers and shapes are also re-enforced with fun activities, and it is nice to see basic Spanish words introduced, both as nouns found in places like a farm, but also tackling adjectives in a matching game that teaches not only Spanish words, but opposites as well. This app also includes a glossary of Spanish words used in this issue of this magazine.

It is also a nice touch that links to sites about subjects like trains or pirates are also available in case kids want to learn more about these topics. Do shake the iPad to see a full list.

Kids Mag apps contain an abundance of interesting information that can really engage children for quite some time. My son loves these apps, and it is nice to see the same high quality from the first app to the third. I hope KidsMag apps continue to be developed in the future as they are wonderful choices for one’s iPad library.

Frankenstein Matchmaker - Monsters Need Love Too Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on February 13th, 2012
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Frankenstein Matchmaker - Monsters Need Love Too is a fun and educational universal arcade-style game involving Frankenstein monsters and their brides as one is in charge of playing Cupid, shooting Frankenstein monsters with word-loaded arrows to create monster couples.

Game play is simple as the bottom of the screen includes a row of monster brides with specific word choices. Center screen are monsters walking around labeled with other words that need to be matched up with the words below. To do so, tap on a matching word at the bottom and then swivel the included crossbow, aiming these words at the corresponding monster. Work fast as these monsters will begin to fill up the page, and when they make their way down the screen to the bottom of the page, the game is over.

I have really enjoyed this application, praise to be sure as I usually shy away from both arcade and word games because I am not good at either, but I have enjoyed my time spent with the application.

I did, however, find the aim with the crossbow a little difficult at first as this weapon seems very sensitive, and the aim can easily be off as one moves a finger not only to line up the target but to fire the weapon, with player's finger movement accidentally changing the aim for the worse. After some practice, however, I got the hang of this game, and it is a lot of fun. Subtle sound effects are included when loading, firing, and hitting these monsters, creating a very satisfying experience.

Being very educational, four different modes are included that teach Anagrams, Rhymes, Synonyms and Antonyms. The Easy section focuses on Rhymes and Anagrams only, while the medium and difficult levels ultimately cover all four topics. An “Insane” level is included with an increase of speed with which these monsters move.

This would be a wonderful game for grade school children and above, including teens studying for their SAT’s as the Synonyms and Antonyms can be surprisingly complex, and I appreciate how, except for the “insane” level, just enough time is given to pause and contemplate one’s answer for a brief moment while still giving a player the chance to respond.

The look of this app is super-cute as well, and I really enjoy the concept of the Frankenstein monsters being always angry because they don’t have mates. The green ghouls are more cute than scary but still include some creepy monster-like details that made me smile, and there is a fun intro scene involving Cupid shooting a Frankenstein monster to match him with a lady monster that I enjoy, and it is nice that the background of this game changes scene to scene, oftentimes with a darkened field or farm-like area, as well as other landscapes.

Now that Valentine's Day is coming up, this may be a good app to download for children, even teens, who may benefit from this nicely conceived word game. The arcade aspect of this app will engage students who may otherwise find this subject matter tedious, making this a great teaching tool.

Alien Buddies Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on February 1st, 2012
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Alien Buddies is a universal educational app that my son has been really enjoying.

Three activities are included - a very educational matching game that teaches basic colors, shapes, letters and numbers, a well-done dot-to-dot game as well as sticker pages to explore.

My son has really taken to the connect-the-dots activity - something he has been exposed to before, but until now had no interest in. Here, eight silhouettes are offered. Tap to choose the image one is looking to complete. Really nice jazzy music (which parents will be happy to listen to as well) is included as children connect these dots. The night’s sky is the backdrop, complete with floating stars seen in the distance as these images are being transformed from numbers to a complete image once sequenced, reminding me of constellations.

It is especially nice that one can either tap each number in sequence individually or drag a finger around number to number or complete with one continuous movement with a finger, depending on the fine motor skills the player possesses - something my son could use some practice in. As of now, he is only tapping each number, but I hope soon he will be able to drag his fingers to each number as well - a more challenging way to complete these puzzles. If needed, players can also have a hint mode turned on, highlighting the numbers in sequence to make this section easier for young players.

The Matching game is very nice as players drag aliens, labeled with a specific letter, number or the like to the matching pod waiting to carry them to safety. The styling of this section is super-cute as are these colorful aliens who subtly tap their foot or look around nervously waiting for their turn to be saved as they step to the right of the screen.

Part of me wishes that there were some hazard one is trying to save these aliens from, but instead of negative consequences, children are encouraged to do their best by being rewarded with a new sticker unlocked in the sticker section of this app, adding to the base number of stickers one starts out with that can be used to decorate various landscapes.

I especially like how a just-listening mode is included, where no visual clues for corresponding matches are seen, making players rely on their listening skills, also great for children learning English as a second language or for use with special needs children who may need to focus on the understanding of spoken language. It is also nice that the dot-to-dot and sticker sections require no reading, allowing non-English speaking children to enjoy these sections as well.

The first thing I noticed about this app is how bright and colorful all the images found within are. This is especially true within the landscapes of the sticker section, as each of these eight sticker pages contains very different looking fantasy locations with vivid pinks and oranges, greens and turquoise - many colors really that create backdrops which could be at home in Dr. Seuss stories. Forty stickers can ultimately be utilized, with six stickers included to begin with, allowing players to be able to unlock the others as they succeed at the matching and dot-to-dot activities.

It is endearing how each of these aliens or monsters is cuddly and not at all scary. Parents who have spent some time in the iTunes store will understand the popularity of apps that teach these basics, and because a lot of time will be spent with apps like this, it is important for these apps to be fun and engaging, not only for the child, but for the parent as well.

Recently, a puzzle section has been added to this application, adding even more value to this fun, educational app. Here, eight colorful alien choices are offered. Choose with a tap and the drag pieces where they belong, with subtle jigsaw outlines seen as hints. Fun narration explains this intuitive gameplay, as well as a witty comment that kids will enjoy, such as "Where are my legs?" Players can choose to have these images broken up into 4, 6, or 8 pieces.

I appreciate that these puzzles have a nice level of "grab" to them, as they pull themselves into the correct spaces if the piece becomes close enough, as if by magnetism, "clicking" these pieces into place, along with the use of sound effects create for a satisfying experience. A subtle amount of rotation within these pieces is included that adds to the visual effect but does not effect the placement of these parts within the puzzle, and it is nice that kids can collect stickers for completed puzzles as well.

The bright and lively style of Alien Buddies unique matching game play, well-crafted dot to dot and sticker sections, cool puzzles and nice music will keep children entertained for a long time as well.

The Opposites Review

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

The Opposites is a wonderfully educational universal app that I greatly enjoy and recommend to others.

I really enjoy this word game. Here, players tap word balloons, finding corresponding opposites as these balloons quickly fill up the page. If the board is not cleared before the page fills up with words, the game is over.

I must admit that by re-reading my own explanation of this game, this app does not sound all that interesting or unique. I do agree that other developers could have gone down a road making this app less dynamic that this application really is, but what really makes this app wonderful for me is the visual style and interesting back story that is offered here - much of which is open for interpretation.

This application is centered around two contrary children, presumably brother and sister. I love the choices made here, as the backdrop of this wordplay game is a wall behind these verbally sparring children that is filled with family photos, often including moments of their sibling rivalry. I think it is very clever how these siblings, although opposite sexes, look very much alike, not being as opposite as they may wish, and the styling of these siblings with green eyes and red hair simply makes me smile.

I am also happy to report that the ambient music found within this app is very easy and desirable to listen to over long period of time, a interesting and unique choice that I enjoy.

Other details include an overhead light that sways side to side with the movement of the device. The word bubbles are also affected by gravity and the movement of the device as well, something that players may use to their advantage, as the layering of these bubbles tightly allows more words to fit on a page before the game is over.

It is great to hear these words narrated by both these male and female characters, allowing players to hear the pronunciation of these words.

The word pairs themselves increase in difficulty from the simplest combinations, such as Stop and Go, or Left and Right, and increase in difficulty through the ten levels, ultimately including words more obscure and scholarly, such as words rooted in biology, medicine, economics or politics and even popular culture, such as a “Guys and Dolls” reference.

Players will learn to decipher the prefixes of words, including “ex” vs. “in,” “in” and “out,” as well as the inclusion of the prefixes “im”, “in,” and “un” to be the opposite of the corresponding word beginning used. I enjoy how these words may have different meanings and multiple possible opposites, with the context falling into place when the second word is revealed.

Although listed as an app for seven and up, I would not hesitate to buy this app for older children or even an adult who enjoys word games. It has been twenty years or so since I took my SATs, and to this day I still make metal notes of sources of material that may make studying for this test easier, and I think this is a great application for those studying for this most important exam.

Personally, I would start the use of the app younger, allowing these sometimes advanced words to be part of a student's common knowledge instead of words one tries to cram in so that one can do well on a specific test.

I really appreciate how this app includes a dictionary that includes each of the words used, broken down by level and comprised of an easy-to-scan list of opposites, also allowing one to tap on a word to read more about its definition.

Players can decide if they want to study the words for each level found in the included dictionary or have a go at the game, learning what works and what does not along the way.

Although apparent for many words used, it would be nice if the part of speech, be it noun, verb or adjective, was also included, and I would love to see this dictionary be narrated as well, possibly in a future update.

It would also be nice for a link to the dictionary to be available when one is choosing a level, as this is not provided as one rises through these levels, and it takes a couple of clicks to find this important, well-written resource.

It is impressive that the list of possible words for every level is a lot longer than the amount of words covered in each level before one moves on, allowing for a new experience when replaying this game or individual levels.

I think this would be an excellent app for educators to use within the classroom, as well as for home use. I know I would have enjoyed this game as a child or teen, as well as the adult I am today, and I appreciate how this word game is focused on one’s vocabulary and reasoning skill without focusing on spelling in any form - something I have always been lousy at.

Some level of strategy is also incorporated here as a word bubble may be highlighted yellow, letting players know that pairing this word will allow for a fruit break for these siblings, pausing their delivery of words - in effect also pausing the flow of words into this page to match or lose the game. Keeping this in mind, I do like to save this special grouping for when the board is getting full and I could use a little time to think.

I have had moments with bad luck where many words without pairs fill up the screen, making the level easy to lose, but for the most part I find this game to have a nice level of difficulty in terms of the amount of time given, both in the levels as well as in the bonus rounds

Typically, I do not comment on the reviews apps have received in iTunes, but I must say that I am surprised with the low score this app has received. It is worth noting that I have not had any issues with this app crashing, and I have completed every level. I do agree that this app takes some time to load - something that I hope can be looked at in the future, but this is not a big issue for me as this app is well-worth waiting for.

My son is too young to appreciate this app now, but I look forward to when he is old enough to enjoy this word game. I have routinely been impressed with the apps the developers at Mindshapes have come up with. A prolific bunch, their apps are each unique to themselves, but with the same overall very high quality. I look forward to more of their apps in the future.

Bugs and Buttons Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on January 18th, 2012
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Bugs and Buttons is a fun and quirky universal app composed of a large selection of games to explore, each bright, colorful and educational.

I am impressed with how much content is available within this application, as English and French speakers have a total of 18 games to choose from, with a variety of other languages available as well.

I am happy to report that although one may consider these activities “mini-games,” the quality of each is very high, with bright and bold color choices and include some very realistic looking bugs as well as some interesting, pretty buttons.

With so many games included, it is hard to touch upon each one, but topics such as letter sequencing, color sorting and pattern recognition are included, as well as traditional activities such as connect-the-dots, mazes, a matching game and a variation on three-card-monty.

Fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination are also explored within these games, including everything from archery to apple picking, as well as bouncing buttons falling form a truck or bug catching - both with a tap as well as the more difficult pinch - great for increasing children’s dexterity.

A few arcade-style games are included such as roach racing or a game where one tilts the device to steer butterflies to fly over hurdles.

The bugs included here are extremely realistic and may be off-putting for those truly afraid of creatures such as tarantulas or roaches, but I think all but the most sensitive of children will enjoy these games very much. The music included is also great and very different between games, including classical, jazzy music and even banjo playing.

I appreciate how most of these games do not include any sort of timer, and friendly narration is encouraging, also letting players know when mistakes are made so they can be corrected.

I did not like, however, the narration in the pinch-and-grab game, presumably that of the bug in question being picked up as the voice sounds like a Bevis or Butthead-kind of narrator, greatly taking me out of the relaxing mood the gentle music had put me in.

It is nice that each game has its own unique look, many times quite beautiful with natural surroundings, with a few noted exceptions that include dirty, distressed tiles found in factory or other industrial settings where one races roaches or sorts buttons - mini-games that not be favorites of some families as these unclean surroundings make the bugs found become vermin - not insects found in nature.

Stamps can be collected for a job well done, but it is also nice to be able to turn off the showing of scores and achievements if one chooses to, and I like that one can include visual instructions as well - good for young players when they enjoy these games by themselves.

I have a few favorite games of my own, especially collecting the colored fireflies, sorting by color, as the music included with this nighttime scene is relaxing with a little suspense thrown in in terms of the tone created by the included music.

Families will find Bugs and Buttons educational and engaging and simply a lot of fun, with a great amount of variety, making this app certainly worth checking out. I could imagine families appreciating if multiple players could collect stamps and high score information separately, just a thought for a future update.

Thomas & Friends: Day of the Diesels Review

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

Thomas & Friends: Day of the Diesels is a universal interactive storybook app, also including a video and extras that will be of interest to fans of Thomas and Friends, from the developers at Callaway Digital Arts.

For those who do not know, Callaway Digital Arts has developed high quality apps based on some of children’s favorite series, specifically Miss Spider’s Tea Party, Angelina Ballerina and Thomas and Friends.

Here, Thomas & Friends: Day of the Diesel is a story dealing with the interpersonal relationships between the trains living on the island of Sodor. Here, a new train has come into town who seems to be getting all of Thomas’s attention, much to the disappointment of another train, Percy, who is then manipulated by the foils of this story, the diesels, and is lured to dieselworks, home of these not-so-nice trains with the promise of friendship, but in reality this is part of the diesel trains' plan to take over Sodor’s Steamworks.

This story also includes some nice moments of adventure and fire-fighting as well. While in narrater mode, the words are also hightailed when read, always a nice touch for young readers.

Told both in storybook form with included mild but effective hotspots as well as CGI video, this nicely done app also includes a song which has the words being sung highlighted at the bottom of the screen, karaoke-style. Coloring book pages, a matching game and puzzles are also included.

To be honest, I prefer my anthropomorphic characters to be animals, not inanimate objects like cars or trains, a personal preference of mine and the reason that we have never really gotten into Thomas and Friends or the like at our house, although occasionally my son has gotten a few Thomas-themed toys as gifts and has seen the show a few times as well.

Because of this, I did find the plot of this story somewhat confusing, presumably because I am a true outsider when it comes to all things Thomas and I know nothing of the various characters found throughout.

Based on a full length DVD of the same name, a lot of plot points are incorporated into this storybook, making the narrative a little cumbersome for me, but I am sure this would be less of an issue for fans of this series who are familiar with these characters and the style of Thomas stories in general.

I did like the issues touched upon here, such as knowing who your true friends are, and the feelings of rejection when new, popular kids come to town, allowing for some nice open-ended conversations for adults to have with their children.

This app will make a great companion piece to any family who has watched this DVD or who are fans of the show. The quality of this app, the narration and the sound effects included with this storybook are very well done, and I enjoy being able to enlarge the text with a tap for an easier read, especially when the narration is turned off. I also appreciate the included menu of pages and the ease of use of the settings as well.

Some nice extras are also included here, and I do enjoy how the completion of the included puzzles brings player to a short clip from the video where this puzzle image presumably was pulled from.

It is also nice that the matching game allows one to choose an easier or more difficult level that contains more cards that one has to turn over and match together, each including a character from the book and have a sound bite of their very own. These moments include a few words found within this story, making this a more engaging experience than other games like it without specific sound effects.

The coloring book consists of six pages to color, but I would like to see more brush size choices, as here only a larger paintbrush and a smaller pen are offered, and I still think children will find it difficult to color within the lines of some of these more detailed areas of some of the included trains. It would be nice if one could enlarge these images to color in the fine details if one wanted to - just an idea for a future update.

I find it interesting that this CGI video, although recapping the same story as the storybook, possesses a very different look, more of a music video of sorts, than the included storybook, this app offering two unique experiences fans of Thomas will enjoy.

I do recommend this app for any family with a Thomas and Friends enthusiast, especially those who are a fan of the DVD. I know my son asks to watch DVDs before bed when there is little time, so it is nice that parents in this same predicament with their own children can read this storybook or watch the included video before bed instead.

This specific Thomas app I do feel is best suited for those already fond of and knowledgeable about Thomas and Friends. Children new to this franchise may find themselves subsequently feeling a little lost, as did I, but I can imagine fans of Thomas really enjoying this application, and for those families, I recommend this app.

Look Again Jr. Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on January 11th, 2012
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Look Again Jr. is a fun and educational universal puzzle app that children aged preschool and up will find very appealing, as will adults. This game is based on the more difficult puzzle app by the same developer, Look Again.

To play Look Again Jr. focus on the center of this screen to see the main image. Now give attention to the 12 boxes that surround the perimeter of this center image. Choose the boxes in the perimeter that correspond to the main image, understanding that specific number of matches is expected to be made, tap the center image when complete.

The comparison could be produced based, as an image of fruits and vegetables may need to be deconstructed to find the individual foods that make up this image, found in the surrounding boxes one chooses from. Building blocks may be the topic of the main image, allowing players to choose the block shapes that make up this included structure - the same idea behind the use of puzzles, both abstract as well as literal, as these puzzles are broken down, with the players needing to choose the appropriate pieces.

With 120 levels included, these puzzles touch a lot of basic information that kids are expected to learn, be it counting, color recognition or farm animals. I appreciate how players will quickly understand what is being asked of them even on harder levels without help from an adult.

It is especially nice that child narrators give prompts as well, explaining how to play each level, including how many matches need to be made. There are no written instructions given that could trip up non-readers, although the number of selections to make are listed as a number for the players' reference. Encouragement is given, and players are asked to simply try again if a mistake has been made, and I like how one can simply de-select an image with a tap as well to make changes when needed.

I really think this is a great game for kids. It helps re-enforce basic knowledge and skills, but also with focus and concentration, needed to see what one is looking to match up. These levels can may get tricky for young children, but not in a way that is frustrating as there is no timer of any kind here. It would be nice, however, to be able to tap a help button to have the right answers highlighted if a child truly feels stuck.

I do wish this game would save the level one is currently working on - a criticism of the adult version of this app, Look Again, but I am happy to say that here, one can scroll through all the levels offered looking for their place, assuming they remember what puzzle they were previously working, on without any issues of levels being locked.

I must admit, the visual style here is pleasant and gets the job done in this most fun and creative puzzle app, but graphics used here will not be the main draw for this application.

Having said this, I can tell readers that I really enjoyed playing level after level of this puzzle game. This will hold the attention of a wide range of children’s ages, including adults and the inclusion of 120 levels really packs a great deal of content within this app. I highly recommend this application to families with children as it re-enforces the basics and in general will really get kids thinking.

Santa’s World Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on December 23rd, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Santa’s World is a fun Christmas app for iPad with some nice sections which kids will enjoy.

Children will have fun dressing Santa with choices that include hat, mustache color, jacket style and color as well as shoes. To change clothing, tap the clothing selection that one would like to choose and then tap the selection offered at the bottom of the screen, making clothing changes easy for kids to do themselves as Santa is styled center screen.

A fun puzzle section is included where kids take pre-fab parts of toys and arrange them into a puzzle outline, be it a house, rocket ship or guitar, each including some fun animated moments to reward players for a job well done. These puzzles have a lot of "grab" to them, as these pieces are dawn to the correct area of these puzzles, nicely aiding in young children who made need some help.

In this app's matching section, children are asked to match the ornaments on a Christmas tree to a given color, as one taps the colored ball decorations until their colors correspond to the color in question.

The Workshop section teaches the basics like numbers or colors in a way kids will enjoy, as toys labeled with numbers, colors or items such as musical instruments are offered on a toy shelf, as the player is asked to pack a specific item in the bag. I really enjoy that because here, as in the rest of this app, spoken prompts are offered as well as visual cues - a nice touch.

Basic letter recognition is also taught as letter balloons sail through the sky, with items or animals being carried along as well. Tap each letter to hear the name of the object being transported with the balloon, such as “duck” for the letter “d” or a block of cheese for the letter “c." This is a cute section, but I would like to hear the name of the letter as well when tapped - not just the object in question.

Young children will enjoy what this app has to offer, possibly even after Christmas has come and gone. Fun and upbeat seasonal music is included kids will also have fun with, but it would be nice in a future update, one could also mute the music if they wish.

Advent Tree 2011 Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on December 22nd, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Advent Tree 2011 is a very nice universal children’s app which includes 24 mini-games to be played as one taps the numbers found on the Christmas tree from 1 to 24.

Although a calendar mode exists allowing players a new game starting December 1st, it makes most sense at this late date not to use this function but to allow the included games to be played all at once. This being the case, gameplay is intuitive as this app opens up to a nicely decorated tree which includes numbers from 1-24, each moving to get the player's attention, with a tap bringing players to each new game.

The included mini-games are each short, but the inclusion of 24 activities in total gives this app a lot of nice content. This app would be great for toddlers who need quick and simple activities.

Mini-games include puzzles, connect-the-dots activities, find the difference games, adding the face to a snowman or a simple game of “memory." I can definitely see toddlers and early preschoolers really enjoying this app with a parent, and I like that these games are explained with the tap of a question mark, with the explanation including text as well as a visual clue, aiding children who are not yet reading.

I appreciate that this app saves the progress one makes tapping from 1-24, but it would be especially nice to choose favorite game levels as well.

Although a Christmas app, I can imagine young children enjoying this application long after tho holiday season, as these games are numerous and very short to complete, making them perfect for a toddler’s first experience with these types of activities.