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TableTots™ Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on December 6th, 2011
iPad App - Designed for iPad

TableTots is a very interesting app for adults designed to create endless activities for children to work on that teach a wide array of basics.

Twelve table-top surfaces are offered, each creating a template which makes it easy to create activities around the included things, shapes, letters, colors and numbers provided. Some “quick sets” have already been created, simplifying the adding of elements to the table that one may be looking to include, and some scenes are also set up and ready to go - a nice inclusion for adults new to this application.

To use this application, it is recommended that the table tab first be opened in order to see the template selection and go from there, but I find it easier to explore the options provided, letting the selection items and concepts that one can teach spark my creativity. From there, after I have some idea of the game or exercise I would like to create, I look at the possible table choices in order to decide what template best represents the game activity I am trying to design.

It is nice that for each of these basic sections, quick sets and scenes of pre-fabricated templates and included items are included, aiding in the set up of activities, which also give adults ideas on how to use this interesting teaching tool. This app really becomes creative when the adult begins to mix and match these items together, such as numbers along with coins, base number blocks, or multiple objects.

I like how in this app’s settings, one can choose both letter names as well as phonic sounds, and it is nice that one can change the color of these table tops as well, and a curtain can be added to these tables that can be pulled back and forth - a nice inclusion to create fun memory-style games where children are given a few seconds to look over the screen before the curtain is pulled back, and they are then quizzed about what they can remember.

The look of this app is bright with bold color choices used throughout the letters and numbers, and it is nice that adults have some pleasant moments of color sections to personalize the look of this app. I especially enjoy the look of the coins, as the front and back of each is thoughtfully offered.

Objects is an interesting section that includes 26 familiar items that correspond to the letters of the alphabet, a number section that includes base counting with the use of counting red blocks grouped into 1, 10, 100, and 1000 counts to use within a money-counting exercise, as well as dominos to teach basic counting, using these dominos as visual cues.

Scenes included here are a money-counting exercise where the player drags a coin to the other side of the table as the type of each coin is narrated. Base 10 Counting allows kids to drag different sized blocks of different amounts of one hundred, ten, or one to help visualize these quantities as the amount of blocks is spoken. The Domino Math exercise allows children to fill in the blanks of an addition question with the use of the included dominos, and Things Matchup allows children to match each item with its corresponding letter as well as hearing each object’s name nicely narrated when tapped.

In Shapes, geometric shapes are taught, and I am happy to say that some less common shapes are included, such as quatrefoil, crescent and curvilinear triangle. These shapes can be offered as a series of single colors, or a variety of colors can also be used at once. A shape-sorting puzzle of sorts is included as well as an exercise involving the placement of colors correctly on the color wheel - my favorite mode in the shapes sections.

In the letters section, each letter is represented with both upper and lower choices, including a quick set of these letters, be it just vowels or every letter, with an adult choosing to focus on upper or lower cases. Other scenes also include practicing to spell three and four-letter words as well as matching upper and lower case letters together.

The math section allows adults to add numbers 1-100 to anywhere on the page, as well as other math and related symbols such as “+,” “$,” or “<." Quick sets offered here include counting by 1, then 2’s, 5’s, or 10’s and also include a basic math scene where one drags numbers and functions into a math problem as well as counting from one to twenty as one arranges these numbers in order with a checkerboard-styled template.

The possibilities are endless here, and I am sure this would be a go-to app for many parents, teachers, and therapists who work with kids and need to create personalized activities for children, all neatly found within this app.

My son loves Spinlight Studio’s other apps including AlphaTots and TallyTots and made a beeline for this app, recognizing their iconic airplane logo on our iPad but did not know what to make of this app. Neither did my husband at first glance. This is in no way a flaw with this wonderfully educational application, but it may be worth noting that to get full use from this application, adults will need to spend some time alone exploring what this app has to offer before sharing with the children in their lives.

If one it looking to simply download an app to share immediately with an impatient child by his side, AlphaTots or TallyTots may be better choices for this moment.

I am impressed by what a creative adult mind could come up with to entertain and teach children both with special needs as well as those typically developed. I like how narration is included saying the name, number, or letter of the item being tapped, and it is great how a “quick reward” button can be included because a tap here will send an airplane and flag image across the screen, reminiscent of their other educational apps.

I do, However, find it difficult to re-create the whimsy of the other apps in this series. I like how there is a satisfying click sound when a domino is moved, but I miss the “click" and "grab” sounds and reactions found among our favorite puzzle apps, something not included with the shape-sorting game as here, these pieces are not easy to line up into the included template as simple finger movements push the objects around just enough that accuracy within these puzzles becomes an issue.

This app will prove to be an invaluable teaching resource to both parents, teachers and other adults. I can see this app becoming popular among home-schooling families in particular and a huge hit with kids, especially those without tremendous experience with other applications. I do think that kids exposed to highly interactive and thematic apps may be less impressed by the game play found among the activities created here by their adults compared to other favorite apps, but what can be produced here will ultimately be more engaging that the worksheets this app could replace. This app did take some time to get into. Nevertheless, a tremendous educational potential is included here. Do take the time to explore this app and see what is being offered. Those who do so will not be disappointed.

Eddy’s Number Party! HD Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on November 22nd, 2011
iPad App - Designed for iPad

Eddy’s Number Party! HD is a fun and engaging iPad application which teaches beginning math concepts such as counting and number matching as well as sharpening children’s memory and listening skills.

Help celebrate Eddy the Dog’s birthday by inviting his friends and supplying the party with presents, balloons and other decorations as each section of this app completed brings young players one step closer to throwing a wonderful party for their friends.

My son really enjoys this app. He was instantly engaged the moment he began playing this game as he loves the idea of helping put on a dogcentric birthday party. The basic look of this app is wonderful, bight and colorful. The quality of the animation used here is quite high and work seamlessly with the included interactions.

A variety of math activities are included, such as in level one where players count balloons, matching this number to the dog wearing the correct number on its collar. Level two has players match the number found on a collar to the number on a present to take to the party. Correctly select, pull down and let go as the package sits on a catapult of sorts and will be hurled over the fence to a dog waiting to catch this gift to bring to the party. This is my son's favorite area of this app as he really enjoys watching the spring being pulled back as he prepares to send this present over the fence, having compared this section to the gameplay in the app Angry Birds. To an adult, this correlation may be slim, but I appreciate where my son is coming from in his comparison.

Level 3 consists of players matching bugs or caterpillars both with corresponding number as well as the same amount of dots. Later, this game is played "memory” style as the number values are face down, and one must remember where the corresponding number and leaves with the same amount of dots can be found in the interest of making matches. Be it helping the bugs bring flowers to the party, or finding hidden presents under the leaves in the “memory" style game, it is nice that these sections have children playing against a snail who could win these rounds if the answers are incorrect too many times, but if this happens, children will simply be given the chance to re-play these games later.

Throughout these levels, shorter mini-games are used to break up these activities, such as “Hat Swap,” a variety of three card monty, as one looks for the ladybug hiding under a party hat as the hats move about the screen, as well as “Bark counting,” where a dog who has lost her collar tells players what number she is missing by listening to and counting her barks. I like how here, when the correct collar is chosen, this friendly dog thanks the player by coming close to the screen of the iPad and presumably the player as well, a nice touch. “Finger Counting” is also included where one must match the correct number to the number of fingers the dog is holding up to get back this dog’s collar as well. Stickers are also used through this game to keep kids motivated.

Adults will appreciate the lengthy section just for them that goes over the different levels of this app, and reports on how well the player is progressing through these sections and how to reinforce what is being learned in everyday life. Information on cognitive development and neuroscience research is also included as it pertains to this app in this thoughtfully written section.

There is a lot I really like about this app, but both my husband and I think it takes forever to progress throughout these levels, although my son does not complain about this. These activities, although cute, charming and fun, become monotonous for us adults as the same tasks are focused on over and over again well beyond the point of simply trying to keep kids' attention. I encourage the developers to let parents decide how many rounds of the same game need to be finished before moving on. It is great that one can pick up from where this app was previously left off, but it would be wonderful to have the information of multiple players saved so this app could be enjoyed by different children in different stages of this application, and I think some kids may want the option off choosing specific games as well.

Even without these changes made, my son loves playing with Eddy’s Number Party. The level of difficulty is perfect for my first year pre-schooler who is already expressing an aptitude in math, and we love the friendly narration which nicely explains and will later prompt children if help is needed how to play these levels, making this app very intuitive for young players without needing help from adults. I think kids will really enjoy this app. Parents will feel good about the obvious educational content provided, but it would be nice to be able to possibly choose what sections to explore and how long these levels last before moving on to other actives.

Casper Scare School - Costume Closet Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on October 28th, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Casper Scare School - Costume Closet is a cute and fun universal memory app based on the characters from Casper’s Scare School computer-animated film and TV series and is a very nice choice of app for the Halloween season.

There are many game apps in the iTunes store dedicated to enhancing children’s short term memory. Typically these apps are styled after the game known as “Memory” or “Concentration” and involve the turning over of cards in order to make pairs, remembering where corresponding matches have been seen as cards are turned over. Although this style of game is fun and has merit, it is nice to see an alternative that has a memory focus as well.

Here, players are asked to choose a card which is revealed to contain a specific costume found on the other side. Kids are asked to remember the specific elements of this costume and then are asked to choose these elements from corresponding possible multiple choices. This game is easy at first but nicely gets more difficult as this game progresses and the details become more specific as well as increasing the selection of costume answers to choose from.

A dress-up section is also available where kids can dress up Casper and two other friends, Ra the mummy, and Martha the zombie girl into the various costumes found within the quiz, unlocking each costume after one has played the corresponding round of costume memory, allowing more and more costume elements to choose from as these memory quizzes progress. It is also nice that while dressing up these characters, one can also background image and color schemes as well as save the creations to share later.

I really enjoy this app. It is nice that 15 costumes are included, giving this application good variety, and that although some spooky characters are included like a werewolf or vampire, these images are never too intense or scary, except for possibly those most sensitive and that many non-creepy characters exist as well.

The look of this app is bright and colorful in general, and there are some nice elements that engage, keeping these games suspenseful and players motivated without being too intense a memory game. I enjoy a cartoony purple swirl used to draw the player into these quizzes in a fun, hypnotic way, reminiscent of an image used during one season's opening credits of the Twilight Zone, as well as Casper counting up from one to ten, prompting the player to focus his attention on these costume details. Although a certain amount of time is given to answer these questions, it is nice that if time runs out or three wrong answers are chosen, the player is simply given a second chance to study the costume in question, making the level of difficulty appropriate for those preschool age and up.

Because 15 costumes are included here, it is understandable that one may not be able to finish all of these mini-games in one sitting, so it is nice that the costume puzzles that have already been solved here have been turned over to reveal the character in question, marking them as having been solved and keeping their costume parts unlocked in the dress-up section. I do find it odd, however, that after these cards have been flipped face up, this game cannot be reset, even when all these costume mini-games have been completed.

One can still choose a favorite character to replay the corresponding quiz, but it is far more appealing to choose from a selection of cards face down and be surprised by which character one is choosing, especially if this app is being shared among multiple children. For this reason, it would be nice if the option were available to save multiple children’s information individually, as well as the option to re-set these cards.

Having said this, Casper Scare School - Costume Closet is a very nice choice for a Halloween app as well as a good choice for those looking for a memory app that will provide adults and children a unique experience.

I am impressed how much this app compels the player to focus and remember details, and even then I got a few answers wrong myself as sometimes I try to multitask and lose focus. This app has reminded me to try to slow down, and I think that there are nice benefits that kids will gain from playing with this app as well.

Food Heroes Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on September 21st, 2011
iPad App - Designed for iPad

Food Heroes is an application for iPad consisting of activities focused on teaching nutritious food choices with the nice use of colorful and fun illustrations.

A simple matching game is included where the player turns over cards looking for pairs - here with a healthy food theme.

A coloring page is also offered where children can fill in these drawings as well as food themes, with the tap of a color and the drag of a finger. An eraser is offered here. Players also have the ability to control the size of the line used when filling in these pages, and one can save his work as well - always nice options to have.

For me, the best section of this app is the included word puzzle. A list of eight words is included to the right of the screen, and the player must find these words within the grid of letters center screen. This is such a classic kids activity that I am surprised that I do not come across more of these types of word games in applications. The best feature of all is that as one finds these hidden words, very nice children’s narration offers fun facts about each food word discovered, making this nicely educational.

This app is a nice choice for early grade schoolers once they are able to manage the word puzzles. I really enjoy the fun facts used here, as the information offered here is interesting to adults and children alike, and it is great that different words are used each time this word puzzle is played - excellent for re-play value - but I have found a few glitches where words do not offer the fun sentence I have learned to expect here, something I hope that can be worked out in a future update.

Parents will also appreciate the fact that each activity includes music with its own fun and upbeat sound, be it a mild country theme, jazzy, or with a slight Hawaiian flair.

All-in-all, a nice experience, with the word puzzles and info offered, making this app a nice educational experience.

Martin The Penguin Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on September 20th, 2011
iPad App - Designed for iPad

Martin The Penguin is a cute and fun interactive book for iPad which teaches about different animal habitats as Martin the penguin visits creatures in varied climates asking them questions about how they live. Three languages, English, Catalan and Spanish are included and one can also silence the narration, reading this book to oneself as well. A version for iPhone is also available.

This is a simple, yet well-illustrated storybook which also has some nice interactive sounds and hotspots that will appeal to the youngest app viewers. Babies and toddlers as well as those in preschool, will enjoy tapping the text paragraphs to hear the story as well as to learn some nice introductory information about animals and the homes in which they live as Martin asks them questions about their various lives in the wild. I like the interesting style of illustrations and color choices used thought this app, creating a nice look I enjoy and it is always nice to see hints given to help kids find the hotspots, here highlighted with a subtle bullseye.

Three activities are also included. First, play peek-a-boo with Martin as he hides both in plain sight, as well as behind things such as bushes or trees, waiting to be found. The youngest of players will delight in this game, while older children may show more interest in the “Match the Animals” game, a memory style game where the player turns over cards to make matches. Here, animal sounds are also incorporated, adding a fun element to this classic game. A puzzle game is also included that children will enjoy.

An interesting interactive globe is also included, complete with a scene from each page and can be spun with a finger. I like that this world can also be used as a menu as tapping a a specific image will take the reader to the chosen page.

Although short, I think this app will be appealing to children as a first app. Parents will enjoy the illustrations, the educational aspects, and open-ended conversations about animals that this app may initiate.

Arthur and Charles Present Create & Play Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on September 13th, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Arthur and Charles Present Create & Play is a super-cute and very charming universal app offering a lot of creativity and simple, fun gameplay from the mind of UK artist Moopf - also known as Garth Lancaster.

The first thing I noticed when opening this app for the first time is the bright and wonderfully drawn artwork found throughout. I love the way the characters Arthur and Charles, a boy and his bugapilla look, as well as the other cartoon faces found in this app. These illustrations will certainly appeal to the fans of Todd Parr, but make no mistake, the drawings found within this application are highly original and with a style all their own.

Four sections are offered in this app, my personal favorite being Face Creator, where the player builds wonderfully whimsical cartoon faces from the 178 parts offered arranged into such categories that go beyond the obvious hair/eyes/nose/mouth choices including eyewear, headwear and extras. According to the developers, over 400 billion different characters can be created and after playing with the plethora of options offered, I believe it.

I really appreciate how one is given a choice of 25 prefab faces that one can alter as little or as much as one wishes in order to personalize one's cartoon choice, giving children and adults a great, creative starting point that can spark the imagination of the player. It is especially nice that every detail within these choices that one can select can be changed to a different color, and make note that the color choices offered are extensive. I have seen a few apps that offer this same activity, but few are as fun as this Face Creator. The choices are endless and the music used in the background is upbeat and very easy on the ears - a great companion to this happy, fun and utterly addictive section, as well as the other areas of this very cute app.

Cynics may say that there is nothing new within the next two games offered within this app, as many applications offer a memory-style card match or three-in-a-row type game. This may be true, but it is quite charming that one’s saved cartoon faces as well as other avatars of the artists making are used within these games, as one is either turning over cards in the interest of looking for matching faces or one is looking to connect three-of-a-kind in a row of faces among a grid of many rows.

I must admit that I am not always a huge fan of memory games, mainly because gameplay can seem like it takes forever as one must wait for the previous card to flip back over to tap a new choice. Here, one can make selections as quickly as one wants; the cards will flip back just as fast so there is little to no wait time slowing pairing, making this a very special memory game indeed, beyond the terrific artwork and music. It is nice that one can choose either 16, 24, or 36 cards and a basic Classic mode most people know. The mode Time Trial gives the player five minutes to make as many matches as he can, where as Endless mode offers 90 seconds to start, but with the addition of time and points as the game progresses with endless card matches that one can make as long as time permits.

I have also see many three-of-a-kind, Bejeweled style games as well - a type of game I enjoy. Although this may not be a new concept, I have enjoyed playing this version and it will probably be the first three-of-a-kind game my son plays, it being great fun to see your created faces appear during the game, as is the case in the other game sections as well. Here, the options include Classic mode, Time Trial which limits the player to a five-minute game, as well as Collect, where the player is given specific faces to collect, three-in- a-row style, as collecting all of these characters will advance the player to the next level.

An interesting game, Patterns is also included which is also very fun, involving a series of two or three faces that one must find within the grid of character choices, understanding that the correct right to left sequence of the faces one is looking for must be found, although in the grid these faces may be left to right, right to left, up or down, or down to up, even creating an “L” in some circumstances. Classic mode here consists of 90 seconds to make as many matches as one can, with a second added per correct pattern. Time Trial allows for five minutes of game play.

It is also very nice that information for up to four players can be stored individually and that volume for the sound effects and music volumes found within this app can be set independently for the taste of the player, as well as whether to include simple animations or not through the four fun backgrounds available within these games, such as a space or water theme.

Although a kids' game, adults will delight in exploring this app as well, as will the older siblings of this target audience of younger children. I am very smitten with this app and the art of Moopf. I greatly look forward to Arthur and Charles’s first interactive app for iPad to be released in the future.

JigsawGeo Africa Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on August 26th, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

JigsawGeo Africa is a very nice universal application which teaches the geography of Africa with a good use of puzzles. This app is part of a large series of apps geared towards geographical literacy, worth checking out.

This app consists of four ways of filling up with the included map of Africa, nicely varied for different skill levels. This game opens to the easiest mode, “Traveler,” in which the players match a country’s colorful shape to its corresponding outline within the a map of Africa. This mode offers a nice hint of slowly zooming-in to the area where this country is found, allowing players with little knowledge of Africa to succeed at this game.

I really enjoy this mode as I have never been a good student of geography, and the zooming-in helps me complete this map, allowing me to learn a lot about where these countries fit within this contenent without feeling frustrated. I really do appreciate the zooming used here, especially when the country in question is quite small, something lacking in other geography apps that I have used. I also like that when a country is tapped to drag, it enlarges to show scale in comparison to other countries - a very nice touch.

The “Surveyor” and “Navigator” modes work much the same way, but without the benefit of the slow, automatic zooming-in as a clue, yet players are still able to zoom in on this map themselves to see detail and match the country in play with its matching outline. In “Surveyor” mode, the names of the countries are used, whereas in the “Navigator” mode, the countries' capitals are focused on instead.

The most difficult section within this app is “Discover,” as here, the countries' flags are used instead, removing the ability to complete this map much like a jigsaw puzzle, matching countries to their outlines.

Nice, bright colors are used within this app, adding beauty to the map of Africa as it is filled in, and this app is a nice choice for students as a clear, yet detailed map of Africa is uses, simple to look at and unadorned - but effective in teaching geography. Time is kept for each game finished, and these scores can be left locally on one’s device or added to a world-wide database of players. This is a nice feature, but I would also like to see an option for these games to be played without scorekeeping as well.

Teachers and parents of later grade school kids will be interested in this app as well as this series in general - nice resources aiding in the learning of geography around the world. If interested, please read the review of JigsawGeo USA also reviewed on GiggleApps.

Sticker Factory Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on August 23rd, 2011
iPad App - Designed for iPad

Sticker Factory is a fun and interesting game for iPad that is sure to be a big hit with grade schoolers through adults.

This app, as the name may suggest, takes place in a factory that produces stickers. Here, gameplay focuses on a quickly moving conveyer belt. The object is simple; match the separate outline given with its corresponding sticker from the conveyer, being aware that the outlines move as well and will quickly be out of reach of the player as another silhouette becomes available to match. Individual games for up to six players can be saved independently, especially nice because most will not finish each of the eleven levels in one sitting.

Although easy to understand, this game becomes difficult to master as not only the stickers and outlines move quickly out of sight, but many of the stickers are mirrored images of each other or contain minor details that make them unique, so finding matches can be tricky.

Eleven levels are included, each with its own quirky theme. There is a lot of whimsy through these pages: the stickers are each bright, colorful, creative and interesting, and include such topics as robots, sea creatures, sports, or summer time. Soundtracks are also included, as nicely varied as the stickers themselves, while maintaining an upbeat and energizing style that I have come to expect from these levels as I play. My personal favorites include the monsters and 80’s theme - something that most adults my age will smile at.

I do wish, however, that the developers at Worry Free Labs would include a “relax” mode of some sort in a future update, as I began having problems beginning on level 5 that increased with the difficulty that upper levels bring. I enjoy the level of difficulty in terms of making matches, but the speed, combined with the amount of stickers one must weed through made this game less fun for me as this app progressed thru earlier boards, as I enjoy a challenge but do not like being rushed.

I would love a setting that would slow the conveyers belts in order to best enjoy these great-looking stickers and excellent use of music. To be honest, the only way I was able to finish this game was with the liberal use of the pause button to give myself a moment with no movement in order to make these matches, and even then I found moments demanding. This use if the pause button is something clearly not intended by the developer as this also dims the board, but it would be nice to add pausing as part of the game as well, something that would benefit easily-frustrated children and adults.

Although I found this game quite challenging, I think it is a great choice for grade school and up, and I would not be at all surprised if kids this age do much better at this game than I, as is the case in many speed-based games that I come across.

This game, although disguised as a “just for fun” game, is also quite educational as one must focus, have patience and use one's best concentration skills to succeed at this game, as well as making note of the small details that make these stickers stand out from each other. Often when looking at a new sticker outline, I did not know exactly what I was looking at or what I was looking for in term of correct matches, and quickly assessing everything in order to drag and drop the correct sticker into its outline definitely got me thinking and using my fine motor skills.

I really appreciate all the work that went into the stylings of this app. The stickers are great fun, and I really enjoy the music included. These elements made me want to continue to each level to see and hear what they had come up with next, playing longer than I needed to for the sake of review purposes. I am sure kids will enjoy this application as well.


Spot it: Dobble Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on August 19th, 2011
iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad

Spot it: Dobble is a really fun and challenging game for kids as well as adults. Based on the popular party game, known both as "Dobble" or "Spot It," this app consists of two cards that include 6-10 shapes, based on the level of difficulty. These cards must be compared to find the single object that is found on both cards. Easy to understand, this game is actually quite challenging, even for adults and is simply a lot of fun to play. Sometimes these corresponding objects that one is seeking will pop off the cards easily; other times players will feel quite stumped indeed. This is because these shapes, although the same, will be in varied sizes and angles, making them hard to pick out from the other choices given. There is a point system in this game as well, adding an incentive to find these objects as fast as possible - hopefully before the timer that encircles these cards makes a full rotation, and note that a mistake will cost you.

I really appreciate the music used here; it is jazzy and upbeat, adding an element of urgency and reminding me of background music from a 1960’s spy or crime thriller without adding undo stress to the game play - a balancing act that these developers get just right. Sound effects are included as well, adding to the fun as each item found sounds an associated sound effect - a bit of whimsy to this addictive game application. It is also nice that the music or sound effects can be silenced independently from each other, always a nice touch.

Players can play by themselves, or “duel” with a friend to see who can spot 15 common objects first. It would be good if in the future, this app could become universal because an iPhone is a little small to share between two people, working best sitting side-by-side, but will play fine from across one another as well. I have blown this app up 2X on the iPad, and I really like the extra elbow room this affords the players, but in so doing, the resolution becomes somewhat lacking, although two could play this way without any problems.

I really enjoy this game as I love the way it gets my mind working. I do wish, however, that the choosing of specific game modes were more intuitive. As of now my game play consists of “Time attack” where I find 15 objects, one per hand, as quickly as possible, but I am locked out of the other game modes. “Checkpoint," as I understand, has players makes as many matches as possible within a time limit. I have also not been able to gain access to “Hot Potato” - a mode for two players where one steals cards from the opponent, winning after one collects 10 cards. Three levels of difficulty are included as well, and I thought I would be able to move on after finishing the difficult level which includes 10 symbols per card, but with no such luck.

This application is a very pleasant surprise, as I am often not great at speed-based games, but being locked out of these other modes does frustrate me. In the future, I would like to see specific information about when these modes are available, and honestly, an option to have basic access to these sections without doing anything special would make me happy.

I do hope this note does not persuade others from downloading this game, as even if this app only contained the single and double player games that I have been able to play, it would be well worth the price tag of $0.99 and it is quite possible that others will figure out the locking system even if I have not, as I don’t pretend to be good at that sort of thing.

This will be a great application to play with my son as he gets a little older. I would love to play it with my husband as well, but his work schedule makes this difficult.

This app has made me very curious about the related party game, something I will be on the lookout for when my son shows interest and aptitude for this application. Like books, I find value in both the classic presentation of a game like this as well as its application counterpart. Although far into the future, I see myself buying this card game as a standard gift in grade school if my son allows this. I highly recommend this app!

Peekaboo: Find the Hidden Fun UFO Characters Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on August 2nd, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Peekaboo: Find the Hidden Fun UFO Characters is a fun game for iPad where players search scenes for colorful, friendly UFO’s who are hiding out and about, playing peek-a-boo on planet Earth. Seven aliens are included, each with a unique look and fun colors among the wonderfully stylized illustrations used here.

I love the look of this app in general; the palette of warm turquoises, oranges, sage greens, golden yellows and complimenting colors are some of my personal favorites, and I really enjoy their use here, as I do all the details used to create a wonderful series of environments for these cheerful UFO’s to hide in.

Ten scenes are included and range from natural landscapes complete with pretty trees that sway slightly as if during a summer breeze to flowers, other fauna and animals which sometimes make noises if tapped. Other scenes involve cityscapes with a lot going on, such as a “rush hour” scene rich with car noises that one can tap on, as well as a nice use of cactuses, rainbows, and other natural elements. A few scenes also include shopping motifs, which are a lot of fun as these UFO’s visit places like a toy store - a nice choice.

Look behind these objects and elsewhere on these sections to find the hiding UFO’s. It is useful that hints can be used if one is stuck looking for these creatures, as a bar at the top of the screen can be opened and the UFO's’s in question can be tapped to see their corresponding pair within the scene become highlighted with sparkly stars.

I like that the background ambient noises and the tappable sound effects each have their own volume controls, always a nice option to have. I also appreciate that if one looks closely at these illustrations, one can see a faint wood grain used to create the feel of a classic wood toy or puzzle, an element I am always fond of seeing.

Kids preschool age and up will enjoy this app for all that there is to look at. The difficulty level is nice for this age group; one must look closely to see these UFO’s, and it is nice that hints can be used as a reference to match from without tapping as well, making the hints suit the needs of different skill levels.

The opening and closing moments of this app introducing the aliens and creating closure are nicely done, but it would be nice if the places used to hide were random and different each time these games were played. Having said this, the landscapes used are busy enough that it is doubtful young children would notice this issue. I think kids will enjoy this peek-a-boo app, and the ten levels offered lend themselves well to nice quiet time with the iPad.

Do check out the other iPad applications by the developers at PopAppFactory. My son and I really enjoy some of their other apps, specifically MosaicHD and Tangram Puzzles; they are a company worth checking out.

Spot the Dot Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on July 26th, 2011
iPad App - Designed for iPad

Spot the Dot is a wonderful interactive book for iPad from Ruckus Media based on the pop-up books by David A. Carter.

I have always been a huge fan of pop-up books as a child. As an adult I may love them even more as artwork that I admire greatly but am personally not skilled at. I was very excited to hear that David A. Carter, author of many famed pop-up books geared for adults and slightly older children, was working together with Ruckus Media Group to create an app based on his books such as One Red Dot, a book that I have been eyeing for my boy, but must wait until he is older as he would surely mishandle such a fragile piece of art.

My son simply adores this app, which consists of ten pages, each with a different colored dot that is hidden, sometimes in plain sight, blending into brightly colored geometric shapes that fill up the pages and or hide behind other shapes that need to be turned over, as well as other creative ways of searching for these hidden dots.

This app has excellent spoken prompts that explain to the player exactly what he is looking for and how these specific mini-games are played, and I appreciate how each page has a new way of looking for these dots. The graphics, consisting of bold and bright geometric shapes, re-enforce nicely the knowledge of colors and shapes, great for pre-schoolers, but which will be enjoyed by older kids and adults as well.

I am proud of my son for falling so heavily in love with this app, as this application was not easy for him to master at first and he had to work his way up to thoroughly enjoy this interactive book. In the beginning he had trouble finding these dots past the first pages, as the level of difficulty progresses. He would repeat, “Why is this so hard for me?” as he has had most things come easy until now, picking up all his milestones early and with little effort. My son is not used to being truly challenged.

After playing with this app for a while, he has been able to master all these search puzzles on his own, with the exception of the last two where he still needs help: a black page full of dots to uncover, one of which is the dot in question, and the last page, where one small white dot is hiding among a page of geographic shapes, very well camouflaged on a page so large that it needs to be scrolled in every direction to be fully searched - somewhat of a task to look for, even for an adult.

My boy, feeling accomplished with his ability to find dots, now wants to show this app to everyone who enters our house - something he has done with few other applications.

The music included in this app is also quite nice, as is the melodic musical sounds used for each dot found on the page of hidden rows of dots, one of the harder mini-games to solve.

I especially like the narrator a great deal as he has a very sincere, warm, and enthusiastic- sounding voice that I enjoy listening to, and I am sure that his encouragement and congratulations at spotting these dots is a large part of why my son enjoys this app as much as he does.

I like that on the top of the screen is a row of dots that one will progress through to the end, but one can tap on a favorite color which will lead to a specific page and mini-game. Each time the application is re-opened, the dots are randomly hidden, but it would be nice if this was the case each time a color was chosen. At my son’s age, 3.5 years, he does not remember where the dots are found, just how best to play these games so this is not much of an issue for him.

I do wish, however, that the pages with hidden areas were fully uncovered when the dot is found. My son loves to turn over the object he needs to look under, even after discovering the dot, but sometimes the app progresses to the next page before he is done, I wish more time was allotted for kids to continue playing this way. Another favorite moment is where one must move a telescope-type circle around a blank page, looking through this circle for the orange dot. When found, the entire background is shown for such a short moment that it seems more like a glitch than an intentional action, but I think it really adds to the fun to see the very colorful background as a whole as well. I really like that the page of hidden dots is fully shown when complete, something that I think could be taken advantage of more as the revealing of the entire pages is great fun to look at and gives a certain closure, especially for children who may have struggled with this app.

We love Spot the Dot in our house. I think it is a great application for kids of pre-school age, as well as an app for special needs kids of any age who would benefit from such clearly spoken tasks that one must accomplish - great for cognitive skills, I would think.

I am happy that this app has challenged my son, and that he took this challenge head-on, mastering what he can and asking for help when he needs it instead of having a meltdown over areas that can frustrate him. I am thrilled to see him work to achieve the goals he sets for himself, and for these reasons, I consider this app a great learning tool.

Musical Me! HD - By Duck Duck Moose Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on July 14th, 2011
iPad App - Designed for iPad

Musical Me! is the new creative and fun educational app from the developers at Duck Duck Moose, aimed at stimulating the interest of music in young children. Both iPad as well as iPhone versions are available.

It is great fun how this app stars Mozzarella the Mouse, taking place around the Eiffel Tower, much like Duck Duck Moose's previous app Word Wagon.

Here, visit five activities, nicely varied and beautiful to look at, which include the fundamentals of music in such activities as a Memory section in which a Simon-styled mini-game helps train the memory as the player tries to play back notes heard. Rhythm is taught by tapping birds as they appear left of the screen, as these spacing of these birds teaching about long and short notes. Dance is introduced by the tapping of friendly monsters to make them dance to the beat of music being played, a favorite section of my son’s. My son also really enjoys the instruments section a great deal as he can make his own music nicely accompanied by a selection of upbeat kids songs, with instruments such as drum, cymbals, triangle, egg shaker, or a duck that squeaks just for fun - a nice touch. Another interesting section is included where the player can change the notes used in favorite traditional songs, creating one's own music on a staff. Do tap the other animals one may find amongst these sections to find many surprises that are all utterly Duck Duck Moose.

I enjoy how this app makes use of vertical space as Moz leads the player to different locations with the tap of a finger, from the base of the Eiffel Tower, up into the sky, with the Tower seen in the backdrop as one taps the birds flying by in the rhythm section and up higher into the upper atmosphere to play the memory game, with a nice use of planets that play notes one must memorize and play back. From the sky, Moz takes the players down into the ocean, teaching about notes on a staff underwater, complete with fun water sounds and fish to tap at for fun, and then back to land again to play various instruments.

The sense of space this creates is very good and quite unique. The details of Moz’s change of clothing for the different modes are really fun details as well, ranging from a space suit to wet suit as well as a tux for when he conducts during the instruments section.

The rhythm, memory, and notes section contains three levels of difficulty, and it is impressive that different instruments can be used during these activities such as piano, guitar, or violin, as well as the use of solfège syllable, sung do-re-mi-fa-sol. It is also impressive the amount of popular traditional songs used in this app, both as instrumental as well as sung, and I have greatly enjoyed hearing the verses of these popular songs that I am not familiar with from such tunes as Yankee Doodle Dandie, Pop Goes the Weasel, or The Farmer in the Dell, finding this experience educational in and of itself.

This app has a lot to offer kids of many ages and skill sets. The youngest kids will have fun tapping fun, colorful monsters, making them dance and making music or noise from the instruments offered. Older children will have fun tapping on the birds as they move across the screen. My son, now 3.5 years, also has a lot of fun with the memory mode of this app, watching intently as I play this mini-game for him as he is not yet able to remember the sequencing of these notes, something he will enjoy when he is older, I am sure.

Possibly the most impressive part of this app is the notes section where one can play instrumental versions of many popular kids songs, changing the notes at will with a vertical slide of a finger, watching as these notes' names, sound, and color transform, helping the child visualize the differences they experiences as these notes change. Everything is provided to allow a bright, musically inclined child to decode the basics in the complex task of reading music as they changes notes and listens to the music played back - be it a slightly altered rendition of an included song or a completely new piece of music, but I do wish the spacing of these notes could be moved horizontally on the staff as well to truly create something entirely different.

I have no musical training; keeping in mind parents such as myself, it would be a wonderful inclusion for a future update to include a parents section explaining how best to use this activity, as without prior music instruction themselves, adults may lack the vocabulary to fully articulate what is being explained in this section.

The sounds from each individual note played to the full songs used, both instrumental and sung, sound amazing and this app has a great deal to offer kids of many ages and abilities. You simply can’t go wrong with a Duck Duck Moose app, I look forward to their next app.

Gingham Games Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on July 11th, 2011
iPad App - Designed for iPad

Gingham Games is an interesting iPad application which includes three educational mini games. This app stands out among others like it with its wonderfully rich retro style illustrations that include cherubic, apple-faced kids, creating a wonderful vintage feel.

These wonderful illustrations are the highlight of this application, with images that remind me of such Americana as classic Campbell’s Soup Kids or Shirley Temple.

The three mini-games are nice as well. Ducks in a Row allows the player to count baby ducks in rows on the screen, tapping and dragging them to the bottom of the screen in numerical order. These ducks must be counted from 1 to 10; a tap allows their number to be seen for only a moment, so one must remember where these numbers are found throughout these ducks before time runs out and the ducks run away. This nice, simple game is fun for number sequencing, but also in sharpening one’s memory, a nice touch. The baby ducks used here are cute, yellow and fluffy the way one would expect. I like the polka-dotted background and muted color scene of cream, golden yellow, and sage green which add to the vintage feel as this pattern fades into a scene of a duck habitat of tall leaves, flowers, water, and a mother duck as well, creating a nice style that is found through this app.

In Apple Toss, the player moves a girl across the screen to catch falling apples, learning about alphabet letter sequencing along the way. I like that these apples bounce from the girl's open hands into the basket, and a near miss can be bumped repeatedly until it makes its way into the basket as well. Note that each time the player misses an apple, leaves begin to fill the screen from bottom up, and one has three lives to use before the leaves fill the screen and the game is over. The apples are tossed by a boy in a tree, and his basic arm movement that tosses the apples is very simple, reminding me of the moving pieces seen in an antique toy or bank from very long ago, adding to the vintage feel, something I appreciate.

Shape Catcher is our personal favorite, where the player chooses one of five color and shapes lures that are used to catch corresponding fish off a dock. When the correct fish is seen, line up the lure to catch the fish by tapping the button closest to the direction in which the fish is swimming. There are three rows of fish to focus on, with buttons on either side of the water. I like that one must be patient to catch a fish and then act quickly, lining up things right to make a catch, then continue on until each of the five lures is used. This mini-game makes good use of colors, shapes, and matching, as well as some basic logic to understand which button the fish is swimming towards, something my son enjoys. I appreciate how the boy and this scene in general remind me of a Norman Rockwell painting.

Each of these games is narrated by a child who either counts the ducks, recites the alphabet as the apples are tossed, or names the color and shape of the fish that is caught. These voices include a lot of character one may expect to hear in a young child’s voice, which may be slightly hard to understand by some children. Other than this slight issue, this is a very nice app as the games are cute and the illustrations are wonderfully vintage, slightly kitschy and extremely well-done, appealing to children as well as adults, especially those who collect or appreciate Americana from days past.

Scott’s Submarine Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on June 28th, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Scott’s Submarine is a very good universal story book with a few interesting elements making it stand out among other ebooks. It is nice that one can choose between two reading levels, one for 2 - 3 year olds as well as 4 and up, which uses more advanced vocabulary, longer sentences and more text per page. This app also includes four languages - English, Spanish, French, and Japanese with narration by native speakers, something that I think is very important. Of course, one has the option of listening to the narration or simply reading this story to oneself.

Scott’s Submarine tells the story of Scott, who being bored one day, chooses to go on an adventure aboard his personal submarine with his friend Aiko. Although I am not always the biggest fan of 3D illustrations, I must say that this app looks quite impressive, full of wonderfully bright and vivid colors, especially in the ocean scenes.

This app includes a puzzle on some pages where you need to find certain objects or aquatic life to fill in empty puzzle spaces provided. I like the fact that one is aware when these puzzles are available by a magnifying glass icon that can be tapped on the right side of the screen, also giving the reader the option of bypassing these puzzles if they want to focus on the story. Do tap objects and sea creatures, looking for sound effects hidden throughout the pages of this app, especially the some of the ocean sounds which are especially well-done.

The best part of this app is the ability to take photos of anything one may see. It does take some getting used as to how to center your shot just the way you may want, but the effect is quite wonderful as you look through your photos saved in the app’s photo album.

It is nice that these photos are saved, but with limited space, one will ultimately need to delete images sooner or later. This is kind of a bummer, but at the same time adds to the replay value as one can take new images as well. I am impressed with this feature as no two photos are bound to be exactly the same, and there is always something new and interesting to look at and photograph, especially as one scrolls down to the ocean’s floor. I would love to see, if possible, a zoom feature added to the camera as well.

It is a real treat to look at the album and see that a photo from the ocean that has an eye icon under it. This means that a tap will take the reader to a photo and description of the actual sea creature. The photos used here are beautiful, and the descriptions are highly educational and very interesting, even for adults. Seventeen of the sea creatures found have this extra information, and it is the reader's task to find and photograph them, adding to the puzzle aspects of this app.

Many of the details of the story itself add to the educational aspect in a way that is quite effortless, such as Scott explaining that the “rainbow” they see is really a school of silver fish as their scales reflect light in a rainbow pattern and how true rainbows are only seen in the sky. Later on, Scott’s friend Aiko wants to take home a starfish, but Scott explains that the starfish must stay in the ocean or it will die, all good information for kids who enjoy exploring the sea.

I really enjoy the fantasy aspect of how Scott and his friend can board and submerge a submarine any time they like without any parental involvement, and this story gets really interesting as the kids take the sub to the bottom of the ocean and investigate a sunken ship. They find a treasure chest and try to open it with long robotic arm devices that are attached to the sub that Scott can control. Their plan is interrupted as a huge octopus grabs the sub, and they need to use their robotic arms to free themselves in a way that is very cute and quite memorable. I do wish, however, that the kids got into the treasure chest instead of leaving it unopened, simply saying that they will be back. I think kids deserve conclusions to the stories they read without cliffhangers because I can understand kids being frustrated by this non-ending of this important detail, especially since the experience is such an immersive one.

Having said this, I do think Scott’s Submarine has a lot to offer. I thoroughly enjoy taking my own pictures, looking for the animals with added information. I think this will be a hit with kids, especially those who are interested in the ocean, or for those who enjoy using their mom and dad's camera on the iPhone, as does my son.

Undoda - Children's Storybook and Multimind Games Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on June 24th, 2011

Undoda - Children's Storybook and Multimind Games is an interesting universal application containing a story as well as three educational mini-games.

The story about Undoda is a complex one. Undoda is a chinchilla who is thought of as an outcast by the other children for his ability to see the world in reverse, setting himself off from others. Undoda is also very creative, and with the help of his professor father, tries to make himself airborne, giving chinchillas the gift of flight and creating an adventure for himself away from the island he knows as home, the only place he has ever been. On a failed test flight, Undoda is fortunate to meet a new bird friend, Amira, and learns about another land where ‘land-locked” animals need to be protected by birds. Amira and her friends are part of a rebellion to stop the evil “Bird Clan” birds from hurting the flightless animals, as doing so gives all that fly a bad name.

The next part of this story is very confusing to me as many of the plot points are connected together. From what I understand, Undoda, being held hostage by the Bird Clan, is forced to make a device that will ultimately lead to the destruction of his home island. This is not necessary as Undoda discovers their sacred book of Saw, much like the Book of Was from his island, that when put together, they create the key the Bird Clan is looking for without the need to destroy Undoda’s home. Things get way worse, and an even more dangerous and evil bird villain is unleashed, having been kept from endangering anyone for a very long time. In the end, the rebellion and Undoda go through a portal to another world, a land before their own, highlighted by the Golden Gate Bridge in a memorable Planet of the Apes-esque moment, also bringing back a character who died via their version of what I assume is a space/time continuum.

I enjoyed much of this storybook. The illustrations are simply top-notch, rivaling those one may see coming from the biggest Hollywood studios for animated films. I like the idea of Undoda leaving the island and needing to learn about his new surroundings, such as the new animals he encounters along the way. I am also intrigued by the storyline about the bird rebellion, as this reminded me of historical moments one could chose to talk about with your child if he is old enough to understand. I also liked very much the few moments that combine modern cityscapes with the untouched land of Udoda and company, even if I was not quite sure what it was all about. I did not like the end, however, as it weaves many plot points and abstract thoughts in the space of a few pages that I did not fully understand. This last section of the story, to me, read like a novelization of the second half of a full length feature, condensed and difficult to follow. I also did not fully understand what is actually the “gift of being able to see the future in reverse,” how this works, or what it means as it is a major theme of this book.

Recently, I came across an article online about this app, explaining that this reverse view of the world is a metaphor for dyslexia. I am glad to have come across this article, as I appreciate this app tackling this issue. Undoda may not be fully understood by his peers, but his his different learning style is also wonderful gift, helping him, for one, reverse-engineer flying devices and other projects for the good of his friends. It also explains why this app opens up with a bully taunting Undoda about being always backwards and late, something that bothered me, but I now see why this was included. There is simply a lot going on towards the end for my personal taste in a short amount of time, plot-wise.

Older grade school kids with dyslexia may enjoy this story a lot as it includes a protagonist they can relate to, and they will not feel condescended to as this story can obviously be enjoyed by their age range, and will be effective for any child who is made to feel like an outsider, with or without any learning issues.

This app also includes three mini-games which have spelling-related concepts. There is a maze section where a player tips his device to pick up letters as he proceeds. An arcade- style flying game is also included, as is a memory-style section, different than most as the cards flipped over may have some degree of rotation to them that the player makes equal between both halves of the letter or number in question.

Originally, I was confused by the various game play, as even on the first of three difficulty levels, these games seem more advanced that the level of words offered, as one must do a great deal to collect a few letter that make up a word, but these factors may marry well for grade schoolers with dyslexia. My first thought about the memory game is that it would be difficult for a dyslexic player, before knowing this app's connection to learning issues. Maybe this challenging memory game is in fact educational, even helpful for some, but I would recommend a mode where one just has to remember the positioning of pairs as I can see the mirrored or rotated images one must match up and rotate to create to be simply too hard or frustrating.

I am glad that there are three sections included: one where you can focus on the story straight away, play the games by themselves, or play a game in between each chapter of this book, an experience I found less seamless going from story to game than other interactive story and game apps, something that took me away from the story, but others many not have this problem.

I hope to not to come across as highly negative about this application. I am greatly impressed with the artwork used here, and I think that kids who learn differently need role models they can look towards, Undoda is a great choice for this. I am not a fan such plot heaviness, however - a personal choice. Having said this, if one is looking for a story that has a lot going on well beyond a simplistic storybook, complete with educational mini-games, this is a good app to look at. Personally, I would add a bit more about the connection to dyslexia both in the itunes description, as well as an info section for adults, as this information helped me appreciate this app for what it is. One can search the word “dyslexia” in iTunes. I hope this app can be added to this list as it would be a good choice for anyone doing such a search. This is not to say other typical kids won’t enjoy this story, but kids with dyslexia and their parents may especially respond to this character and enjoy this story even more.