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Firehouse Adventure Review

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

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

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

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

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

ABC Aliens Review

Posted by Sharon Cohen on July 13th, 2011
iPad App - Designed for iPad

When it comes to the ABCs and apps, you can find almost every form of alphabet game and educational lesson possible. Most likely this is because these alphabet apps are easy to develop from a technical standpoint and because all developers know that parents are going to want to teach kids their ABCs. So, ABC Aliens is another variation on the theme, except that instead of humans or animals at a zoo or farm, colorful illustrated beings from outer space are teaching the letters.

The app is developed by Cambridge English Online, which states it has a decade of experience in creating cutting-edge online and mobile resources by online and mobile education specialists. With that much experience and supposed “cutting-edge” creativity, I would expect something more advanced than this. There is nothing wrong with the concept; it just is nothing new and will not retain a child’s interest for very long.

The app is geared toward either American or British English and has four different activities—purposely, I’m not calling them “games.” The first is on phonetics or the sound of the letters. The second is just hearing the alphabet as it is typically said. You have a choice of hearing the letters said in a cartoonish alien voice or with a child’s voice. You can also record a voice saying the letters and then play it back. Your children can also hear the letters when they are in the upper or lower case form.

The other two activities are for fun and learning. I played these on my iPod Touch, so the characters are quite small and it is difficult to see the letters on the aliens’ chests. This is one of those apps that is much better suited for the iPad, which has a considerably larger screen area. In these two activities, children are timed on how quickly they can tap each of the aliens in the order of their ABCs either forward or backward. Doing this in the given 30 seconds is quite a feat, especially for young learners. It was not easy, by any means, even for me. Again, this had to do with the size, but also in some cases the colors of the letters and the background; the “e,” for example is a light blue on the chest of a little bit darker blue alien. The differentiation between the two colors is slight.

That’s it. There are no spelling games, no find the hidden letter games, no think of some words that start with a certain letter game. The app says this gives kids a head start on the road to literacy success: I would say that this is an overstatement. There are also some bugs, such as losing the sound and having to signoff and back in again to get it back. I also don’t notice too much of a difference between the British and American pronunciation, since they are only saying letters. There are some tips for additional learning, such as asking the child to spell his or her name with the letters. However, since the letters are only pronounced and not actually written in word form, this does not provide much learning. Overall, I’d say that you could find many other ABC apps that are equivalent or better than this one.

Fluke HD Review

Posted by Nick Papageorge on July 5th, 2011
iPad App - Designed for iPad

Fluke HD is, in my opinion, one of the best Sorry/Ludo clones on the app store today. It is one that has held my daughters' attention for months now, and one that we absolutely love coming back to quite regularly to play as a family.

The game, as you can imagine, is quite simple. You have 4 tokens that you need to get from the star to the finish. You can play by yourself with computer controlled players (easy, medium or hard difficulties) or with up to 6(!) people... that would be one heck of a full iPad to huddle around! Multiplayer through Game Center is also an option, not a bad idea if you've got 2 devices and want to play separately.

There are currently 4 different boards to choose from: Alien World (which was newly added), Carnival, Mediaeval and Race Track. There's also a promise of more boards to come, which I'd love to see. Included is a link to Fluke's Facebook page where you can chime in on what you'd like to see included for the new boards. The developer is very active here, a fact that is quite promising. For parents who are concerned with their children clicking out to external sites, I need to advise that this is an easy link to click on, even mistakenly so.

Anyway, back to the game. If you've played Sorry, you know the basics. Once into the game, you need to roll a 6 to add another token onto the board. This then gives you another chance to roll the dice. As for the play on the board, if you roll and land on another player's token, it captures it and sends it back to the start. There are also 2 different unqieu actions spaces on the board. The first is a "Special" tile that requires the person who lands on it to follow its instructions. The second is the "Teleport" device, which will send your token off to another teleport space of the same color, possibly sending you back some spaces.

Fluke honestly surprised me. I knew from what I'd seen that I would like it, but I thought it would get boring rather quickly. Well, it hasn't, and for an app at this price, that's an impressive feat.

I am a firm believer that the iPad is the answer for board gaming on the go, and Fluke is further proof to that. It provides a simple and easy way to access a very high quality "Sorry" clone no matter where you are. No longer do I have to worry that I've lost a piece to the game (I STILL can't find where a red Trouble token is and haven't touched the game since that happened!), and I never have to worry about cleaning it up afterwards. Also, unlike the board game, you get the variety of having multiple board selections here that don't just change how the game looks, but the strategy in how the game plays. A short board is a short, simple game versus a longer board that allows for more strategy. It's simple, but it's something that seriously adds to the longevity of the game.

My say is that if you want to enjoy a really great and fun family board game, Fluke is without a doubt the way to go. The developer cares about the title, and has succeeded in creating something that's easy for a wide age range (it require no reading skill) but also succeeds for adults. It's neither unattractive nor boring, an unfortunate fate of many clones on the app marketplace. You really can't go wrong, and as of my writing it's $0.99 - I cannot think of a better way to spend a buck.

Fruit Memory HD Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dylan Monkey & Squishy Face Review

Posted by Sharon Cohen on June 10th, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

There are many children’s storybooks being published for the iPhone and iPad, and Dylan Monkey & Squishy Face is a cute and clever addition. It’s an innovate story about Dylan Monkey wanting to give his brother Squishy Face some additional hands. This way, Squishy Face would be able to hold his bottle and do other things, like crawl around, at the same time.

You and your child can enjoy the book in several ways: Reading the book yourself, listening to the narrator read while interacting with the pages, and autoplay. With the first mode, you read the story and all the sounds, interactions and animations remain. With the second, the narrator reads and your child listens while interacting with the pages. With the third, autoplay, your child listens to the story without interactivity; this mode is good for quiet time.

The story, itself, is fun to read. Dylan tries many ways, some of them very unusual, to make extra hands for his brother. It encourages children to be imaginative, explore new ideas and think up new approaches. At the end of the story, Dylan realizes that he could help his brother by using his own hands—a nice way of talking about sharing and helping others.

You and your child can discuss the storyline in a variety of ways. Why are some of Dylan’s ideas not working? What’s it like to have a plan? How did Dylan feel about his brother; what in the story shows this? What are ideas? I also like that Dylan’s mother Frazzle Dazzle (yet a strange name for a mom) lets Dylan try his ideas, even when she knows some of them won’t work. It’s only when he may be injured by a hot oven that she says, “No. That’s not a good idea.” At the end of the story, the author provides some starting questions for you and your child to discuss.

Besides the storyline, I like the colorful illustrations and the imaginative characters. I wish that a turn-the-page marker would be added to know where to swipe. Sometimes I had difficulty turning the page and found myself going backward instead of forward. Also, it would be helpful if there was some kind of quick locator of the items on the page where interaction can occur. The interactions are easy to start with a tap and fun, and the sound effects, like Squishy Face laughing or giving kisses, are a joy.