Review: Duck Duck Moose Park Math
We've lauded edutainment app developer Duck Duck Moose many times in capsule reviews within our iPhone and iPad Gems roundups, but this week's release of the impressive new app Park Math ($2, version 1.0) demanded deeper coverage. Park Math represents a subtle transition for Duck Duck Moose that will immediately appeal to parents, a shift from using catchy, well-known children's music for "keep your kid busy" entertainment to a more thoughtful but still light-hearted collection of activities designed more explicitly for education. As a math-centric followup to the alphabet-themed Fish School, Park Math succeeds in offering a stronger and more organized set of light learning environments for kids to play in, while continuing the company's beautiful artistic and friendly vocal traditions.
Though two-year-olds can still generally use simple taps to interact with Park Math in much the same way as they would in DDM’s earlier apps, it’s clear early on that this one is built for kids three and older: some of the seven activities contain multiple-choice questions and sorting puzzles that feel like light versions of the Montessorium and other kids’ math apps we’ve previously tested, though most give young users opportunities to have fun without focusing directly on the task at hand. Park Math ties the activities together with a kite-themed menu system that may be a little too abstract for the youngest kids to understand at first, including eight total sections divided into an introduction screen and seven colored kites as follows:
Introduction. As with all DDM apps, the first screen is a mini-playground that briefly introduces the game’s art style and tap input scheme with little fun things to interact with—here, firework eggs and a few of the characters, including a beach-ball-balancing bull terrier and Blue Bear, a roller skating guide to the game’s screens. Tapping or swiping Blue Bear on any screen moves to another activity without requiring the child to use the kite menu system, a smart touch that will really help younger kids.
Orange Kite - Rabbit. A rabbit rides a swing while you count his movements, tallied on a carrot at the bottom right corner of the screen. Park Math offers two difficulty levels that apply across all of the activities unless you manually toggle “level one” or “level two” on a per-activity basis using the kite menu screen. On level one, you count to 20, and on level two for older kids, you count to 50. A gopher can be tapped to scurry between three on-screen holes as a side activity.
Yellow Kite - Duck. Kids count the number of ducks on screen to learn addition, with three multiple-choice options off to the right side. Level one has up to five ducks at once, while two has numbers that climb up to ten. The ducks slide down a slide and quack; the side activity is moving the ducks up a ladder to the slide.
Blue Kite - Mouse. Equality is the theme here, with mice on a see-saw representing numbers. Get the same number of mice on each side to move on; level two increases the number of mice. There’s no side activity here; kids can move mice on and off each side of the see-saw to bring the numbers into balance.
Pink Kite - Tree. Apples fall from a tree to teach subtraction, with multiple-choice answers off to the right; level two adds more apples. Apart from shaking the tree to knock off apples, which is helpful in coming up with the right answer visually, there’s no side activity here.
Purple Kite - Dog. A park bench provides the setting for a simple sorting activity that has kids sort dogs by size or numbers on their shirts. Level one includes simple “small to large” and number sorting with four or five total dogs, while level two ups the number to eight and adds light to dark sorting. There’s no secondary activity; all of the sorting requires swipes.
Green Kite - Sandpail. A sandbox scene is used for pattern completion, with a five-item pattern requiring one of four possible items at the bottom of the screen to finish the theme—beach items and toys. Level two increases the number of possible item types in the pattern and the selection box. A pinwheel can be tapped as a secondary activity, making a sparkling sound.
Red Kite - Watermelon. Food sits in front of a hungry hippo, and voice cues tell you what and how many items to feed with swipe gestures. On level one, there are at most two types of food on the plate, and ants grab the “wrong” food piece by piece to leave the child with only the right ones to feed the hippo; on level two, the
number of types of “wrong” food increase.
By contrast with earlier Duck Duck Moose releases, which we’ve uniformly liked or loved—mostly the latter—what stands out most about Park Math is the diversity of activities, with all but the multiple-choice screens offering easy ways for kids to just have fun or actually attempt to succeed at the simple puzzles. The company’s linear, musically-themed animated storybooks were and are wonderful in their own right, but Park Math tries to do a lot more and generally impresses from scene to scene, thanks to the combination of friendly voices and audio, cute artwork, and fun activities. Though the musical portion isn’t as complex as in the company’s earlier apps, string renditions of This Old Man, Skip to My Loo, and other tracks play in the background without vocals, frequently looping but still giving the application a sophisticated air; there’s so much voice content that the looping isn’t a huge problem.
Once again, Duck Duck Moose hits a home run with its artwork, which remains some of the very best—perhaps the best—in App Store kids’ applications. We especially appreciated the backdrops, which have many of the playground elements kids know and love, and find smart ways to incorporate real park moments such as swinging, sliding, see-sawing, and picnicking into the learning. So instructed, a child can turn the moments they have in this application into real-world opportunities to practice what they’ve learned, counting kids on a slide, movements of swings, and apples on trees, amongst many other things.
If there’s anything that’s less than ideally executed in Park Math, we’d point to the simple two-level difficulty setting, which could benefit from an even more streamlined level zero for younger kids, and a little more diversity within the internal activities, particularly on level one. Kids at the current base difficulty level may find that the puzzles loop very quickly, a problem that’s not as pronounced on level two, which adds more variety. We’d call this a small issue, and one that could be easily remedied with an update. More of a concern is the app’s continued iPod touch/iPhone-only design, which doesn’t preclude it from being run on the iPad, but once again doesn’t make use of the device’s high-resolution screen—or the Retina Displays in Apple’s current models. As we’ve said in past Duck Duck Moose reviews, and believe even more strongly today in light of recent iPhone and iPod touch upgrades, a universal high-resolution version of Park Math would be a better option than separate iPad- and iPhone/iPod-optimized versions. Hopefully the company will take the impending release of iOS 4.2 as an opportunity to unify its family of applications.
Overall, however, Park Math is in some ways the most impressive Duck Duck Moose application yet, bringing so much artistic, sonic, and interactive expertise together that it’s extremely easy to recommend to parents of 3-6-year olds. While the company’s storybook applications continue to be memorable and distinctive relative to other options we’ve seen in the App Store—so much so that we’d hate to see the company move away from doing more—Park Math demonstrates that this small company is very capable of moving up the educational ladder when it wants to do so, and can bring its substantial development assets to bear on more than just classic songs. We continue to await this company’s future releases with tangible excitement.