Welcome to a special kids-focused edition of iPhone + iPad Gems! The eight titles we’re briefly reviewing today include kid-friendly and educational releases that span a number of different genres—some are games and others are brain teasers or creative tools. Two of the apps are from Disney’s well-known Handy Manny cartoon series, while one is from the elite high IQ society Mensa.
Our top picks in the bunch are Downhill Bowling 2, Handy Manny Flicker’s Flashcard Fiesta, and Zoo Rescue. Read on for all the details.
Meteor Creations’ Animals on Board ($2, version 1.0.1) is an iPhone and iPod touch game that scales in low-res to the iPad. Apart from a bug that essentially requires you to sign up for Apple’s Game Center if you want to play the game, it’s a cute if simple combination of a simple slingshot-based puzzler with balancing play mechanics. You need to catapult animals onto Noah’s Ark and then stack them atop one another rather than letting them fall into the surrounding water. With artwork that looks like scanned hand-drawn cartoons, overlapped to create layers, upbeat music, and happy gameplay, Animals on Board is a good budget game with some rough edges—the Noah-as-slingshot animation is, as just one example, goofy—but it succeeds at mixing universally appealing gameplay with an inoffensive theme. If the graphics were cleaned up further, and the gameplay made more strategic, this could be a hit. iLounge Rating: B.
Though it feels like ages have passed since we reviewed the original Downhill Bowling, we were genuinely enthusiastic to see Downhill Bowling 2 (Free, version 1.0) from GameResort, an iPhone- and iPod touch-formatted sequel that has taken nearly two years to develop. As with the first version, you control a bowling ball that rolls down winding 3-D paths in the equivalent of a constantly moving platform adventure, collecting coins, jumping on platforms, and interacting with friendly, enemy, and terrain objects. If you’re looking for a straight simulation of bowling, you’ll find that the game deliberately fudges your score upwards when you actually interact with pins that have been racked up at various points throughout the levels; Downhill Bowling 2 isn’t, despite the name, really about bowling.
But once again, the non-bowling game structure makes its stages memorable. Three different types of courses are available—green outdoors, wild west, and cave themes—each with multiple stages that need to be unlocked with coins. Between the increasingly challenging stage designs and the fun items that are found inside, including helicopter, rocket, and ball-enlarging power-ups, the levels are bona fide fun, fluid in frame rates, and set to pleasant matching music. We loved the inclusion of cartoony characters as aides in the levels; watching the bowling ball get tossed into the air by a panda or vaulted through a cave by a statue never became old. On the flip side, GameResort has loaded the game’s menu system with advertising, locked almost every stage behind a coin barrier, and armed the game with an in-app purchasing system to get you to cough up real cash for coins to unlock the levels; you also have the ability to gather coins by playing the unlocked levels again and again. Aside from its lack of iPad support, we would have been thrilled by the title if it had just charged a fair price up front, left out the adds, and made stage unlocking less of a chore. Absent this, it falls a little short of the high recommendation it would otherwise deserve on its merits. iLounge Rating: B+.
Designed as an alternative to Nickelodeon’s popular Dora and Diego characters, Disney’s Handy Manny is a Latin-themed 3-D animated cartoon featuring voice work by actors including Wilmer Valderrama, who plays the gentle, English/Spanish-bilingual title character amidst a collection of helpful talking tools. Two new Handy Manny games have just hit the App Store, and though they’ve each regrettably been separated for no good reason into iPhone/iPod touch and iPad versions—each at the same $3 price—they might be of interest to fans of the series, anyway. One is called Handy Manny Flicker’s Flashcard Fiesta (version 1.0), and the other is Handy Manny Workshop (version 2.0). Both feature extensive samples of Valderrama’s voice, guiding young players through their activities, with small animated sequences that mimic ones from the TV show.
Flicker’s Flashcard Fiesta is the more limited but better-developed of the titles, letting you choose either Spanish or English lessons as a default before offering two modes. First is a collection of 14 sets of flash cards that can be selected individually or simultaneously, teaching one word per card; you scroll through cards on the bottom, hear Manny speak the English word, and then tap Flicker the flashlight to hear the Spanish version. A Word Bench game presents three images and three words on screen at once, having players swipe to bring the correct word together with each photo. Upbeat music plays throughout both modes, which feature nice animated intermission sequences; the only interface oddity is in needing to figure out how to tap Flicker to switch languages. Otherwise, this is a cute app for teaching Spanish or English to kids; but not for the iPad/iPhone version split, it would have rated even higher. iLounge Rating: B+.
Handy Manny Workshop initially looked more appealing but turned out to be sloppier in execution. This app features five sections, including a Find It mode to let you find the tools in Manny’s workshop, Match It to play a simple game of concentration, Color It to access coloring book pages, Puzzle It to do jigsaw puzzles, and Sing It to watch the TV show’s introduction with overlaid lyrics. In our testing, Find It produced an almost pitch-black screen that needed to be skipped through before the simple tapping game would play, sometimes loading up entirely black thereafter, and the game’s animated video sequences sometimes stopped abruptly, issues related to poor bug testing; the coloring book’s “reveal” feature didn’t work, either, drawing black lines on the pages rather than revealing their colors as promised. Workshop needs some extra development attention so that kids who download it aren’t disappointed by its various problems; for the time being, it’s the sort of mess that even Handy Manny couldn’t fix without help. iLounge Rating: D+.
We had looked forward to seeing One Result’s Magic Drawing Pad ($1, version 1.1, aka Magic Whiteboard Drawing Pad), as it sounded like an interesting alternative to Darren Murtha Design’s impressive Drawing Pad—a title we reviewed and loved earlier this year. In short, One Result’s app has a couple of positive features, but it’s not as well-exeucted as its rival. The app offers “whiteboard,” “blackboard,” “gallery” and “games” sections that effectively just change the background art from white to black to a saved or tic-tac-toe-ready image; Murtha’s app has more integrated background art. Also less compelling are the drawing tools, which consist of simpler pen, stamp, sticker, and eraser tools, each with clumsier text-based settings to pre-select sizes, a system that young children in particular will find less intuitive than just touching bigger or smaller tools, or pinching to resize objects. While you can create scribbled or sticker-style repeated art, there’s little room for adjusting the stickers’ size and less versatility in the other tools, as well. Being able to recolor the stickers, use a rainbow color-shifting brush, and quickly call up game-ready grids are the only advantages that offset this app’s many so-so features; it’s saved from a “bad” rating mostly by its low price. iLounge Rating: C.
Older kids and their parents may appreciate Barnstorm Games’ Mensa Brain Test ($2, version 1.1.0), an iPhone- and iPod touch-formatted IQ test that takes a very different approach from the numerous “idiot test” apps that have been released in the App Store over the past couple of years. As the name suggests, Mensa Brain Test was developed for the high IQ organization American Mensa, enabling users to get a rough sense of their brainpower through short, medium, or long tests that range from 20 to 60 questions, with one minute of time per question. There’s nothing flashy about this application, but its screens are cleanly designed; it offers a training mode, storage of results, and with the tests, the ability to effectively figure out whether you’re eligible for Mensa membership. The questions will be way too difficult for all but the most prodigious (read: savant-level) youngsters, but teenagers will appreciate the no-nonsense interface. iPad formatting wouldn’t have hurt. iLounge Rating: B.
Worthy of only a brief review is SimonHD Original ($1, version 1.01) by Kfir Schindelhaim, an iPad-only application that replicates the classic plastic music memorization toy. On a positive note, the visual rendition of the Simon toy is pretty close to the appearance of the circular device, with four large outer buttons and three small central ones, and if you’re just looking to play a classic game of Simon—each time repeating a randomized sequence of different button presses indicated by flashing lights—it does the job, for only $1. Sadly, the app uses the much-loathed Marker Felt font for its user interface, doesn’t include either iPod/iPhone support or a landscape rotation mode, and offers little more than small deviations from the 1978 toy. SimonHD Original could use some additional fine-tuning to achieve the same classic level of status. iLounge Rating: C+.
Last but not least in this roundup is Zoo Rescue ($1) from Tapulous, a simple game that will be fun for kids of all ages. You control a helicopter with limited fuel, pressing a button to fly and tilting the iPhone or iPod touch to steer left or right through increasingly complicated mazes, each with zoo animals to rescue. The challenge is to get the animals out of pits or caves either individually or in groups without hitting the walls, crashing, or running out of fuel; coin, fuel, and shield items are scattered around to help you on each mission. While the helicopter rescue theme has been done many times before over the past thirty years, Zoo Rescue’s cartoony animal artwork, increasingly challenging level designs, and bright backgrounds will win you over; only the game’s present 20-level brevity will disappoint some players. For the $1 asking price, it’s solid, and as additional levels are promised, we suspect that it will only become better over time. iLounge Rating: B+.
Thousands of additional iPhone, iPod, and iPad app and game reviews are available here.