Bottom Line: This app’s heart is in the right place wanting to expose kids to nature but it misses the mark in several areas including ease of use, data collection, choppy movement of objects and content.
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This app has no ads, no in-app purchases and no external links.
Our friend Philip created a demonstration video for your viewing pleasure. Have a look!
The app homescreen showcases four activities, cooking, camping, fishing and hiking. The homepage also displays a gear button for parents only. The grown-up section has all the information needed to play the app and what to expect. I’ll start with settings. Five language choices, including english, french and “Bahasa Malasia”, are a nice amount for users but I would also recommend Spanish for the United States’ iTunes store because we have a large spanish-speaking population. The ability to turn background sound off in the parent-only section is always nice to have and I like seeing it in this app. This is also true for voice-over, because in most of the sections of this app, sentences are repeated constantly, which can become annoying. I also appreciate being able to turn sound effects off or on for the same reason. Dynamic elements is described as being a way to get kids to work through problems and can be set to off or on. This sounded like a great idea as explained in the guide, but I saw a minimal change in play when toggling between the two. There was such little difference that I’m curious about why it is even mentioned. For instance, in the fishing game, the rod was in the middle of the screen when dynamic was off, but when it was on the rod was laying on the beach. Gameplay was not effected. Reporting is also a nice addition, however, I found that it did not accurately track play time. I visited the fishing section several times with dynamic on and off and it only recorded two visits. Perhaps the app only tracks one visit per time the app is open? The last part that needs to be noted in this area is that there are no external links, even in the about us section. As a parent, I appreciate an app that truly has no external links and no in-app purchases and no ads.
Now to visit the different play areas. I have mentioned fishing already, so I will start there. The narrator asks “How many fish can you catch?” After tapping the worm and getting my line baited, I tried catching fish. This part of the game is difficult to understand what exactly is needed to retrieve the fish. Following the narrator’s directions, I tapped a fish and it was on the line. Then, I tapped again, then I tapped the pole, then I typed six more time until the fish was delivered to the bucket. The bucket is a bottomless pit of fish that children will never be able to see how many fish they have caught. Kids also will not know where exactly to tap three to eight times to get the fish. This is open-ended gameplay without any payoff for the user. My son has classic autism and the unclear directions would be frustrating for him.
In the cooking section, users are shown a campfire with a teapot, trash bin and two plates, one that contains fish, marshmallows and corn. I assumed that I could place food on the grill, know when it was finished, put it on the plate and then have something happen. I was wrong. Putting food on the grill was difficult. One swipe to move the food was not available. Each piece of food took several swipes and taps to situate on the grill. A few times, items got bunched together and it was almost impossible to remove the items. The color change was difficult to notice unless I was in a dim room. I suggest more prominent color changes in the future. When an item was burned, my trash bin would disappear sometimes or not appear all or end up throwing food away when I could see it because it somehow ended up near the plate. I also threw away my teapot. Again, this is open-ended play with no ultimate goal, like maybe eating or serving the food.
Off to camp! Here, users are shown a boy holding a compass next to a tent that opens to show a girl with a guitar and a flashlight. I found myself frustrated again. I went to the compass and all I could do was turn around to see where the compass pointed. Absolutely nothing here to promote any problem solving or goal. In future updates, It would be nice to use the compass to move a character through a maze or path. Inside the tent, The flashlight worked well, but to play guitar I was frustrated yet again.
The only way to hear the guitar is to push the note buttons. There is no interaction with the guitar and no song to follow. In future updates, I would like to see some interaction with the guitar as well as a guide for playing simple songs. I also suggest that this part of the app is programmed to not play background music. I found the background music in competition with the guitar sounds. While it is possible to turn off background music in settings, that turns it off for the whole game.
Finally, in the hiking section, a lovely scene featuring two boys on a path surrounded by a butterfly, squirrel and bird who all move when touched. In the upper right corner is a sapling and an ax. The children appear to be the object of the game since they are squarely in the middle of the screen. After seeing the boys walk up and down the path several times, I realized that they were simple cause and effect touchpoints like the squirrel, butterfly and bird. Selecting the ax then touching the four background trees removes them, but selecting the sapling and touching where the trees were returns them. Chopping down trees and planting new trees in the exact spot felt a lot like a simple erase/undo action. Kids would find more entertainment by getting an area to plant, water and chop trees where they want.
While I appreciate the time and thought that goes into making an app, it is my job to help developers make better apps and help consumers make informed choices about their purchases. With this app, I see intent to teach about nature and entertain children, but it does not fulfill either of those goals. Many children will get frustrated by vague rules and not being able to count their fish, eat their food, play a guitar or grow a garden. I do have one thing to note: the developer has been gracious about this review and thanked me for an honest criticism. I applaud that kind of response and I look forward to seeing future updates in this app.
Cynthia is fighting off a kitten who wants to stand on the keyboard. Cynthia is losing. *Smart Apps for Kids was paid a priority review fee for this post.