Crayola Trace & Draw Hardware Review

Crayola Trace & Draw Hardware Review

Apr 30, 2015

In a world gone electronically amok, it is refreshing to see accessories aimed at kids… the type of gear that harnesses the power of mobile electronics in relatively atypical ways. Back in the day, we could have jamborees with some charcoal and paper.

It feels like the Crayola Trace & Draw is a system that hearkens back to those days, while being firmly planted in the present.

The review package Griffin sent us contains a single piece, a marker and documentation. The idea is fairly simple, almost crazily so: the main hardware piece is an adjustable clip that fastens onto a tablet (or, as became apparent during testing, even larger phablets). This clip’s main purpose is to hold a single sheet of paper plush against the device screen.

The secondary part of this combo is the Crayola Trace & Draw companion application, available on the Play Store. This app powers the images that are the core to the tool. The app contains a bunch of relatively simple basic images, black on white for efficacy, and grouped generally for identification. Now, with the device screen at the brightest setting (as the application advises) and a plain non-opaque piece of paper in place as described earlier, one can use the included marker to trace the image which shows through the paper.

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The app has some simple child/adult-friendly tricks up its sleeve to make the process as successful as possible. One pertinent method is the way is presents the image to be traced — in parts, such that one is overwhelmed with one difficult image all at once, but a smaller section that is more easily reproduced. When that section is completed, the budding artist can tap on an arrow that adds a new section to be added, and so on till the outline is completed.

When the outline is indeed finished, the young (or old) Rembrandt can then take the sheet off and further enhance the future masterpiece.

The system is rated for kids 3+, and I was able to try it out with my tablet-savvy 5-yr-old. Simply put, she loved it, and raided the printer for paper like a vagabond. She was able to get the hang of it almost immediately, and the app was easy enough for her to manipulate on her own. I find it quite interesting that she views the old Nook Color as primarily a tool to create art now. We (yes, we) were able to use pencils and such to do the initial trace too. Nifty.

When it’s all said and done, I really appreciate it. It’s simple, affordable ($19.99 on the Griffin website), and even useful. If only to see a continued smile on my daughter’s face, hats off to Griffin for encouraging childhood creativity.

Puro Sound Labs Kids Bluetooth Headphones Hardware Review

Puro Sound Labs Kids Bluetooth Headphones Hardware Review

Feb 4, 2015

Here’s the problem: I’ve come to appreciate quality earphones the older I’ve gotten. I won’t describe myself as an audiophile, but I do enjoy the output a quality set of phones can bring. As such, I do have write a few. Wired, wireless, over-ear, in-ear, lounging, sport… you name it, and I probably have a set for the occasion.

I baby them too. They’re cased when not in use, and issued in places that negate the possibility of silly mishaps, like (gasp!) sitting on them. All because I like having options, and dislike procuring stuff twice.

You know what is kryptonite to gadget longevity? Kids.

Take my daughter for instance. Ariana Grande must be heard, ave outside hearing the SAME song played on loop, I have to reluctantly lend her a pair of mine.

Why aren’t there more gadgets available for kids? That’s a question the Puro Sound Labs Kids Headphones looks to answer.

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To be honest, I expected a set of headphones full of frills and overly bright colors; the review package Puro Sound sent set me straight. The retail box contains the charging cable and AC adapter, 2 cases (soft and hard), special 3.55mm cable and the headphones themselves, with the headphones being mostly tan with an emphasis on soft gold and chrome highlights, and it has prominent buttons for toggling on, wireless pairing, volume up and down, as well as audio and microSD charging ports and an LED light on the left cup. The cups are braced by cushioned material, and are able to extend from the band for bigger heads (or hairdos). The band is also covered in soft material for a more comfortable experience; the main parts are crafted from lightweight aluminum.

These headphones, on paper, rack up up some nice features: 16 hours of usage (200 hours standby time), built-in microphone, balanced response, and (most interesting to me), a means of limiting overly loud outputs.

Getting the gear going is a matter of charging, and using the bluetooth pair button to match it to a compatible audio source. I like the crisp sound it produces, and the conduction seems topnotch. The advertised sound control is superb; I didn’t feel like I lost fidelity while keeping my ears safe. But even more importantly, the real testers (my kids) loved them, and, for once, didn’t complain about being forced to keep the volume down.

Not bad.

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There are a couple things I especially like, and which make this a bit more than just a kid’s accessory, is the aforementioned microphone, which allows for usage with phone calls. Then there’s the wired functionality, which allows the unit to be used even if the battery is drained (and the supplied audio cable keeps to the noise limiting paradigm, in case one wondered).

All in all, the Puro Sound Labs Kids Headphones has a soft touch, but is great enough to have mature sensibilities. It’s priced relatively well ($79.99 on Amazon), looks good and does a lot.

Disney’s Club Penguin Releases Android App

Disney’s Club Penguin Releases Android App

Dec 19, 2014

Disney Interactive has released an Android app for its virtual world for kids Club Penguin.

The new app looks to bring the best of Club Penguin — games, exploration, social interaction and more — to kids in a mobile, safe manner. Kids can play games to earn virtual money, take part in parties that refresh every month, explore the entire virtual island, and adopt “puffles” amongst other activities.

Additionally, there is a premium tier that can be accessed via in-app purchase. This “membership” tier allows for extended features, like extra personalization and customization abilities.

It is pertinent to note that to mark the new release, Disney is offering a complimentary gifting month of membership (for friends) to folks that purchase a month.

One month of membership runs for $7.99, three months cost $19.99, and six months costs $39.99.

The app (sans membership) is free on the Play Store.

[Source: Disney Interactive Press Release]

Ludo Master Review

Ludo Master Review

Dec 9, 2014

Ludo Master is a colourful attempt to rejuvenate the classic board game played by grandmothers everywhere. Is it worth playing?

Screenshot_2014-12-06-22-47-36Ludo Master plays a good game of ludo with a few bells and whistles. A neat dice strength gauge allows for harder of softer dice throws so you can try to “turn” the dice over to get another six just like real life. When a piece lands on an opponent a mini punch up ensures as they are sent back to their base. Multiple boards are available and the game lacks any nasty bugs or other impediments to success.

At the same time though this is Ludo and nothing more. There are no alternate game modes or special rule sets to use. Ludo is such a well-worn game it would be nice to see a few spanners thrown into the works with some oddball game variations, but what’s here is well executed and perfectly playable.

Games can be played against other players or against the AI. The AI is good enough, although it sometimes make questionable tactical choices, like opting not to land on an opponents pieces and moving something else instead.

A baffling omission in Ludo Master is the complete lack of online play, or even Bluetooth multiplayer. This means that players must share the same device to play games against each other, which is unwieldy to say the least. This is a missed opportunity and lessens the game’s replay value by a lot.

Screenshot_2014-12-06-22-31-36It does seem that dice in Ludo Master can act a bit weird. In a game I played the blue player seemed to constantly cheat as he managed to get two sixes one after another three times in 5 turns and mostly threw fives when he wasn’t throwing sixes. Meanwhile it took me 15 throws to throw a single 1 to win a game in which I had previously thrown 5 ones in a row.

Ludo Master features extremely minimal IAP. The game itself is free and one 99 cent charge removes the banner ad that is on screen during games and the delays between menu screens for “loading”. There are no such delays when games are in progress. This is very reasonable.

Ludo Master looks as good as a board game can. The game is bright and colourful and there are multiple board designs and each looks good in its own way. The sound works well too. A peaceful tune accompanies the pleasant gameplay and the odd popping of moving pieces and amusing punching sounds for taking opponent pieces gets the job done.

Ludo Master is a friendly and good looking game of ludo for free and is worth playing, but the questionable dice rolls and lack of online play hampers its long term gameplay value.

Toca Cars Review

Toca Cars Review

Jan 16, 2014

Toca Cars is the latest in the long line of Toca games by Toca Boca aimed at children. Known for their simple gameplay and unique, hand drawn graphics these games are great for keeping kids amused.

Screenshot_2014-01-11-12-37-51Toca Cars is about as simple as driving games get. The player just picks a whenevr to play a pre-defined world or to create their own. Then they can just cruise around, enjoying the drive. Everything in the world of Toca Cars is made of cardboard so running into it will send it flying. It’s fun to smash into houses and watch them go tumbling away. When the player causes too much destruction they can tap a reset button to return the world to its starting state.

Besides just running into stuff there are also paint puddles which kids can use to leave paint trails behind them, colouring the map. Unfortunately the paint trails disappear quickly, which prevents them from doing anything fun with the paint, like drawing a picture or writing their name.

That’s Toca Cars’ gameplay in a nutshell. It’s an exceedingly simple game, but well suited for kids to tool around in and play with.

Screenshot_2014-01-11-12-38-15What will give Toca Cars some longevity is the world editor. The world editor lets players simply drag and drop ramps, trees, houses and even creatures onto the map and create their own playground. This feature is dead simple to use and just about any kid should get the idea quick.

Some fun creatures inhabit Toca’s world. There is a cute doggy that follows the car around and a robot that pushes the car away. A bird also chirps happily as he hops around. This may seem minor, but it makes Toca Cars feel more alive.

The main problem with Toca Cars is that there’s no real goal in it. Players just drive around, knocking stuff over and reset the world when they feel like it. There no actual racing or such, it’s more about simply interacting with the world and the car. Kids may get tired of it rather fast.

Toca Cars has a neat cardboard like visual style. Smaller objects like trees are on pedestals just like toy trees and larger ones like houses are cardboard boxes with draw on details. This gives the game a really nice “playland” type feel and it feels a lot like smashing down a town built by children on a table to play in and perfectly suits the age bracket Toca Cars is aimed at. The graphics certainly got my imagination working on just what I could do with cardboard.

The sound is fairly basic, some catchy music accompanies the action and some basic bangs and taps are heard when running into objects.

Toca Cars is not a game for adults as it is far too simple, but for kids it can be a fun, if short-lived experience. Worth 99 cents, but not much more.

Secret Bear World To Go Stand-Alone With The Help Of Kickstarter Campaign

Secret Bear World To Go Stand-Alone With The Help Of Kickstarter Campaign

Sep 16, 2013

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Secret Bear World is a pretty popular game/social network for the youngest, which stars cute, cuddly teddy-bears as they go exploring their cuddly island, meet other cuddly bears, and generally behave like cute, cuddly teddy-bears should. Well, some of them are probably a lot more cuddly than others, but I hope they’ll have some ways of dealing with that. It was existing as an in-browser application up to this day, but now it attempts to go stand-alone, and mobile. Kickstarter campaign is underway, attempting to collect a pretty significant amount of money for the development. If you want your kids to go social, you may participate and get some goodies later, if and when the game goes gold. Meanwhile, there are still no news about a social game for the grown-ups, where you get to play as actual bears. Secret Bear World Kickstarter Campaign

The Awesome Game Company To Release Alphaman, An Educational Arcade Game

The Awesome Game Company To Release Alphaman, An Educational Arcade Game

Aug 30, 2013

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With school being in very foreseeable future for some, and already an unchangeable actuality for others, here’s a game that will be a great teaching addition to all the children, as well as Twitter users. Alphaman is an arcade game that looks sort of like Pac-man, but is actually an educating tool that teaches spelling. Release details and spelling difficulty are yet unknown, but there is a teaser that is available below.

Bonnie’s Brunch Review

Bonnie’s Brunch Review

Jun 22, 2012

I never really gave cooking games much attention – I used to think they’re just for kids. The last time I played this kind of game was during my early Facebook days with Restaurant City. I must say I quite enjoyed those days. I liked the challenge of running a food business with the best possible results. It’s the same feeling I got from playing Bonnie’s Brunch. It felt childish at first, but after a few levels (and one upset customer) it became a challenge.

Bonnie’s Brunch has been available for iOS for a while, but it was recently released for Android. The cooking game requires Bonnie to serve breakfast to different customers, with a goal of making them happy – and for them never to leave without getting served.

Food items start as bagels and croissants, with more complicated items like waffles and sandwiches added as the levels go higher. The key to serving all customers effectively is to know their personalities. Some customers are more impatient than others, so this is one thing you need to consider when deciding which one to serve first. Another factor to consider are the food items. Some items are readily available – like a bagel – while some can take a few seconds to prepare such as a waffle or a ham and cheese sandwich.

The best part of the game is the design. Great, crisp graphics and responsive game controls will make you want to keep playing the game. The game characters are also amusing – ranging from an impatient granny to a former singing icon. When new characters are present in the next level, there will be a brief introduction about that character before the level starts. The player can then learn about the characters’ personality from these short information clips and serve them accordingly.

The first fifteen levels are free to play, but succeeding ones can be played by purchasing the game’s full version. I don’t usually purchase anything from the Play Store, but this game really made me reconsider. I eventually went ahead and made the purchase, and I haven’t regretted it since.

Bonnie’s Brunch has one of the best graphics and smooth performance in Android games so far. It makes a cooking game more fun than it really should be. With the vibrant, animated characters and yummy-looking food, it’s a great eye-candy game to pass the time – not just for kids, but for adults as well. It even makes me hungry at times, I had to take a break and grab a quick snack.

No lags, delays or force closes were experienced during game play – which is a relief for me since I did invest money (albeit a small amount) in this app. The game and its graphics run smoothly and are responsive to touch controls such as fixing an order and dragging it towards the customer. However, I wish there were more levels to this game – though I have not finished all of them due to the level of difficulty in the last few stages. Yes, it does get harder.

If there is ever a cooking game face-off for Android in the future, I can very much vouch for this game. It’s fun, visually stunning and surprisingly addictive.

Slime vs. Mushroom 2 Review

Slime vs. Mushroom 2 Review

Apr 17, 2012

There are tons of games in the Google Play store that look too much like Plants vs. Zombies. Maybe this is because people just can not get enough of the more kid-friendly, fun and light version of the tower defense game genre. Not all of these knock-offs are great, however. It’s even frustrating to see most of these games just do not live up to the standards that gamers loved from Plants vs. Zombies. Slime vs. Mushroom 2 does not disappoint in this aspect. The new follow-up to a previous version, it’s an entertaining game with a funny premise.

The game starts with the user choosing their heroes, or in this case, slime. A requisite slime in all stages is the equivalent of the sunflower in PvZ, a purple-colored slime called Mom slime which gives birth to a baby slime – which in turn generates the needed points to purchase other slime heroes to defend their village. Slime heroes each have their own “powers”, such as shooting fire or ice towards the mushroom enemies, or being a suicide bomber to fend off multiple attacks in one row. Some slimes also act as a physical barrier to prevent the enemies from passing through. As the game progresses, more slimes can be purchased by using diamonds. Diamonds are earned throughout the game from Mom slimes, or one has an option to buy it online. Existing slimes that user already have can also be upgraded using diamonds. This can be an investment as the mushroom enemies can get tougher to kill as the levels get higher.

For an interactive game, the interface is quite smooth even on my low end device. The size of the app itself is smaller compared to other similar tower defense games (8.99 MB). Tapping on objects are sometimes done more than once, but that is mainly due to my phone’s small screen size. Otherwise, game controls are responsive and lag-free.

In addition to smooth gameplay, the graphics are cute enough to keep the player engaged – even if one is not winning. I particulary like the way the mushrooms “fight” with the slime in close combat. The characters are unique enough in their own right, making one forget that the idea was practically drawn from another (more popular) tower defense game. Despite that little flaw, the game still brings its own fun twist that’s refreshing and very entertaining.

There is a small tutorial when one first starts the game, but it doesn’t really explain a lot except for how to earn points and position the slimes. Once the game is started and throughout the next levels, there are no additional tutorials to explain new things – like a new kind of slime or upgrading an existing slime. The user would have to read through and look at visual clues as to how everything else works. This might be fine for one who’s very familiar with similar games, but it might throw off a first-time gamer. In this aspect the game definitely needs some additional tweaking to further educate the player. There is also a lack of warning system when the attacks are going to be “heavier” than usual so the player can anticipate and position their slimes accordingly.

A good addition would be a portion that explains the different kinds of mushrooms and what they are capable of in terms of strength and speed. I made the mistake of thinking all mushrooms were the same and were surprised later on to see that some actually attack better than others. Again, this might discourage new players if they get the impression that the game seems to be hard to play for no apparent reason.

As all other free apps in the Google Play store, this is an ad-supported game – but the ad placement (on top of the screen) is not so bad and does not prevent the user from playing the game properly. Other than being a minor visual distraction, the ads are quite acceptable in this case.

Overall, Slime vs. Mushroom 2 is one of the more quirky, kid-friendly tower defense games out there. With smooth graphics and fun characters, this game can keep you smiling for a long while. Ideally, these games are meant for kids but it’s still equally enjoyable to be played by adults. With certain additional information about the characters and game rules, in general, this game can be one of the best tower defense games thus far. The game has 100 levels and is free to play, with in-game purchase options for buying upgrades and characters.

Pig Rush Now Available For Android

Pig Rush Now Available For Android

Feb 17, 2011

“Who let the pig out!” “Oink, Oink, Oink, Oink, Oink!”

Reign-Design and their hit iOS title Pig Rush have squealed their way into the Android Market and downloading this cute and fun platformer doesn’t require parting with any of your hard earned bacon.

Jumpy the pig has escaped the farm and is making a mad dash to freedom in this endless running platformer your kids are sure to enjoy. Help Jumpy avoid deep ravines, fires and moving platforms. The longer you stay alive, the faster Jumpy runs. Collect power ups and fire hats to help with the pesky obstacles along the way.

[Update] A Grinch, A Cat In a Hat, Indeed Android Has, Two New Dr. Seuss Apps

[Update] A Grinch, A Cat In a Hat, Indeed Android Has, Two New Dr. Seuss Apps

Dec 14, 2010

It would be safe to say that at some point in our lives we’ve been exposed to the workings of Dr.Seuss. His classic rhythmic children books can be spotted on almost every child’s bookshelf. With numerous screen adaptations, merchandise and even a theme park, it is only fitting that his legacy would continue entertaining children of all ages through newer technologies. That’s exactly how app development company Oceanhouse Media, Inc. feels, and that is why they created their popular Dr.Seuss digital children’s book apps.

Food Fight! Children’s Book Review

Food Fight! Children’s Book Review

Dec 8, 2010

Technology is forever changing the way children experience and learn fundamental skills such as language and reading. “Food Fight! Children’s Book” by developer Jelly Biscuits takes the next logical step by bringing innovative and interactive reading to our handheld devices, which more than often end up in the clutches of our children’s tiny hands. “Food Fight! Children’s Book” features original illustrations and text from Glenn Melenhorst’s popular children’s book “Little Boys.” In a collaborative effort this re-released version has been remastered with over 80 interactive elements and can be found on both Android and iOS. Since I have 2 young reviewers at home, I decided to hand it over to them for some testing for this Android Rundown.