Picky Kid Rating: 2.5
1-2-3 Trains is yet another toddler counting app. We were attracted to this one from the description: “Interactive & freely movable trains unseen in other kids train apps!” Well, it’s true, but this app left us a little disappointed because of its limited playability and a few fairly major usability issues. Try it for train fanatics under three, but be prepared to help them out.
The app opens with a start screen where you can select your language in the “rocks” in the lower left (English, Korean or Japanese). There are no other options. The start screen also has an area to enter your email address for the developer’s newsletter. We think this should be hidden in an “options” or “for parents” area to keep kids from accidentally triggering it. Not that they’ll actually be successful in signing you up, but because it’s too easy for them to accidentally pull up the keyboard.
To start the game, click the cloud shape labeled “Start” (if you’re playing in English, that is… The button text changes according to the language selected). The start button is relatively small, and lacks the visual clues kids who can’t read look for… (an arrow or some sort of motion). When B first played this game, she tried tapping the rising “smoke” first — probably because it’s the only thing that moves on screen.
After tapping the cloud, you’ll arrive at the first of three different scenes. This one shows an oval train track running on top of a green landscape and through a mountain. On the right-hand side of the screen, there’s an area I’ll call the tray (it looks sort of like a clear glass dish) that holds four train cars and one engine. You can drag them out of the tray and into the scene. You can put them onto the track, where they’ll start moving around, in the middle of the track, where they’ll sit still, or drop them in the pond on the lower-left of the screen, where they’ll disappear into the water! Don’t worry though, trains you’ve dropped will reappear in the tray. (Though now you’ll have to tap the tray to pull it out.)
There are a couple of different ways to count the train pieces… You may tap the items you’ve placed in the middle of the tracks, and numerals will appear on them with an accompanying voice-over. Or you can put trains on the track and lower the signal flag near the mountain by tapping it. This will count all the train pieces you have on the track as they come out of the tunnel — with numerals, voiceovers, and a large number in the middle of the track.
If all these ways to interact with and count train pieces sound complicated to you, you’re not alone! We agree. It seems the developers know this too, because they’ve included a “helping hand”. Tap the hand-shaped icon in the top left of the screen, and it will demonstrate some things you can do. The problem is, the helping hand doesn’t always work quite right — sometimes it doesn’t seem to know whether the tray is open or closed, or where objects are on the screen. It seems to get especially confused when you switch scenes.
There are three scenes: The train scene, a space scene, and a underwater scene. Conceptually, they all work the same. In the space scene, you’re counting with space capsules and a rocket, and there are ten of them (instead of just five), so it’s a little more interesting. Plus you get to drop them into a black hole to return them to the tray! Like the train scene, the underwater scene has just five things to count (submarines). Change the scenes by tapping the small pictures on the right-hand side of the screen. You can also return to the home screen (though there’s no real reason to, unless you want to change the language) via the home icon in the top left.
The graphics and the sound are decent in this app. The motion on the “trains” is well-done, and we like the way that objects subtly interact with each other in the tray. Sound effects are used sparingly (unless your kid figures out they can tap vehicles repeatedly), and there is no background music. The voiceovers end up sounding a little stiff since there’s no emphasis given to one number over another.
Our favorite thing about this app is how you can create the “trains” so easily by dragging and dropping. But the “counting” part of this app has limited appeal because it only goes up to ten, and in two of the three scenes, only goes up to five. We’d recommend this app for kids under age 3 who might mostly enjoy interacting with the trains, except that the inconsistencies in user experience will likely frustrate them.
Bottom line? There’s potential here, but we’d recommend waiting for an update before adding this one to your toddler’s iPad. In particular, we’d like to see the issues with the “helping hand” resolved, and a better start screen.
[The developer of this app requested a Picky Kid App Review. No fees were paid.]Review: 1-2-3 Trains iPad App,
Played on: iPad 2, iOS6
- New Breed Studio