Picky Kid Rating: 2.4
Wow… just wow. iDollhouse is a valiant attempt at turning the iPad into a dollhouse. There are a HUGE amount of interactions in this game, which is both its strong point, and one of its weak ones… because they don’t all work perfectly. The biggest drawback though, is that this app regularly interrupts play with a video ad for other products.
When I said wow above, it’s because this game must have hundreds of moving “parts” to play with. Here are some examples:
- You can take a cake out of the cupboard, put it in the oven, wait for it to cook, take it out, ice it, put a candle on it, and feed it to someone.
- You can put someone in the shower, turn the water on, close the shower curtain, open it again, turn the water off, take the person out of the shower, brush their teeth, blow dry and hairspray their hair. (Note: to keep the app G-rated, people wear towels in the shower, even when the water is on.)
- You can feed the parrot and the fish.
- You can water the flowers.
- You can turn the radio on and watch the family dance (rather awkwardly).
The challenges with having so many things to do are twofold:
- You expect to do things that you can’t. For example, why won’t the people read the books? Why can’t you put a blanket over someone who’s sleeping?
- There are lots of ways they can fail. For example, dishes or hats might disappear if you don’t set them in exactly the right place. People sometimes get “lost” when moving from room to room. You can set things in space.
So, if you get iDollhouse, be prepared to be both amazed and frustrated.
The concept for iDollhouse includes more than the app. You can buy a cover for your iPad or iPhone (though I can’t imagine how you can drag and drop such tiny objects on the phone screen!) that makes it look like a house. You can also buy plastic dolls that you can place into the virtual house using the camera on your iPad. We have not tested either of those add-ons, and the app works fine as a standalone, though we wonder: if we had purchased something, would that obnoxious sales video stop coming up?
When you first start the game, you’ll see a start screen with three bouncing icons. You’ll want to tap one of them pretty quickly, because the music and high-pitched “let’s go” and “whee” voice will have you gritting your teeth. The choices are: Arrow (to enter the house and start the game), Question mark (which explains how to get your plastic doll into the app), or House (which take you to the Appventures web site). The web site link is not protected, so it’s easy for kids to leave the game at this point.
Assuming you’ve tapped the arrow, you’ll see the front of a house. Tap the door to enter, or tap near the top middle of the screen to get a menu of things you can add or change in this scene. You can get this menu in any scene. At the front door, you can change the color of the curtains, the style of the door and windows, and add flower pots. The options are different in other rooms.
The house has a living room, a kitchen, a bedroom, a bathroom and a back yard. Once you’ve entered the house, you can navigate to various rooms by tapping the pink arrows. To get some people into the house, tap the top middle of the screen to get the menu, then tap icon that shows the people, then select a person. That person will walk into the scene. Unfortunately, the menu disappears very quickly, so don’t take too long making a decision! This is challenging when doing things like selecting colors for your walls and furniture — there’s barely enough time to see the choices.
This is a free-form game; there’s no direction or goal, other than to experiment and see what you can do. And my advice? Try everything… And if it doesn’t work, try it again! The first thing B wanted to do in the bedroom was to put the little girl to sleep. We tried setting her on the bed, but she wouldn’t go… until we finally dragged her into exactly the right position. There are a lot of precise positions like this that can be frustrating for younger players.
The most frustrating thing by far is the advertisement that periodically pops up over what you’re doing. There’s a “x” to close it, but it doesn’t always work right away. There should be a setting to turn this off. (There are no settings at all.)
Another thing we discovered in our exploration is that you can add your own photos to the walls (by tapping on one of the framed pictures). But when we tried, we got a message with a big lock that says the app doesn’t have access to our photos or videos. That’s fine (and how we want it!), but when that’s the case, the app should have a more kid-friendly way to tell us.
The design of the game is ok, though I’d prefer a more ambitious (less purple and pink) color palette, and more refinement given to the objects. Some have matting halos around them. The animations are pretty basic and lack the finesse that makes things feel alive. The sound effects could also use some improvement. In general, they’re ok, but when you change rooms, there’s a very loud “magic harp” sound that should be quieter. Pay attention to seemingly random sounds you hear… they may be telling you something, like that the flowers are drooping! Occasionally, we hear a knocking noise in the bathroom that we still haven’t figured out.
Bottom line? iDollhouse can be fun for kids as young as 3½ if they have enough patience to deal with the game’s idiosyncrasies, and probably could be enjoyed by kids up to age 6 or 7. But you have to be prepared for the unwelcome advertising and willing to work around some usability problems.Review: iDollhouse iPad App,
Played on: iPad 2, iOS6