Picky Kid Rating: 2.4
Magikid Umbrella is a short storybook app with a dress-up activity and a music video. The things that attracted me to this app were the developer’s description of a 3D immersive experience, the inclusion of a non-digital craft project, and the subject matter (rain), which is top of mind in my corner of the world this time of year. It hits the last point spot on, but falls short on the other two.
First, calling this app a storybook is a bit of a stretch. The “story” is only about 8 pages long, and there’s not really much of a narrative. To make a short story shorter, it’s raining, and our heroine, Fiona, discovers that many different things work like umbrellas. At the end of the story, she shows us how to make a paper umbrella for a teddy bear (who’s indoors, so doesn’t actually need one). I like the idea of teaching children conceptual extension (a leaf can be used as umbrella, for example), but the story does this in a way that doesn’t really engage kids to figure this out on their own. Instead of saying “What could the duckling use as an umbrella? …That’s right, a leaf!”, it says “A leaf works just like an umbrella.” (Yawn)
I also love the idea of presenting a real, physical craft activity that can be done in conjunction with the story. However, B shows no interest in getting paper and a toothpick when Fiona gets them to make an umbrella for the teddy bear. Instead, she just finds this part of the story kind of boring. Luckily it’s easy to skip; the “next” arrow will jump past the activity to the end. Note: I have not prompted B to do the activity along with Fiona — I was curious if she’d request to do it herself. So far, she hasn’t. At some point, I’ll suggest it; but the developers could have done a better job encouraging this, saying “Fiona gets paper and a toothpick… Can you get paper and a toothpick too? Then you can make your own umbrella!”
When the game first opens, the start screen provides a language option (English or Chinese), an “ABOUT” area (to learn about the development team and more apps) and a box wrapped up like a birthday present with the title “UMBRELLA” over it. This is what you must tap to start the game (missing is the pulsing arrow that kids often look for to start). The box unfolds to reveal the story’s “stage” — a cute effect, and really the closest thing to a “3D immersive experience” the game has to offer. (I was expecting something that we could rotate, or at least tilt with the accelerometer, more along the lines of the effects in Farm 1-2-3.)
Navigation through the story is fairly obvious, tap left and right arrows to advance the scene. Instead of the typical page-turning effect, objects on the stage fold up and unfold, staying true to the story-in-a-box concept. Most scenes contain interactive areas, indicated by pulsing circles or wobbling objects, that can be tapped. Oddly enough, some scenes auto-advance, while others need to be manually advanced with the arrows.
It also seems odd that the navigational arrows remain when the story ends. Tapping the right arrow at the end of the story will start the dress-up activity. You can give Fiona an umbrella, boots and a rain-jacket, and make them match if you want. Tap the right arrow again and you be prompted to start the music video — “a song about the rain”. The video, which is in Chinese only, feels disconnected from the game; it opens full-screen in a different player, you must tap the screen, then the blue “done” button to get back to normal play. It would be better to present the video smaller in the same stage as the other activities, which would allow navigation between all activities at will. (There are icons for each activity surrounding the stage.)
The design of the game and music video features a soft blue color palette and cute stylized characters. The resolution of the graphics seems slightly off on the iPad 2, with some strange anti-aliasing effects around the arrows, and also the text, which makes it a little hard to read. Not like you have to read it — there’s no option to turn off the narration,a pleasant, though slightly bored-sounding male voice in American English. Sound effects and background music are tolerable and the song is actually quite catchy. B sings along even though she has no idea what she’s saying. Our biggest complaint about the design is that you’d think, with all the focus on umbrellas, the rain would not fall under umbrellas when they’re opened. But the rain is a simple overlay across the entire stage, so rain falls everywhere. Another complaint: This app does not rotate with the iPad’s orientation. It is stuck in one position, forcing kids to turn the device 180° (a scary proposition for small hands) or play upside-down.
Overall, Magikid Umbrella is a ho-hum sort of game. It could be improved with voiceovers that actively encourage kids to explore the scenes and participate by making their own paper umbrella. It is likely more interesting for Chinese-speaking families, who will benefit from understanding the lyrics to the song, as well as a more animated narrator.
[The developer requested a Picky Kid App Review and paid a fee to expedite this review.]Review: Magikid Umbrella iPad App,
Played on: iPad 2, iOS5