Review: Phonics Munch – Letterstone Park iPad App

by Steph K on January 31, 2014

in App Reviews, Apps for 4 year olds, Apps for 5 year olds

Scenes from Phonics Munch - Letterstone Park: Left - Feeding Chomper letters; Right - Feeding him rhyming words

Picky Kid Rating: 3.9

In Phonics Munch, you get to take care of Chomper, a little bear who likes to eat letters and rhyming objects. This is a fun game to help kids learn their letter sounds, and it’s cute to boot! It’s hard to navigate, especially if you can’t read, but most preschoolers can figure it out with a little patience.

When you fist start the app, you’ll come to a start screen — a picture of a very excited looking bear in front of a waterfall. There’s a sign with an arrow that says “This way” that settles with a satisfying plunk. Most kids will know what to do to start the game. There’s a “Dashboard Area” in the upper left for parents/educators. It’s protected by a double-tap, and includes information about the teaching methodology, how to play, more apps from the developers, contact information, etc. There’s a TON of stuff here, including downloadable flashcards and worksheets. You can also toggle music on or off, reset the game’s scores, and toggle the display of the letters between upper and lower case.

Enough of that — click the green arrow in the top left to exit the dashboard to get back to the start screen and have some fun!

Tap the “This way” arrow to begin the game. The first time you play the game, you’ll be automatically introduced to baby Chomper in a short illustrated story that explains why Chomper likes to eat letters and pictures. (Because it’s not exactly natural behavior, is it?) You can turn the pages by tapping the orange arrow in the top right.

Phonics Munch - Letterstone Park iPad App - Picky Kid Rating: 3.9/5At then end of the story, you’ll proceed directly to the first game (Level 1, Round 1). In this game, your job is to feed Chomper the first letter of the object in the picture that’s shown. A voiceover gives you the name of the object, in case it’s something you don’t recognize. You can  tap on the picture to hear it again. Beneath Chomper, there are three letters. You can tap on each letter to hear the sound it makes. Then, drag or flick a letter to Chomper’s mouth. He’ll make a satisfied “num num num,” or say “I like that!” in a most pleasing way if you’ve fed him correctly. If you feed him the wrong letter, he shakes his head and says “I don’t like that” (adorably, I might add).

As you feed Chomper correctly, you’ll see your progress in colored dots along the top of the screen, and also in an increasing points total in the upper right. You can get points bonuses for various things, like getting three in a row correct, and tapping ancillary objects when they appear on the screen. At the end of the round (a round is ten feedings), your score will be converted into stars. If you get three stars, you may progress to the next round. You must feed Chomper perfectly to get three stars. If you don’t get three stars, you can choose to replay the level (tap the sign that says “Replay” with a circular arrow) or go to the Levels menu. The levels menu is useful because it can get tedious to replay the same game over and over. Selecting a different level will get you a new challenge.

The levels/challenges are:

  • Level 1: Beginning Sounds — feed Chomper the first letter of the picture.
  • Level 2: Rhyming Sounds — feed Chomper the object that rhymes with the picture.
  • Level 3: Add a Letter Sound — feed Chomper the missing letter sound (a picture will be shown with the written word under it, but a blank where one letter should be. The voiceover will not pronounce the letter — e.g. _AP and “app” for map).
  • Level 4: Vowel Sounds — feed Chomper the missing vowel sound. Similar to Level 3, but in this case, the vowels are missing, and there are no voiceovers for the pictures. This is definitely the most challenging level.

The Level Select screen shows the levels one at a time as a series of numbered boxes (these represent the “rounds” in each level, there are six). Rounds you’ve completed have gold stars on them. Rounds you haven’t completed have gray stars, and some rounds are locked until you complete the previous rounds. To navigate the level select area, you must page through the different levels using the arrow buttons on the left and right. Each level is labeled in text at the top. This makes it difficult for kids who can’t read to find the round they want to play from this screen. It would be nice if there were more visual clues.

You can access the Level Select menu mid-round by tapping the pause button in the top right of the screen. A dialog screen will pop up with four buttons: Resume, Restart, Level Select, or Main Menu. All are text, so this screen is hard for kids to use. If they accidentally get here and don’t know what to do, there’s no obvious way to get back. It would be nice if you could tap anywhere off the dialog to close it. However, this screen has a nice surprise for parents — there’s a background music mute button here so that you can turn the music off mid-stream if you need to.

It’s worth noting (because it confused us!) that the Level Select and Main Menu screens are different. The Main Menu screen also shows the levels in a scrolling screen, but it does not indicate which “rounds” are completed in each level (unless all have completed, in which case there’s a “level complete” badge). This screen is easier for kids to use than Level Select because each level is represented with a picture that shows its background scene.

The Main Menu screen is where you can access the music videos (there are two) and flashcards. There are four sets of flashcards that showcase letter sounds and names in upper and lower case. The flashcards aren’t nearly as engaging as playing with Chomper, but the animated videos provide some additional edutainment.

As far as design goes, Phonics Munch is a mixed bag. Chomper is cute and generally well-animated, and we love the natural settings of the background artwork, but it’s all a bit cartoony. The illustrations used to represent words are recognizable, but are fairly bland, and not stylistically consistent. In some cases, extra arrows are needed to distinguish what part of the illustration is relevant. In other cases, the illustration doesn’t seem right. For example, a sailboat is shown to represent “sail”. B, quite logically, thinks it’s a “boat”!

There are a few objects represented in the rhyming game that set up silly situations. B asks “Why did he eat the ant?… Why did he eat the person?” …And a few objects throughout the game that kids might not recognize, such as a dart. The voiceovers are crucial in these situations.

Speaking of the voiceovers, they’re quite good. The instructions and Chomper’s voice sound like they may have been done by a kid (or a good impersonator), and are just the right amount of cute. The narration for the illustrations and letter sounds are done in an adult female “teacher” voice, and they’re very clear and consistent. The game is available in (American) English only. The other sounds in the game are pretty good as well. The background music is relatively quiet and not too annoying. The sound effects are louder, but the only one we feel is too loud is the whistle at the beginning of the scoring scene.

In our opinion, the biggest flaw in this game is that it’s not immediately intuitive. We’ve mentioned the difficulties kids have in using the level select screen, but there’s an even bigger issue… It’s too easy to accidentally feed Chomper the wrong thing. Here’s why: When you’re deciding what to feed Chomper, you can tap the choices to hear the sounds they make before you make your decision. That’s great! The problem is that you can feed Chomper simply by “flicking” the correct answer toward him. (We didn’t realize this until we read the instructions by tapping the question mark button in the upper right of the game screen.) The smallest errant tap can turn into a flick, and before the player realizes what’s going on, they’ve fed Chomper wrong. This can upset kids who are working very hard to get to the next level. A simple solution would be to change the action for feeding to a drag-and-drop.

Download on the App StoreWe love Phonics Munch for its engaging educational games, not to mention Chomper’s adorable voice, but it would be better if it were not so dependent on text for navigation, and if it was not so easy to make accidental mistakes. (This is why why we don’t recommend this app for kids under 4.) There are relatively simple fixes to all, so we’ll hope for an update soon!

[The developer of this app requested a Picky Kid review. No fees were paid.]

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Picky Kid Rating: 3.9/5

Review: Phonics Munch - Letterstone Park iPad App, 3.9 out of 5 based on 1 rating

App info

Phonics Munch - Letterstone Park

Played on: iPad 2, iOS6


Price: $0.99

Get it on the App Store!

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