Friday, March 9, 2012

Trunky Learns Letters

Trunky Learns Letters was created by Serious Games Interactive that has hints of an old school game like Super Mario Brothers where you jump to avoid things or get things you want with some literacy components mixed in. Instead of coins, now you want letters to spell out words from the Dolch list (a list of high frequency words for young children). Price: $1.99

Device Requirements: Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad.Requires iOS 3.1.3 or later

Developmental Appropriateness: This is a fun way for kids to become more familiar with some high frequency words and how they are spelled. You are presented a word at the bottom of the screen and Trunky travels down a path and needs to collect the letters to spell the target word. There are flowers for bonus points, and as the levels get harder, obstacles that you want to avoid. When you get a letter, it repeats that letter, even if it is wrong. I like this feedback - but at the same time, it's hard to tell when you've gotten something wrong - it looks and sounds the same. I guess it effects your score, but it's not something really noticeable while you play. Trunky does do a nice dance when the word has been completed and the word is clearly spelled out again, so in that way, you know you've done something correctly.

In terms of the user interface, I was using an iPad and I wondered if tinier hands could manage the navigation. As the levels get harder, you have to make Trunky jump to get letters. The jumping control is at the bottom edge of the screen while navigating Trunky is on the right and left edge of the screen. So to do both rapidly means you have to have your hands span the side and bottom at the same time. Rating: 4/5 (aim for around 5 years)

Balance: The app is very clean looking, and the letters are big and prominent. There are not too many bonuses or obstacles that get in the way of seeing and focusing on the letters. Once you've figured out the controls, the task is clear. Rating: 5/5

Sustainability: With this review, I want to spend a little more time on this category.  As I mentioned earlier, this game reminded me a bit of Super Mario Brothers - a highly addictive game. Although this game does not have the same plot element of saving the princess, or as many obstacles, it did have a lighter version appropriate for a younger player of some of the game elements. I am not a game developer, but I do think that things like plot, goal, and pacing are important. Let's take out the education component and when I think about games that I spent way too many hours playing, I think of Sim City or even more recently Angry Birds (sorry - I didn't grow up with video games, so I'm really lacking in old school video game experience - ask anyone who has seen me play Super Mario). These games did not reward me with stickers or coins, the actual game was simply fun. I wanted to accomplish the goal of making a thriving city, or at times purposefully destroying one, or figuring out the best way to smash some stuff by launching some angry birds. Yes, I often say that this or that app needs more incentives. I want to make it clear that although providing things like high scores and rewards can help to motivate kids to play more often, it is better if they want to play more because it is simply a good game. I was just a the Digital Media Learning conference last week and a reoccurring topic was badges. The conference was focused on an older target age, but the popularity of badges scared me a little when I thought about it for younger kids - hence this pseudo rant in this review. We don't want to be bribing kids into playing these apps!

OK - sorry - back to this app - So yes, I think there are some intrinsic qualities to this app that will keep kids playing. That coupled with the high scores is good. However, I think there could be more of a goal to the levels and the pacing is often slow. Sometimes, you have to wait awhile before the right letters come up. Rating: 4/5

Parental Involvement: This is pretty much a one player game. It would be nice to see a review or maybe make the list of words available to parents so they can be on the look out for them in their everyday lives. Rating: 2/5

Total: 15 out of 20: 4 stars

Disclosure: I received this app for free for review purposes.

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