Genre:  Kids

If... Review: Emotional edutainment

Mar 7, 2014

Obvious moves aren’t that interesting. So when it came to light that EA founder Trip Hawkins had a new startup working on a game to teach kids social and emotional learning (SEL), it raised some eyebrows. Well, mine anyway, and possibly Dwayne Johnson’s. Now that game, If…, is live, and it’s no less intriguing in the way it blends high production values and dedication to its mission to create a viable alternative to much of what school-aged children might otherwise play on their iPads.

The story of If… (the title is inspired by a Rudyard Kipling poem of the same name) unfolds on a planet called Ziggurat where anthropomorphic dogs and cats once lived together in harmony. But something has happened to upset the balance, and it’s up to your child’s customized canine character to get to the bottom of it, starting with a special town called Greenberry. Your guide is named YouDog, a mentor figure who’s one part Yoda, one part Mr. Miyagi and one part man’s best friend.


Other characters follow through the portal to Greenberry in short order to help you with the literal rebuilding. This is the least compelling part of the gameplay, requiring the simple gathering of several resources to restore buildings to their former glory.

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Toca Pet Doctor Review: The doctor is in (your dog)

Mar 4, 2014

If you’ve got small children and a touchscreen device, there’s a pretty decent chance you’ve already encountered a Toca Boca product or three. That being the case, we can probably dispense with the formal introductions and get right to Toca Pet Doctor, a game seeking kids 2 through 6 to help 15 different pets with their problems. The result is a colorful but brief burst of fun that should put some smiles on the faces of the baby teeth set.

When it comes to intuitive design, Toca Boca is typically on point, and that’s once again the case with Toca Pet Doctor. What you see is what you get: 15 different animals awaiting attention with nary a human in sight. It’s like the waiting room to the world’s cutest and quietest veterinarian’s office.

Toca Pet Doctor

Tapping on an animal begins its mini-game, each of which asks the player to heal an injury of some sort before feeding the animal in snack. Not all of the maladies are created equal, as the rabbit has what appears to be a very bad multi-bone fracture but the worm simply has his tail tied in a small knot.

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12 year old takes a joyride to the border, blames video games

Jan 29, 2014

When scouring the globe for the latest in gaming gossip, it’s not often that a story comes out of my local paper – but hey, it had to happen sometime.

On Tuesday, January 28th, a 12 year old boy from St. Catharines, Ontario decided to take his grandmother’s Nissan Altima for a joyride. Unlike most kids who do such silly things and crash before the end of the block, this kid got pretty far. All the way to the Canada/US border, in fact.

The Queenston-Lewiston Bridge acts as one of several gateways in Niagara between Canada and the United States, and it’s a good 20 minutes from St. Catharines (possibly more depending on where in the city he started from). Not only that, but it requires some serious highway driving – including a trek over the monstrously tall Garden City Skyway that still terrifies me on every trip I take. 


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Club Penguin on iPad takes a big leap forward

Dec 12, 2013

As of today, My Penguin, the mobile companion app to the popular children’s virtual world Club Penguin, is no more – but only because it’s becoming Club Penguin for iPad.

When it launched back in May, My Penguin was designed to give players a way to connect with the web-based MMO while also giving Disney Interactive a chance to learn about how people would interact with the game on mobile devices. Kids could dress their avatars, redesign their igloos and try out a selection of mini-games, but it wasn’t the full Club Penguin experience.

With its latest update and name change, the mobile version of Club Penguin is ready to take a big leap forward. For the first time, young gamers can play the same way they do online, teleporting to rooms, visiting their igloos, and everything else they’ve been accustomed to doing on the web.


Disney Interactive Worlds Vice President and General Manager Chris Heatherly told Gamezebo that the mobile launch includes about 20 to 25 percent of the content found online, but regular updates over the coming months would get the two versions to be very close to identical before too long.

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Clumsy Ninja Walkthrough

Dec 3, 2013

Clumsy Ninja is a simulation game created by NaturalMotion Games. You raise your very own ninja into a seasoned warrior by playing with him, training with him, and simply interacting with him as much as possible. Gamezebo’s quick start strategy guide will provide you with detailed images, tips, information, and hints on how to breed your very best ninja.

Clumsy Ninja

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Entertaining and Educating: A Journey to Fun Town with Touch & Learn

Dec 3, 2013

Inspiration is just as likely to come from unlikely sources as it is from the most obvious places. In the case of Touch & Learn, a British studio devoted to creating educational games and apps, it relies on a little of both.

The surprising part of the equation starts with the Touch & Learn’s founder and CEO, James Lewis. With experience as a Hollywood art director responsible for the look of work as wide-ranging as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Band of Brothers, he’s not the first person who’d come to mind as a creator of kids’ apps.

Yet his motivation is both simple and easy to understand: he’s got kids of his own, and he watched how easily they were enthralled by mobile devices.


“I’m a bit of a tech geek, and I got the original iPhone,” Lewis said to Gamezebo. “Once I got over the fact that I didn’t want to damage it and it wasn’t so precious, I let my daughter, who was 18 months old at the time, just interact with it. It blew me away how intuitive the phone was. And then we got the first iPad and it was the same thing.

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Toca Hair Salon Me Review: Bringing a whole new meaning to “self-styled”

Dec 3, 2013

For the last fifteen years I’ve sported a military-grade buzz cut, but not today. Today I am resplendent in an enormous shock of pink curls. Yesterday, it was long and green. Tomorrow, I think I might try an orange Mohawk.

This is not because I’ve suddenly become a wig fanatic, but all thanks to the latest app from Toca Boca, Toca Hair Salon Me. As its name suggests, it allows you to put your own face into a digital avatar and then style and colour their hair to your heart’s content. You can even add accessories like hats and glasses, change the color of their clothes, and pose them for a photo.

Toca Hair Salon Me

Like everything the developer does, it’s all perfectly intuitive. Start by browsing the pictures on your device, or taking another in-app so you don’t have to pop out and boot the camera. Then fit your chosen image into one of four face shapes and sizes, adjust the apps’ estimation of where the mouth and eyes are, and style away.

The technology behind this is seriously impressive. So long as your photo is a pretty tight fit for the chosen head and you get the eyes and mouth right, it brings your avatar to life with uncanny accuracy. The first time I saw myself in the chair, closing my eyes against the hairspray, twisting away from the dryer and emitting little ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ noises of appreciation, it actually creeped me out so much I had to put the iPad down and walk away.

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Clumsy Ninja Review: Meet your fun new ninja pet

Dec 2, 2013

Remember your Tamagotchi digital pet? Remember all the fun you had together? Sure, it died a horrible screaming death when you accidentally ran it through the washing machine, but things are different now. You're older. You're more responsible. You're ready for another digital pet. Maybe you'd even like your very own ninja. Well, NaturalMotion has you covered with Clumsy Ninja, a pet (er, "pet") simulator that lets you train, tease, and toss around the most adorable ninja in history.

Clumsy Ninja has a bit of a story, which is surprising since exposition beyond "clean up this thing's poop" is not common in pet simulator games. Your new ninja pal has a girlfriend/mentor who's been captured by bad guys, and he wants to rescue her. Problem is he's kind of clumsy.

Clumsy Ninja

Your job as a responsible ninja owner is to train up your ninja. You do so by interacting with him, and by buying him toys and training materials that he can jump on, hit, block, and generally have fun with. You also tickle your ninja friend, tie balloons around him and watch him float, or just throw him around and watch him bounce (which is mean). Nearly everything you do with your ninja earns him experience (life is one big teaching moment, right?), which helps level him up. As you gain levels, you also unlock new items to play with and new belts to wear with pride.   

Your ninja is an eager learner, so you won't have any problems with obedience or surliness. In fact, the titular Clumsy Ninja may be the cutest darn trained assassin to ever hit mobile. He's got enormous green eyes that are impressively expressive, he enjoys high-fives, and he receives every victory with humble relish. Even his movements grant him humanity, ragdoll physics aside. When you first start training him on the trampoline, he climbs up hesitantly and makes small, unsure jumps. As he gets better, he becomes more confident and tries out more daring moves. 

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Fun Town Review: Blurring the lines between learning and playing

Nov 27, 2013

For younger gamers, sometimes it's okay if the line between a game and a learning app gets a little blurry. That "best of both worlds" quality definitely applies to Fun Town, the latest release from British studio Touch & Learn. Combining a colorful, engaging place to explore with some solid early life lessons turns out to be a winning formula, one that parents will appreciate no matter how they decide to classify it.

The first thing people of any age will notice about Fun Town is that it has no instructions. That seems to be very much by design, as the whole idea behind the titular town is that kids should figure it out by jumping right in and interacting with it. That's done by touching out on the main street to see what happens, and all of the town's citizens and vehicles will respond with sounds and motion when tapped.

Fun Town

There also aren't any letters in town, so reading isn't a prerequisite to play. The town's businesses can be identified by their signage – the candy shop has lollipops, the banks have big pictures of money, and so on. Tapping on a store gets you inside to play a mini-game, but there are others in places you might not first expect (like the phone booth and stoplight). Kids can and will figure out that nothing should be ignored.

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Nintendo is experimenting with Android-based tablet for educational games

Nov 20, 2013

Ever since mobile gaming has been on the rise, there is one thing that dedicated gamers always seem to be clamoring about, and with good reason: the want of a full-fledged Nintendo game like Mario or Pokémon on their tablet or smartphone. Of course, Nintendo has always stood firm in their message that something like this would never be a reality. But now it looks like Nintendo might actually be making their first baby steps into the world of mobile: although not in the way that most Nintendo fans might have expected.

In a series of tweets that were sent out earlier this week, Nintendo software engineer Nando Monterazo has revealed that the Big N might be working on a line of tablet devices for use in schools to play educational games. Monterazo also went on to clarify a few of the finer details about this announcement in the same batch of tweets, stating that the experimental Nintendo tablet will be powered by Android, and that the primary educational games will be featuring recognizable Nintendo characters.


Unfortunately, Monterazo also confirmed that we wouldn’t be seeing any NES, SNES, or Game Boy games cropping up on the tablet at any time, and reemphasized the fact that the new device will strictly be for educational purposes only. Nintendo has been pretty adamant in the past that we would never see officially licensed Nintendo games on any mobile platform, but then again, they were also extremely hesitant to embrace the world of online gaming once upon a time, and look how that turned out for them lately.

Do you think this new educational Android-based tablet will be a precursor for Nintendo to start experimenting with the prospects of more console-quality mobile game development in the future? Can you imagine getting help from Mario or Link in the classroom? I personally think it will be called the NinTablet U. Weigh in with your own thoughts down in the replies!

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