App Review: TableTots

Spinlight Studios has created some of the best educational apps for iOS. AlphaTots and TallyTots let kids work by themselves, but TableTots brings parents more into the mix. This extraordinarily versatile app lets parents put together hundreds, if not thousands, of lessons in everything from letter and number recognition to spelling and math. The only real hiccup is there’s no tutorial for putting those lessons together, which generally means some hunting and pecking before you know what to do. There are some good pre-set lessons, which are good starters, but some parents may get frustrated before finding them. There’s also no way to save scenarios you’ve created — a minor annoyance, but something that’s worth correcting.

The app won’t know when a child gets an answer right or wrong, either, but there’s no getting around that — and it encourages parents to be actively involved with their children as they learn, something that’s hard to complain about.

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App Review: Civiballs HD

While Civiballs HD is certainly a derivative title, that doesn’t stop it from being a fun one. Beyond cutting chains to make colored balls drop into their matching jars, the game regularly introduces new elements to the puzzles, such as cannons, catapults, and arrows to help you launch balls across the screen. It’s a game of trial and error, but one that’s not brutally difficult. Strategic thinking is rewarded, while random slashing of chains will end the level quickly.

Charging to skip levels is a bit opportunistic, given how many other games allow players to do this for free, but it’s something most players won’t need — and given the game’s low price, it’s not a particular burden to those who do choose to buy the shortcut.

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App Review: Siegecraft

Unlike other defense games, which have you set up weapons that fire automatically, Siegecraft instead takes a page from the Angry Birds playbook, with weapons that operate much like a slingshot and require constant user interaction. It’s an interesting idea, but one that doesn’t work as well as you’d hope. Aiming takes time — too long, in many cases — and it’s not as precise as it needs to be for the game to be a smooth experience. Worse, the pacing has to be kept slow so players have a chance to re-aim their weapons. This, unfortunately, makes the game sometimes feel like it’s dragging.

On the upside, it’s not a bad app by any means, and the low price point means people who take a chance won’t be overly disappointed. The inclusion of a robust multiplayer mode is a nice touch as well. The more you play, though, the more you feel the game fell short of its potential.

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App Review: Roll in the Hole

While Roll in the Hole certainly has its entertaining qualities, you can’t help but feel you’re playing a paint-by-numbers arcade/puzzle app. Cutesy lead character? Check. Happy looping background music? It’s in there. Physics-based controls that can be occasionally frustrating? Roger that.

The game certainly isn’t bad, but it’s a slightly different take on countless other offerings in the app store. It shines, though, by not forcing players to complete particularly difficult levels, allowing them the option of skipping when they get too frustrated. The decision not to take advantage of the gyroscope for the controls was curious one, though. And the difficulty ramps up too quickly for most players, who will likely be growling at the game by the mid-teen levels.

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App Review: Real Racing 2

Firemint set the bar for racing sims on iDevices — and it has raised it considerably with Real Racing 2. The game is the closest you’ll get to a Forza title in the app store and is sure to overjoy racing fans. The car models are spectacular, the tracks are long and detailed, and (most importantly) the controls are seamless. That’s key, as they’re so often overly complicated in racers.

The in-app purchase option is annoying, but meant solely as a shortcut for people who don’t want to wait to get a muscle car. It’s hardly essential. And the multiplayer mode, through Game Center, works without a flaw. Bottom line: This is a game that redefines quality in the app racing genre.

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Game Review: Monopoly Collection

There are actually two stories with Monopoly Collection, since the disc contains two complete games. The original Monopoly is a video game version of the classic board game, where players take turns moving pieces around a board and buying property, ultimately trying to be the last player standing. The included “Richest Edition” tosses out the traditional rules and has players exploring various mini-games to earn properties and collect income. The game’s more fun with four human players, but the Wii can fill any empty roles with computer-controlled characters.

Monopoly Streets, the other half of the game, lets you explore the game from a street level view using avatars (including Mr. and Mrs Potato Head). The rules are essentially the same as the classic board game (though you are able to customize your own “house rules”), but rather than watching a shoe hop from space to space from a top-down perspective, you’ll see your avatar explore the 3D streets, houses, and hotels.

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App Review: Bike Baron

The fun with most physics-based sports game is seeing how far you can fling your onscreen persona when you crash. That’s true in Bike Baron, but the game isn’t limited to just that aspect. The courses are entertaining. There’s plenty of diversity. And the difficulty ramps up at a good pace. The level editor is a nice addition to supplement the included 40 levels, but downloading the levels others have created is overly tricky (you have to go to a company blog to find codes for levels, then download them blind). Overall, this is a silly, fun game that proves to be a fun diversion, though not something that will become an obsession for most.

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App Review: Fruit Ninja: Puss in Boots

Scoff all you want at the fact that this app is a blatant marketing ploy; you still have to give developer Halfbrick credit for making Fruit Ninja: Puss in Boots worth the money. The gameplay is just as fun as it was in the original, and the new Bandito mode — which pits players against 12 random challenges — is a fun new gameplay style. Like the original, you can unlock new blades, but there aren’t many. And the actual Puss in Boots elements feel very tacked on. That doesn’t detract from the game, though. It’s still as fun as it was — only this time, it comes with some heavy commercial elements.

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Game Review: Dance Central 2

Even if you have the grace of a spastic camel, you can’t help but have fun with Dance Central 2. The game is forgiving for beginners, challenging for experts, and features a terrific lineup of songs (ranging from Lady Gaga to Justin Bieber to Usher to Sir Mix-a-lot). This year’s inclusion of co-op and multiplayer challenge modes adds more depth to the game and is guaranteed to make it more of a party standard.

The game introduces plenty of new moves and is loaded with 44 new songs. Players of the original game can import that game’s original 32 songs in as well for 400 Microsoft points (about $5). The original Dance Central was a must-have game last year. This sequel is miles ahead of its predecessor — and could well be the best Kinect game on the market.

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App Review: Scribblenauts Remix

The Scribblenauts series is one of the most unique to come along in years, so it’s delightful to see it make its debut on iDevices. Scribblenauts Remix is a best-of game, combining the highlights of the first two Nintendo DS titles (along with 10 new puzzles) and the offering a wonderful mix as a result. Veteran players know the drill, but newcomers to the game will be astonished at the wide variety of ways they can solve puzzles. (It is, in fact, just as fun to play with the game’s dictionary to come up with ideas as it is to solve the puzzle.)

Some of the puzzles are tough, but an integrated clue system will help people along. The real joy in the game, though, comes from seeing how creative you can be in your answers. Climbing a ladder up a tree to get a star is easy and obvious, but it’s so much more fun to ride a friendly dragon to the top to retrieve it. If you’re not playing this, you’re doing yourself a disservice.

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