Bottom Line: Improves upon its predecessor Puzzle Race but doubles the price in the process. Before in-apps are purchased, there is an ad that pops up whenever a puzzle is selected, rendering the free version unusable except for a quick look.
I originally reviewed Anlock’s Puzzle Race in early June 2012. Prior to the review being edited and published, the app underwent a rebranding and was re-released as Puzzle School Free: Kids Activity Center with Interactive 2 Player Game. There are also some spin-offs called Puzzle School Stage 1: Kids 2+, Puzzle School Stage 2: Kids 4+ and Puzzle School Stage 3: Kids 6+ as well as Puzzle School Lite and Puzzle School Professional. Since almost all my criticisms were addressed in the update, I’ve included my original review since it really nailed the app’s weaknesses. Additional opinions based on the revised app follow after.
Bottom Line: Basic preschool puzzle app with a novel twist that allows head to head competition.
Puzzle Race HD by Anlock Apps is a free download with in-app options that allow the purchase of up to another 300 puzzles. The free version comes with 20 puzzles all relating to toys. Additional puzzle themes include animals, fruits, vegetables, vehicles, fairytales, colors, shapes and 80 advanced puzzles with smaller pieces. The in-app purchase price is $.99 for 100 new puzzles or all 300 for just $1.99. That is a lot of content for the money, and the range of categories means all kids can find a favorite.
The app can be played in single player or dual player modes. Step one is creating a player by adding a photo and his or her name. The action starts with step two when the player selects a puzzle theme on which to work. The number of puzzles per theme varies, with animals having three times as many puzzles as vegetables. Puzzles have to be unlocked in order which can be a challenge for some kids but may prove frustrating for others. I would prefer showing previews of all puzzles and letting the child choose. The first two fairytale puzzles are Cinderella and Snow White. That may doom the entire category for boys.
The actual puzzles are all rectangles. A picture with a grid over it comprises the playing surface. Puzzlers slide pieces from a tray across the bottom of the screen into their place. Pieces only appear in the direction in which they go in the puzzle. For toddlers this consistency helps build confidence, but may bore older kids. Solving the puzzle depends more on matching the pieces to the picture than using visual spatial skills to match outie pieces with their innie mates.
The two player mode works like a real race. One player picks the blue side and the other gets green. A 3, 2, 1 countdown commences, and off they go. The app divides the iPad screen in half and puts an identical puzzle on each side of the screen. The puzzles themselves are not particularly challenging, so racing makes for a more entertaining experience. With iPads in short supply in most households and schools, two kids able to play at once makes good sense.
Children can navigate through the app menus easily once the initial setup is completed. The settings are hidden from view on the home screen with only a small arrow on the bottom edge used to provide access. All app controls require users to Press and Hold to open them. This security feature helps prevent wandering hands from gaining access to the app store, email and the settings. The settings menu can be further protected from inadvertent changes with a four digit pass-code lockout. Each player can have a maximum degree of difficulty specified and his/her puzzles completed count reset through player editing in the settings.
Anlock has put a lot of effort into making its puzzle app appeal to a wide range of young kids. Adding free form puzzles without the underlying picture to match would expand the market to older siblings. That and turning pieces in the tray would give a better opportunity to work on visual spatial skills. An educator version of the app is in the works so perhaps it will include some of things I have noted in order to appeal to school age children.
Usually when an app we’ve previously reviewed undergoes a major update that addresses concerns, it merits at least a half star bump. That should have been the case with Puzzle School. Anlock wisely followed my prescient, non-published advice and:
- Unlocked all puzzles giving kids a choice of any puzzle to complete.
- Removed the picture from the puzzle surface for more of a challenge
- Added difficulty by having pieces in all directions rather than just right side up.
These improvements took care of some notable deficiencies in the app. Anlock apparently considers them significant enhancements because they increased the price for access to all 300 puzzles from $1.99 to $5.99. Nothing about Puzzle School merits that kind of price tag. For five dollars I’d expect the ability to import my own photos and have them made into puzzles. I could confidently recommend Puzzle Race at $.99 or $1.99 without fear that anybody would be disappointed after buying it. With a hefty $5.99 price, I have serious qualms about recommending this app and feel the need to point out another round of deficiencies I’ve discovered.
Kids using the stage three (those able to complete 45 piece free form puzzles) would be much more interested in Marvel Comics superheroes than cute puppies. Some high res photos of national parks or famous landmarks that take advantage of the Retina display on New iPads would make much better puzzles for older children. Also, Anlock unfortunately still has the app locked up as any given puzzle must be completed twice before it can be played in free form.
If you download the free version, which only includes three puzzles, and don't purchase the in-apps, an ad for them appears each time a child starts a new puzzle. There is also a few second load time when a new puzzle is started.
Anlock strives to meet the needs of everyone with options for targeted ages, teachers, in-apps, no in-apps and Free/Lite versions. In trying to be everything for everyone they have perhaps lost focus and forgotten that regardless of all the bells and whistles, Puzzle School is still just a simple puzzle app.
If you would like to purchase Puzzle School Free: Kids Activity Center with Interactive 2 Player Game(Free with In-App purchases $2.99/$5.99, iPad) or Puzzle School Stage 1, Stage 2 or Stage 3 ($1.99 each, iPad) please support Smart Apps for Kids by using the following link buttons:
Puzzle School Free Stage 1: Age 2+ Stage 2: Age 4+ Stage 3: Age 6+
Three years after her move from Atlanta to Orlando, Jill Goodman still hopes to find the missing letter N piece from her kids’ wooden alphabet puzzle. Anlock is an advertiser at smartappsforkids.com.