Bottom Line: Bugs and Bubbles for big kids. Gorgeously photographed, top quality graphics, intense gameplay and comprehensive, well researched educational content make this among the best apps for older kids.
BOTH PRICES HAVE BEEN REDUCED UNTIL 9/13!
If you would like to purchase Isopod: The Roly Poly Science Game (Free iPad only with $2.99 in-app purchase for full version or $4.99 for unlocked teacher's version) please support Smart Apps for Kids by using the following button:
I played with Roly Polys when I was little, and even flicked a few when they rolled into balls. This experience in no way prepared me for Isopod: The Roly Poly Science Game by first-time developer Xylem and Phloem. It's a first - an app for big kids that has a game they'd actually want to play combined with a learning center that has extensive content, including beautiful photos, that's actually educational. Isopod is not just about bugs either. There's info about the bug habitats, climate change and the damaging effects of colonization on the Ohlone Indians and bugs.
Isopod refers to the game ball which is a rolled up roly poly. Players have to roll the ball by tilting the iPad. The objective is to 'bump' a set number of an endangered species in order to save them from being eaten by predators. In true gamer fashion, there are obstacles and helpers along the way. Ladybugs add strength to the roly and ants drain it. Butterflies give temporary invincibility or other helpful power-ups.
I can't walk out of my house without some creepy crawly flying or skittering across my path, but during my first outing in this game, I was unable to "bump" enough bugs to progress. I only saved 30 of the 35 beetles needed to unlock the next level. Kyle, age 10, finished two levels on his second try with a good bit of squealing and play-by-play commentary thrown in. He did have a problem with inadvertently touching the home button while tilting the iPad, but the game picked up where it left off when he reopened the app.
Isopod is free to download but requires a $2.99 in-app purchase for the full version or $4.99 for an already unlocked teacher's version. (Both are reduced to $1.99 until 9/13.) The free version includes one out of the 12 levels which comprise the game part of the app. The full version introduces users to assorted bugs native to four different environments which include Santa Cruz, CA USA; Capetown, South Africa; Brisbane, Australia and a surprise destination back in the USA. The developer claims he is able to clear all levels in 45 minutes, but the casual user would likely need multiple attempts. Although the game is similar in each environment and at each level, subtle changes keep it interesting. Sometimes the roly is temporarily invincible, and sometimes it briefly super-sizes.
After each level is cleared, players automatically go to the Isopod Learning Center. The Center can also be accessed from the home screen at any time. Here players get facts about the critters they just encountered. There are extreme close up photos of hairy spiders, an interesting fun fact about each bug, its scientific name and details of its life cycle and habitat. The content is written by graduate students, teachers and biologists. Some pages I noticed need closer proof reading. The majority of the text is fairly technical, but it remains accessible. New words are defined within the text, and there is a vocabulary list with definitions at the end of each lesson. The app even has 'read to me' narration which would work well for a classroom using projection onto a Smart Board.
Isopod has a very hip, stylish home screen. There's lots of black and fluorescent green instead of pastels and sweet kiddie colors. In addition to the Play and Learn buttons, users can access Help which gives a brief rundown of the game; control music and sound effects from the Options button; and buy an Isopod tee-shirt, leave feedback or download the Roly Poly theme song from iTunes by pressing the Info button and following the links. The start screen also includes links to Facebook, Pinterest and the Xylem and Phloem website. Rather than being self-serving advertising or other nuisances, these links are actually the gateway to an unprecedented wealth of additional, complementary content available for free.
Xylem and Phloem's website and Facebook page contain links to a downloadable .pdf curriculum. It's book-sized with pages of diagrams, discussion questions and worksheets. I ran it through Type on PDF and was able to access the included quizzes on the iPad. With any of the pdf annotate apps you can achieve a setup much like Neolithix' Space Boards apps that once sold for $49.99. The developer's Pinterest boards also have a wealth of information with 171 pins that include bug photos, TED lectures, YouTube videos of bugs eating each other, maps and other related bits of interest. Amateur entomologists will have a field day with all the extras and teachers get an entire unit at their disposal.
It's hard to find fault with Isopod: The Roly Poly Science Game. The only criticism I can offer is that it seems unfair to surcharge teachers. Usually so-called professional versions allow unlimited user profiles or other upgrades that justify a higher price. That, and a Central Florida environment where two-headed love bugs (University of Florida genetics experiment gone wildly wrong) battle my nemesis the lawn-killing cinch bug would be the only suggestions I'd make.
Must download (unless you're too squeamish).
This review was written by Jill Goodman aka Queen Bee. smartappsforkids.com was paid a priority-review fee to complete this review in an expedited manner.