Bottom line: Cause and effect musical app for toddlers that is unabashedly targeted at little girls. Preschoolers and those interested in more than cakes and flowers are unlikely to get much replay value from it however.
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The Magic Belles are a group of musical fairies who live in an enchanted place called Bellevue. Each fairy is responsible for a natural phenomenon such as stars, flowers and rainbows. They are very 21st century fairies however, because they have their own website. Magic Belles: Magic Music, by Luma Creative and Do-Tank Studios, is their first foray into app world.
The app is marketed at girls between the ages of 3 and 6. When your little princess opens the app she will find 7 sections to play with, one for each of the six Magic Belles and one where all of the Belles get together. Also on the home screen is an information page for Parents which is unlocked but contains links to the Magic Belles website as well as their Facebook page and Twitter account. I'd love to see this protected by a password to prevent little ones inadvertently exploring outside of the app. There's also a comprehensive How to Play section on the home screen, but help screens are also provided within each individual game.
With respect to the games, your child gets to do the following:
• Connect the dots amongst the stars. The dots are numbered so this game reinforces counting skills. There are visual prompts for the youngest children who may not know which number to tap next.
• Play a virtual guitar by pressing on different colored bells in order to turn them on and off.
• Grow and gather flowers by tapping on either their stalks or Flower Belle's watering can.
• Find all the butterflies on the screen.
• Tap on a rainbow to fill paint pots with different colors and then use the paint collected to brighten up some mushrooms.
• Place cakes and other sweet treats on a picnic blanket - the number and location of the items used will all affect the tune that is played.
• In the screen where all the Magic Belles appear your child can get each fairy to play their own song, or select some or all of the Belles so they harmonize their tunes, creating a little symphony.
There are interactive effects in all of the games - each Magic Belle will play her song for you when pressed, tapping on animals results in them making sounds, moving across the screen, even stealing cakes in the picnic game. I did study some music theory at one time but really not enough to comfortably talk in depth about the subject. What did strike me though is that the music seemed very atonal which I thought was perfect as it’s easier for kids to confidently create their own compositions when nothing they do sounds off-key.
What did I like about the app?
• The graphics are colorful and crystal clear and really lovely to look at.
• The Belles themselves are a diverse group - little girls hoping to find a Belle that looks like them should be able to find one.
• It's very easy for children to create music that sounds pretty good. A lot of music apps for toddlers (and toddler music toys in general) are the bane of a parent's existence because children might have fun bashing around but the sounds they produce are truly awful. My favorite game in the app is the picnic blanket one with Cupcake Belle - you simply move items around on a blanket and easily create melodies and harmonies using different notes and chords - and the sounds created don't make your ears bleed. This for me is the primary recommendation for this app - as a way to interest toddlers in the creation of music and give them the confidence to want to try more as they get older.
• For children with limited mobility or fine motor challenges, the straightforward cause and effect nature of the app would make it a good one for teachers, therapists and parents of special needs children to have in their repertoire, particularly for children who find music very motivating and engaging.
• At $1.99, the app is very reasonably priced.
In terms of suggestions or areas for improvement:
• I'm not convinced this app will engage older children for long. I tested it with my partner's daughter who only recently turned 7 and is mad about fairies - she thought it was cute but had no interest in playing it after she had tried each fairy's game. I think this really is an app best suited for toddlers and first-time iDevice users. The flower and butterfly game are perfect for these children to start with and as they get more confident with the device, then they will find the picnic blanket and connect-the-dots games more of a challenge.
• The Magic Belles are clearly designed to appeal to girls - fairies, rainbows, cupcakes, and butterflies - really, only unicorns and ponies are missing from the mix. My complaint here isn't so much about media that's designed to appeal to a specific gender, it's the extreme gender stereotyping that I find a little disappointing. Bob the Builder is clearly designed to appeal primarily to boys, but Bob takes dance lessons, owns a cat and his primary helper is a woman called Wendy. All the Magic Belles wear dresses and have very "girly" interests. Yes, the fairies are supposed to be connected to natural phenomena but what exactly is natural about cakes?
If you are looking for a cause and effect app for a music-loving child or are hoping to prompt your toddler to develop an interest in music - this app is well executed, nicely priced and therefore worth a look, as long as you don't mind your gender stereotypes undiluted.