Bottom Line: Traditional Russian nesting dolls are reimagined in a toddler friendly digital toy now featuring 65 dolls in addition to the old standbys: farm, ocean and zoo families. Did I mention there's a free version?
Editor's note: Kidoteca has recently relased a Deluxe version of the app featuring 65 different dolls including fun themes like a vampire, mummy and Frankenstein in addition to the community helper theme I suggested in my review. The added variety is much more fun, worth $.99 and merits a half star rating bump. ~ Jill
If you would like to download Matryoshka! Deluxe by Kidoteca ($.99, iPad/iPhone) or try the Free version, please support Smart Apps for Kids and use our handy links:
For those unfamiliar with them, matryoshkas are wooden dolls of decreasing size placed one inside the other. They are for the most part made in Russia and often feature elaborately painted women in native garb. When I visited St. Petersburg, I couldn't quite swing a Fabergé egg so I came home with a Chicago Bulls matryoshka. My prize souvenir has Dennis Rodman complete with green hair, Scottie Pippen and the rest of the starters on the 1996 championship NBA team all nestled comfortably inside the massively talented Michael Jordan.
Matryoshka!, Kidoteca's follow-up to the delightfully nostalgic Magical Music Box, gives toddlers a set of three brightly painted virtual nesting dolls to line up and put back together by size. The app's home page has the dolls on pedestals set against a backdrop of a famous onion-domed Russian cathedral. Some vaguely traditional Russian music plays until one of the dolls gets chosen by tapping it.
The themes are standard toddler fare - sea creatures, African plains zoo denizens and the ever popular farm animals. (Ron is so enamored of the cute bovine, equine and porcine friends in the many kids' apps SAFK reviews, he is contemplating life as a vegan to spare them) The colors are bright and cheerful and the parts of each doll are surprisingly recognizable even though they're rendered in a flat-bottomed egg form. In a nod to the traditional peasant girl dolls, the cow pictured on the app icon has the classic babushka scarf on its head.
The size of the actual animals determines the order in which they go in the doll. Zoo friends start with a little chirping lizard, which fits in the monkey, then the lion, zebra, rhino, hippo and finally the king of the safari-a pink elephant wearing binoculars around his neck. I'm not sure how the lion feels being relegated to low man on this particular totem pole, but he gives a mighty roar when correctly placed in the zebra.
The farm matryoshka has five dolls starting with a cow and proceeding down to a diaper-wearing baby chick. There are six sea creature dolls which start with a whale followed by Shamu, the killer whale. Fins, flippers and the octopus' eight arms all somehow fit on the egg shape. All the fishy friends make sounds, but it would have been fun to hear dolphin cries and the distinctive sea lion barks.
The process of stacking and unstacking by size is fairly intuitive for toddlers, and the app helps matters by preventing dolls from going in the wrong sized one. My son did have a bit of trouble trying to move dolls with his finger on the top half. They have to be moved from the bottom, otherwise they come apart. When the matryoshka is reassembled, children are rewarded with a shower of balloons or fireworks and cheering.
Although elephants, zebras, pigs and cows are universally recognized by toddlers and preschoolers, it would be nice to see some more original choices. Community helpers might be a possibility but deciding who goes first and last between a police officer, fireman, doctor, nurse and dentist might bruise some egos. Moreover, I can already hear Deanne complaining about the unfair stereotypes of the male doctor and female nurse.
Lining up and stacking chirping, chittering dolls would seem to get old after a while, but I remember my kids playing with stacking donuts for hours. I think any child would enjoy placing the dolls at least one time through. The good news is that the app is free so getting your money's worth isn't an issue. And, if my review hasn't convinced you to download Matryoshka!, then check out the YouTube video which shows what fun a Russian toy first made in the 1890s can be.
****Jill Goodman vowed to visit Russia after discovering everyone in her History 414 class had already been. She made it there 14 years later. smartappsforkids.com was paid a priority-review fee to complete this review in an expedited manner.