Bottom line: A marine mammal seeks to save Happy Reef from the sharks and the oil companies in this sorting and categorizing app. Despite the slightly hokey back story this isa nice app for siblings of different ages to play together with their parents. Free Lite version available to try.
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Smart Fish: Magic Matrix HD by developer SocialBug Labs in collaboration with industrial designer Sharon Gurel, is an app that strives to teach and test sorting and categorizing skills for children who are developmentally aged between 4 and 7 years old. It does this in the context of an underwater backstory containing intrigue, a quest for power and a race to save Happy Reef from environmental disaster.
The game is hosted by Eagle Ray Iggy, who introduces himself at the beginning of the app and asks your child to help him solve some puzzles. There is a race due to take place the next day to see who will become the Mayor of Happy Reef. One possible winner is Mr. O, the octopus. Sadly, Mr. O is the worst kind of cephalopod, evil and corrupt; he plans to let the sharks drill for oil in the reef, an action that would result in the ecological destruction of Iggy's home. The only one who can stop Mr. O is an orca called Womba the whale. Willing to stop at nothing in order to win, Mr. O has put a curse on Womba and the orca's abdomen is now chock-full of foreign objects. Womba and Iggy head off to see Annie the anemone who uses her crystal ball to diagnose Womba's problem. She gives Iggy a magic puzzle board, telling him that for every puzzle solved correctly, an item can be removed from Womba's stomach.
There are 14 puzzles to solve and your child has to correctly complete each level in order to unlock the next. The back story is a little preposterous and new age for my tastes but the idea of putting the puzzles into the context of a story is a good one I think and the prospect of saving animals is a great way to keep kids engaged with the app. The features I especially liked are:
- Iggy. He's an engaging character - the voice actor is a nice fit and does a good job of being enthusiastic and encouraging without going over the top.
- The graphics and animations are clean, clear and colourful with an artistic bent well beyond stock clip art.
- The puzzles themselves start off relatively simple but get progressively more and more challenging. Younger children likely will need help in order to solve the harder puzzles so this would be a nice game to play as a family. The first few puzzles require aspiring Green Peace members to place items in the correct columns or rows - matching by color, shape and plant type, for example. The puzzles then start to use a matrix format so your child has to place a card in both the correct row and column.
- The latter puzzles are honestly quite tough - for example, your child has to sort ladybugs that are differentiated only by their antennae shape and number of spots. The logic and analytical thought required to complete these levels is similar to the type of problems often found in IQ tests. Kids must process multiple variables to identify the relevant ones needed to correctly place the cards.
- The app utilizes an errorless learning method so if a card is placed in the wrong position it returns to its starting position and Iggy asks a question designed to help your child decide on the best placement for the card. If a card is placed in the correct spot it wiggles and is briefly surrounded by bright sparkly lights.
- Once each puzzle is complete your child gets to drag an item out of Womba's stomach. Probably the most satisfying part of the app comes next as that same item gets thrown at Mr. O who looks decidedly unimpressed and more and more ridiculous as the game wears on.
- The replay value of the puzzles is good as the cards are dealt randomly each time a level is played.
- The app is YogiPlay enabled which allows progress tracking, but I'd prefer if the buttons that enable parents to set up and login to YogiPlay were placed in the 'For Parents' section, which can only be accessed from the menu via a 3-second press and hold.
- I would like it if, when the items on the cards are tapped, they are labeled - both written and audio. Being able to sort and match round shapes based on their outline is a useful skill but using this opportunity to also support or reinforce early literacy would be even better.
This review was written by Deanne Shoyer who enjoyed reviewing Magic Matrix but can't remember if the pill she took was red or blue. smartappsforkids.com was paid a priority-review fee to complete this review in an expedited manner.