Bottom line: A more creative and productive way for kids to entertain themselves than playing Angry Birds, but really no substitute for the visceral satisfaction kids and parents get playing with real Legos.
If you would like to try your hand at virtual building with bricks, you can download Bloxy HD ($.99 iPad/iPhone) using this link which supports Smart Apps for Kids:
Bloxy HD is the latest app from Next is Great, maker of the challenging Move the Turtle and Chess Academy. It is a Lego-like simulation where the player can create with bricks in a virtual setting. No lost pieces and sharp pointy things to step on left all over the kitchen floor. Sound ideal? Well, read on and find out.
Having fallen prey to the allure of a cheap Lego knockoff this Christmas and being sadly disappointed, I entered this app with extreme trepidation. Play starts by choosing a base plate of any size from 10 x 10 up to 30 x 30. Then builders choose a background from the three on offer and they're off into the 3D arena where they can choose from 50+ different bricks and 14 minifigures to build their creation. There are some windows and arches, but nothing too elaborate. Additional pieces are available through $1.99 in-app purchases for vehicles and cityscape.
Once I got my head around where to find all the bits of pieces and how to rotate and place them, the concept was quite simple and my almost 4 year old daughter was able to navigate it with ease. There are oodles of different colours and textures so the player can conceivably customise every single brick on his/her creation - from fairy floss pink to castle-stone grey. There are vertical and horizontal sliders which allow you to view your creation from every angle and you can zoom in and out with a finger pinch.
What my daughter did have difficulty with (and so did I) were the controls. Although the concept is sound and well-laid out, the controls are difficult and often unreceptive. The chosen block hovers over the baseboard, creating a ghost form. The player then places it by either double tapping or pressing the downward arrow icon, which works some of the time. Placed pieces can be edited by holding down on them until they flash, and then in theory it can be raised and moved, edited, or deleted. I've had no difficulty deleting a piece but I can't for the life of me get it to rise up and move consistently. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't. I'm not certain whether it's me doing something wrong, but I'm following all the instructions and just don't seem to have much luck. There were occasions when I had to actually exit the app, manually shut it down and open it again before I could place anything new on the board.
There is a timer that tracks how long it takes to complete a creation. Well, I assume that is its purpose though I'm not sure how useful it is. Users can save their work so as to return to it later, share it via email and save a picture of it to the photo roll. There are external links on the home page which shouldn't be of concern once you've entered the actual gameplay. There's also the ability to save several user profiles - very handy so that one kid doesn't mess with the other kid's creation.
On the homepage, there is a spectacles icon which informs the parent to 'teach your children how to....' and then a list of the different things you can do within the app. There is, however, no actual physical instruction contained here which I found baffling and wondered what the point of the page was. Visual instructions pop up each time you open the play space, and this would benefit from having a verbal option too. Such an addition would enable younger players to be able to use this app autonomously. The age specifications state 4+, but I think that this is an app that would be used more constructively by middle-school aged children. That's if they can get the controls to work consistently.
Maybe I missed something but I found the whole process frustrating. The app is well set out and easy to navigate and - annoying control foibles aside - useable. But this entire app just made me want to get out my daughter's real-life Lego blocks and build without the frustration of having to negotiate clunky controls and search for a particular block within a menu bar. In theory it's a fun idea, but for me it lacks in actual execution. I just don't know. I love creating with Lego, but the app left me cold. Give me a real set of blocks any day. In fact, if anyone's offering, we could really use a Lego version of the Death Star over here. That'd keep us out of trouble for a while. And make my husband really really happy.
Eleanor Holland really dislikes Lego knockoffs where the pieces either don't go together properly or get permanently stuck together. It's a juxtaposition. smartappsforkids.com was paid a priority-review fee to complete this review in an expedited manner.