Bottom Line: a quiz game with a creative storyline to expose kids to world geography that unfortunately lacks an innovative approach to the actual learning.
If you would like to purchase Tiny Countries (Free, limited time iPad/iPhone), please support Smart Apps for Kids and use our link:
Tiny is a chicken called on to help prevent Dr. Evil's plan from being implemented. Dr. Evil (a rooster), sends encrypted messages to his agent, planning to create a rooster-shaped world through some kind of fancy continental drift.
This engaging plot is the premise behind Tiny Countries, an app for geography learning from developer TapToLearn. The animated interface takes the user through six continents (poor neglected Antarctica), to learn country names, capitals, flags, other notable landmarks and cities, and country shapes.
After the opening animated video sets up the mission, Tiny chases the agent across countries floating in the water. The user answers questions about that continent, such as "Kabul is the capital of which country" (Afghanistan, of course), choosing between two options and hopping on that country-stepping-stone. If the answer is incorrect, then Tiny falls in the water, giving the user another chance to select the correct answer. After three falls in the water, the game resets to the beginning. On some games, Tiny simply falls in the water, but on other attempts, he is first taunted by, and then eaten by, a shark.
Before starting each section, the user can study up on the set of countries which will be quizzed by reading about them in a list format. As fun as the mission part is, the actual learning process is rather dull, unless your child likes looking at list of features and memorizing them. The quiz section itself is flawed, as only two answer choices are given. A general familiarity with geography makes a lot of it pretty easy to eliminate one choice and answer correctly, with no actual learning. I know the capital of China is Beijing, so when another name was listed, I could accurately choose it as the capital of Nepal. But I didn't have to actually learn the capital of Nepal to get it right (and I still don't know it). Even a child who can't complete that kind of deductive reasoning has a 50% chance of simply guessing correctly.
As smart as the overall plot is, I wish that there was a more engaging way to actually teach the topic beside just reading a list. Perhaps Tiny should go to school where each area of the world is presented in a video lesson. Including actual pictures of the cities would be even better—one notable image is presented after mastering each set of countries, but it isn't labeled, so the user has to just guess.
My other problem with the learning format is that the exposure to the actual location of the country on each continent is limited. It is shown only in the learning section, but only one country is highlighted and labeled at a time. The user is quizzed on questions such as "which country is a neighbor to Iran," but one of the two choices is always a country that is not in the same area just learned—such as the choices of Afghanistan or Japan for the previous question. Since Japan has not yet been discussed, I could easily deduce the answer to all of the geography questions, but I still might have difficulty labeling a world map precisely.
This app caters to those who find memorizing visually presented information fun and engaging, as there is also very limited audio—the user of this app must be a proficient reader, or use it in a shared app experience with an adult. There is nothing wrong with catering to this style of learner, of course. My 11 year old son thinks the app is "quite fun." It would be better, though, with more interaction in the actual learning.
The background music and noises can be turned on or off, but only from the main profile page. It would be nice to see that on each page. As it stands, it's easier for me to use the iPad's volume when it begins to annoy me, since sound isn't critical in the app.
I also couldn't find a way to go back to completed countries without creating a new profile. For it to be a true learning app, the user needs to be able to review past learned countries. Otherwise, it is only a test of an individual's short-term memory. It might be possible after completing the full missions, but I got stuck on the last mission in Asia.
Parents and teachers should definitely consider this app for geography lovers and supplementation of class learning. It's a fun way to expose users to more about countries around the world including those that are not English speaking. With a few additions for actual content teaching, it has the potential to be a great app. With 15 total missions, 75 countries, and six continents, there is certainly a lot to explore.
Heather Hetler still has no idea of most of the country details, but could probably correctly guess which continent they are on. smartappsforkids.com was paid a priority-review fee to complete this review in an expedited manner.