Bottom line: an incredibly well done and fun app with an amazing amount of information for amateur paleontologists. Who knew minerals, fossils and dinosaurs could be so much fun?
If you would like to purchase Zachy the Robot ($3.99 iPad only) and send your child a quest for museum treasure, please use the smartappsforkids.com link before starting your journey:
Zachy the Robot started life nearly two years ago as an interactive cartoon series for kids 3-7. His first and only episode introduced kids to basic engineering and math concepts. Now developer GenevaMars, in partnership with Pittsburgh's Carnegie Museum of Natural History, has brought us another iteration of Zachy, and it's terrific. GenevaMars isn't billing this as episode 2 of the cartoon series, but the app plays out like good educational TV for kids. The characters are engaging, the graphics are colorful and well done, and the hassle-free interface does an amazing job of presenting complicated information in a way that kids can understand. There's even some adventure-ish music to help get your little Indiana Jones in the mood.
The app opens with a two-minute introductory video that does a good job of setting up the back story: the local museum's grand opening is today, and someone forgot to fill the exhibits. Zachy and friends to the rescue! Using their amazing teleportation powers, they zip all over the world, uncovering dinosaur bones, minerals and fossils, which they bring back to the museum. Along the way they learn a truly mind-boggling amount of information about everything from mining minerals to dating fossils to assembling dinosaur skeletons for exhibit.
The sheer depth of information here is a bit overwhelming. Kids can uncover 29 dinosaurs and 17 minerals, and visit more than 25 world locations to do it. For each new item they find, they unlock a new "Robopedia" entry that gives them an astoundingly thorough education on each thing, all presented in a way that makes sense to a little one. It's a great introduction to natural sciences and perhaps will spur further interest and discovery.
I hesitate to criticize much about this app – it's so well done I feel guilty finding any fault with it. But I did find a thing or two that still have room for improvement. For instance, my daughter, who, at age 5 falls right in the middle of the suggested age range for the app, can't yet read independently. Her only complaint with the app (which kept her busy for hours, I might add) was the areas that had on-screen text but no narration. This doesn't happen a lot – primarily in the Robopedia entries and after the user has chosen a location from the world map and is learning a bit about it before being whisked off. But it happened enough that my budding reader found it irritating. Everything else is so well done, and this is such a minor fix, that I would recommend the developer add some narration to those spots.
The app makes quite a production at the start of the game of getting the user's name, age, and gender, but as near as I could tell, the information didn't make any difference throughout the rest of the app. When I put in that my name was Emilie and I was three years old, I expected different games, or at least different difficulty levels, than when I entered my age as six. That didn't appear to happen. Maybe, from an educational perspective, the changes are subtle and I just wasn't paying enough attention. But I would recommend making a bigger difference between the content for a three-year-old versus that for a six-year-old.
And although my daughter didn't seem to share this assessment, I found the games simplistic and repetitive compared to the rest of the app. For example, when the user jets off to Egypt to uncover dinosaur bones, he uses his "chisel" to dig up the bones, and then transports them back to the museum and assembles them like a jigsaw puzzle. This was great – the first time. When it repeated for the remainder of the dinosaur bones, it got a little dull.
Overall, though, these complaints are minor in the face of the incredible amount of thought that went into this app. It's extremely well done, and will certainly inspire enough repeat play to justify the price (which is actually pretty cheap, all things considered). I learned a thing or two myself, and the app prompted my kid to ask if we can visit the local natural history museum sometime soon.
Congratulations, GenevaMars. Mission accomplished, at our house anyway.
Emilie Davis loves Indiana Jones and might have enjoyed being a paleontologist, except that she doesn't like to get her fingernails dirty. smartappsforkids.com was paid a priority-review fee to complete this review in an expedited manner.