Bottom Line: A continuous loop of creative role-playing games for toddlers and preschoolers, with just enough variety to keep it continually engaging. Plus, put lipstick on a pig!
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Dr. Panda’s Beauty Salon is a brand-new app in the very popular and well-reviewed Dr. Panda series. In TribePlay’s newest offering, the toddler or preschool user helps dogs, sheep, cows, pigs, and other animals enjoy a relaxing spa-like experience at the beauty salon. Beautiful graphics, cute animals, and a variety of activities and creativity options are sure to keep most children engaged as long as they are allowed.
Animal customers enter the beauty salon and take a seat in the waiting room until selected by the child. Each beauty task takes place in a mini game: trim and paint the nails on a sheep, wash mud splatters off of the cow’s face—even put lipstick on a pig! Plucking the pig’s nose hairs was perhaps the silliest, but the nostrils were rather unsightly and in need of some grooming. After each task is complete, the customer is showered in flower petals, showcasing the newfound beauty (and cleanliness).
The variety of animals and activities is impressive: do nails, make a necklace, shave, put on perfume and a hairpiece, or paint a face with glow-in-the-dark makeup perfect for a disco dance. There are other interactions in the spa rooms, as well—sort the shoes the customers left on the floor, give guests a book to read and a massaging chair, and change the wicker chair to a soaking tub.
I appreciate the take on beauty in a culture that often doesn’t know what to do with it. Dr. Panda’s beauty salon provides a nice middle ground—the activities my five-year-old daughter loves (her love of painting nails and lip gloss surely didn’t come from me!) without the negative connotations often associated with beauty (perfectly thin bodies, revealing clothing). My 9-year-old son also played the app until I finally sent him off to do something else, proving it’s a great app for both girly girls and for boys who think sticks, mud, and battles are the best. The inclusion of male customers at the salon/spa makes a big difference.
The variety and continuous loop in Dr. Panda games is also a big hit. Kids really feel like they are interacting when there is no obvious pattern to learn. The element of surprise as each customer comes to the door and is transported to the appropriate room is engaging. Those unfamiliar with Dr. Panda apps may be surprised by the lack of language—there are no words used at all in this app.
The app still provides many opportunities for language growth, however, as children engage with parents. The sequences of each action are especially useful—first stir the face cream and then put it on the cow’s face. Next, add cucumber slices to her eyes. Then wash it all off before finally drying her face with a cloth. This kind of sequence is repeated with each game, and children are learning even when no words are spoken.
The parent’s section, accessible from the home screen, contains a few external links, but TribePlay has it securely hidden, requiring following a direction that changes each time to access. Inside, parents can review the app, subscribe to the newsletter, like on Facebook, and, most importantly, control a few options. The music and interactive sounds can both be turned off independently, which makes my day. Parents can also turn off the link to other Dr. Panda games on the home screen, a very thoughtful option. I would prefer the link to other games be within the parent section to begin with, however.
I have to admit to having a little difficulty with the navigation at first. However, after checking out other Dr. Panda apps and our very own reviews, I know users familiar to Dr. Panda should have no difficulty. My daughter was also able to teach me what to do after playing with it for just a few minutes, making the issue more one of user error. However, a quick how-to section in the parent area might be a nice addition, for other navigation-challenged parents like me.
Aside from my own personal navigation issues, the only change I wished for was to be able to make better designs with the nail polish. The polish “paints” whenever the brush is moved to the nail area, making dots, hearts, or any design requiring the brush to not paint in certain parts, impossible. This is clearly a minor issue, as there are even jewels that can be added to the nails in any desired design.
Overall, this is a game that won’t be leaving my space-challenged iPad anytime soon. After just a few minutes of playing, my daughter moved the app into “her” folder on the iPad screen, making it clear how she felt about it. Any game that lets her experiment with makeup and nail polish without furthering gender stereotypes is definitely a win. Dr. Panda’s Beauty Salon is highly recommended for both boys and girls.
Heather Hetler never wears lipstick and has no nose hairs to pluck. She may or may not wear glow-in-the-dark face paint. smartappsforkids.com was paid a priority review fee for this post.