Bottom Line: Monster ABC has a lot of good content and unique gameplay for children learning first letter sounds. Kids spin wheels and match letters to pictures while earning monsters. The games, however, can get a bit monotonous to users with short attention spans and may require adults hovering to keep kiddos on task.
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iPad/ iPhone $2.99
Monster ABC, from developer Wonderkind GmbH, teaches kids first letter sounds in three levels of gameplay: learning mode, silver mode and gold mode. Each level increases in difficulty and children earn monsters to keep in their meadow as play progresses. There can be up to five separate user profiles that save gameplay separately.
In learning mode, two wooden wheels are displayed, each with four circles. One wheel contains letters, and the other contains pictures. The object is to match the beginning letter to its picture. For example, "B" matches with "bird." Pairings are made by rotating the wheels. The user isn't penalized for incorrect answers. There is a test tube located in the upper right corner that fills with bubbling green liquid incrementally as correct matches are made. There's also a coin count of correct answers in the upper left corner. When a match is made, the wheels separate and display the picture while a child narrator vocalizes the first letter sound then the full word with text. Children can hear the word again or click the arrow to make the next match on the wheel. Users can switch between upper case and lower case letters from a pull-up menu that is located at the bottom of the screen.
The pull-up menu includes high scores, letter capitalization choice, settings and parent's corner. Settings available to turn on or off include sound, music, voice and volume limit. The parent's corner is a nice touch for explaining why some letters are paired, such as "wh" and "qu" and "ch," instead of single. The developer has included an illustrated and printable initial sound table for referencing when kiddos are not on a device. The parent's corner also includes how to play, social media links, credits and a link to iTunes to rate the app.
When children have earned enough points, they can play in silver mode. Gameplay difficulty is increased by having children make as many matches as possible in 6o seconds. The final five seconds are audibly ticked off like a timer while the rest of the time is counted down in the upper left corner without sound. Additionally, Paul the monster appears in this level as a choice. Paul freezes gameplay until being tapped to disappear and then play resumes. As with the last level, monsters are collected as correct answers are accumulated.
The final level is gold mode, where children have five seconds to pair choices and are limited to five lives. Lives are lost if a user cannot make a match in five seconds. Paul inhibits play in this level as well, but a small life preserver is available in the lower right corner to display a match if children get stuck. By this level, all six monsters should be earned and displayed in Monster Meadow. Bob, Tam, Olga, Sally, Max and Pat all have rhyming alliterations that tell a little bit about them like, "Beastly Bob is balancing on his bike, wishing badly he had a trike . . ."
I found no glitches or technical bugs while reviewing and the app has colorful and clear illustrations. While the app has a whole lot to offer, I think it could do with a better system of showing progress to kids who might need a bit more motivation to stay on track. It takes a lot of matching to earn monsters and unlock higher levels. I am 42 years old and it took me several visits and reviewer vigilance to make it to the gold level **pats self on back**. Perhaps a bar to track progress to the next level like the test tube that tracks monster earnings could help keep the goal in clear sight. I would also like the ability to make Paul the monster go away. While he may add to the excitement of making matches, my six year-old did not approve and closed the app when Paul appeared. The price tag of $2.99 is not exorbitant in the app store, but for an app that may not be picked up and played without adult prompting, it may be a bit more than some parents will want to pay. On the other hand, I can see this app being utilized by homeschoolers and teachers working to reinforce this level of phonics recognition.
Cynthia has made a certificate to hang over her desk proving that she knows all of the first letter sounds. She celebrated with cookies, milk and a song. Wonderkind GmbH is an advertiser at SmartAppsForKids.com.