Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Review: Little Engineer App & Game

I was recently contacted by an Indiegogo project and introduced to a new and soon to be released product, Little Engineer, that hopes to help kids connect with coding through a hands on game that uses both physical tiles and an iPad interface.  I have some experience with Osmo products (which are also a combination of physical game pieces and an iPad interface) so I agreed to do a write up contrasting Osmo Coding with Little Engineer, in exchange for a pre-release sample of the program.  :)

It showed up nicely packaged in a heavy duty case.  I love the wide design of the base.  It's stable, elegant, and modern looking.  The small mirror that sits on top of your iPad's camera nests right into the base for storage - that was clever thinking.  I appreciate the open ends of this game's base as it means you can use it with iPad minis, iPad "regulars", and the largest iPad pros.  My Osmo games only work with the minis and the regular iPads because the base has raised side walls.

The game tiles fit right into the side of the storage box and are nice and sturdy.  They are easy to put away (contrasted with Osmo, which is a study in jigsaw engineering whenever we have to put it back in the cute little box!)  The plastic tiles are large, clunky, and bright.  The pieces are easy for little hands to work with and look to be very durable.  I like their sizing and bright colors.

As for the actual game itself... it is modeled loosely after the Pokemon Go concept - which means it is bound to be very popular and relatable to a large percentage of youngsters!  Pokemon Go is not a "thing" at our house, but I do get the appeal.  :)  There are two worlds in the Little Engineer game.  Tech Town (where we are, the basics are covered here) and Fantasy World (where more advanced concepts are covered.)  Many programming games are out there for the iPad and I feel like a lot of them don't really deliver on what they promise.  This game requires some deeper thinking to get through and I'm confident it's providing some lessons in logic (aka what programming is about) to the kids.  There is a basic story line involving robots, an alien and treasure hunts for needed items.  Through tracking down the items using both the screen and your physical tiles to come up with solutions to the roadblocks in your way you will get through the levels/unlock the challenges.

The game is listed as best for ages 4-10.  My 4 year old definitely needs some hands on (by his side, constantly!) assistance from older siblings.  He finds the game engaging and intriguing but from an actual learning to code perspective I'm not sure how much he would get out of it on his own - and he's a smart kid!  So be aware that the younger crowd will need an active older sibling or adult participant.  The 10 year upper target is probably right on.  One of my 9 year olds is really enjoying this, but it's not really drawing in my (old for his age, in some ways!) 10 year old.  It's a little too cartoon-ish.  Which is what makes it appealing to the younger crowd.

Random thoughts:
- We like the catchy background music in the program.  Some games you certainly can't say that about!
- I like that the program incorporates the images from the room into the program, it gives the game a more immersive feeling than you get with the Osmo coding app.
- My daughter is really enjoying the ability to code/build your own levels.  She puts together "challenges" and then helps her younger brother go through them.
- I like that it's a team activity - something that they can find a way to do together and both get something engaging and educational out of.

Conclusion?  A worthy addition to your iPad accessories.  Fully compatible with all versions of iPad, and bug free/stable run (impressive, considering it is still in beta right now!)  If you have inquisitive kids that enjoy a challenge on the iPad, this game just might be your ticket to drawing them into learning some basic loops/sequences/logic structures for coding.  Programming is my college background and I am impressed with the level of detail this game gets into as kids progress through/unlock the levels.  Check out their webpage for more info.  The Pokemon Go angle is definitely going to be a big hook/draw in for a lot of kids.  Two thumbs up for a well executed and designed app and system that will help to draw a new generation into the fun that is coding.

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