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Frontier Heroes app review

frontier heroes title screenThe opening screen of Frontier Heroes (Planet H and Red Games, 2014; iOS and Android) depicts five cartoonish figures from early American historical eras (they look like maybe George Washington, Pocahontas, a pilgrim, possibly Daniel Boone, or maybe Lewis and Clark). Three icons on the left provide an orientation of sorts: the video icon gives an overview of the game, the question mark explains how it works, and the settings gear icon allows you to enable or disable sound and vibration. Frontier-style music (a la Firefly) is playing so I’m getting ramped up. I hit TAP TO START and I’m on my way.

In the “Early America” level (populated by somewhat stereotyped Native American characters), I am greeted by drum and flute music and the Pocahontas figure.

frontier heroes early america

There are five circles, each representing a game, and I click on the top left-hand one. This game is shooting arrows and it abides by no rules I can comprehend. The goal: pull the bow back, shoot an arrow, and try to hit one of four targets. The trajectory of the last shot is highlighted to guide adjustments for the next one. It seems straightforward enough. However, while I try to be consistent with my adjustments, the game appears to be making up the rules of physics as I play. Shooting at this arc brought me very close to the pumpkin, so shooting at this arc should bring me riiiiiiiight on top of…oh, no, that went down the ravine…

Each game has a certain number of “Achievements” the player completes to get a star. Earning enough stars unlocks the next era/level. Simply playing any of the games makes a “D.Y.K.” (“Did you know?”) fact about the era in which I am currently engaging pop up. After way too many tries, I manage to get two out of three stars in the arrow-shooting game; I move from there to grinding corn, making fire, throwing a tomahawk, and beating a drum. I “master” corn grinding and fire-making (giving me three stars each) and manage to pull only one star (“Hit the pottery target”) on the tomahawk throwing game. These games are almost all about hand-eye coordination and timing — can I play the drum along with the rhythm being shown; can I hit a target at exactly the moment a dot appears on it; can I move my fingers very quickly?

These games are captivating. So captivating that the two hours I set aside for myself to explore this app and write this review entirely disappear. I WILL MASTER THE DRUMMING ROUND. YOU WILL NOT BEAT ME, FAKE DRUM.

(The fake drum does beat me.)

After I win enough stars, I move on to “The Colonies” level, where good ol’ fiddle music and a Puritan settler guy greet me. I play each of four games — navigating a ship to land, planting and harvesting corn, building houses, and getting Benjamin Franklin struck by lightning — and again work to have enough (cumulative) stars to move on to the next level: “The American Revolution.” As each new era opens, a brief video gives some historical information.

Now fife and drum music (which sounds a lot like the music at the American Adventure in Epcot —  my happy place) plays while Washington gazes blankly out at me. In this era, I can throw tea into the harbor, ring the bells on Paul Revere’s midnight ride, play “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” or make a horseshoe. Just gonna say, I killed it at throwing tea into the harbor (what what Boston!) and playing “Yankee Doodle Dandy” (“Did you know? ‘Yankee Doodle,’ which became one of the most popular patriotic songs during the American Revolution, was originally made up by the British to make fun of the colonists.”) Except there is no way I’m going to make a horseshoe. This is because, despite spending an undisclosed but unacceptably long amount of time trying to figure this game out, I have no idea what I am supposed to be doing. I mean absolutely zero. At some point I managed to get a star. I have no idea how.

The instructions, I think, are where the Frontier Heroes experience falls short. They are vague throughout, but in many of the games they are still comprehensible enough to get an idea of the game’s purpose and then learn how to get better at it. For most of the games, I played a couple times to figure out what I needed to do, then would play again and again until I “mastered” the task. In this way the app can be incredibly absorbing and rewarding — I figured out how to be good at this all on my own! — but the games I couldn’t understand remained incomprehensible. It was frustrating to me and, I imagine, would be frustrating to a child.

Overall, my Frontier Heroes experience was very enjoyable. The games are fast-paced and are themed appropriately for the time in which they exist.

a game from the "California Gold Rush" level

a game from the “California Gold Rush” level

The learning potential isn’t massive, but the “D.Y.K.”s certainly catch the eye and the games keep those facts in mind. If I could spend the rest of my work day attempting to earn enough stars to get into “The Land of the Free,” let me tell you, I would. Unfortunately, I have to go work…

Available for iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch (requires iOS 7.0 or later) and Android devices (requires Android 4.0 and up); free. Recommended for primary and intermediate users.

Siân Gaetano About Siân Gaetano

Siân Gaetano is assistant editor for The Horn Book, Inc. Follow her on Twitter @KidLitChick.

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