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iLearnWith Max & Ruby: Science! app review

max and ruby titleiLearnWith Max & Ruby: Science! (Tribal Nova, 2013; iOS only) features the beloved characters from Rosemary Wells’s books and TV show playing backyard games to illustrate some basic scientific concepts. As the app opens, Max and Ruby stand in front of three game options: “Water Blast,” “Ball-O-Rama,” and “Make Believe.” Just tap the game you’d like to play to begin. (I started with Water Blast because I liked the little kiddie pool — it reminded me of summer.) Ruby shows you a little tutorial on how to play before each game, then it’s your turn.

max and ruby menu

In Water Blast, the screen shows a long pipe with missing pieces, leading to a kiddie pool; you are given a set of pipe sections at the bottom to complete it. It took me a moment to realize that I was being timed in the upper right hand corner of the screen. The longer I took to complete the pipe, the fewer stars I received. (Collect stars in the first two games to earn special stickers to use in the third activity.) Once the pipe is complete, tap the faucet to make water flow into the kiddie pool. As the levels go up, the pipe configurations become more elaborate. At the end of each level, a brief animation shows various ways completing the pipe helped Max and Ruby use the water: watering plants, swimming in their now-full pool, etc. The animations are an encouraging touch — I wanted to help complete more pipes to find out what animation would come next.

Ball-O-Rama is a simplified version of pinball. Pull back a ball and release it to shoot it towards a hole. This game involves a bit more calculation than Water Blast. Luckily, a helpful arrow shows the trajectory of the ball. Just like the previous game, it becomes more difficult with each level, adding balls, holes, and obstacles. In one level there was a bar in the middle to maneuver around, and it took me a couple tries to make the shot (next time though!). Different ball weights and sizes — from tennis ball to Skee-Ball to bowling ball — affect how fast and far the ball moves.

max and ruby ball-o-rama

Make Believe starts out with an empty garden background. A menu at the top offers characters, objects, and settings from the show; make a scene using these character and object stickers. I tapped on Ruby’s category first and selected the bow icon, and Ruby appeared in the garden in a pretty pink-ribboned dress. Each icon has a small associated animation: for example, Ruby adjusts her bow when she first pops up on the screen. If you drag a character or object forward or backwards in the scene, it gets bigger or smaller to illustrate perspective. The sticker options cover a range of seasonal items (such as pumpkins) and activities (including Max jumping out of a snowdrift).

Overall, the app is simple and engaging. The setup is just simple tap-and-go, but since the levels get difficult the more you play it doesn’t get boring. The animations are very clear and look just like the cartoon. Upbeat, old-timey swing music in the background adds to the cheery backyard-fair atmosphere.

Available for iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch (requires iOS 6.0 or later); free. Full version $3.99. Recommended for preschool users.

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