video review

Curtis: I’ll start liking this game as soon as I know how to read. So, in a few years, this game would come in handy as a treat at reading time.

Thomas and the Magical Words let us trace the footsteps of little Thomas Broombucket, a young wizard who got an F in Magic Spell Words. His uncle Artem magicked him into the spelling textbook, and he must spell his way out, all the while rescuing his animal friends who are also trapped in the book. The arch villain, Sbooky, will be there every turn of the way to make Thomas’ quest all the more difficult.

Reading that theme, you’d think that this is a pure kids’ game. It is. On the other hand, it is a Scrabbles based game that works very well, and can be very enjoyable for the adults who play along. At times it also gets very challenging, but never impossible. The game is time-based, but you race against a VERY slow moving time bar. It plays like Scrabble with a side-scrolling map; you need to build bridges of words in order to reach islands. You get a handful of tiles at a time which will be replenished each time you spell a word -when you reach islands that has animals on them, they will give you power-ups to aid you in your quest.

These power-ups are the hammer, clear, magic tile and the hint hat. The first two are pretty self-explanatory, the magic tile acts as a blank tile, and the hint hat will let you know what words you can spell with the letters you have. Sometimes there will be rows of coins floating in the water or swamp, and building your words on top of them will net you those coins. Building any word will also give you extra time for your time bar.

Weeds and other obstructions are placed on the way to make things a little more challenging. The game doesn’t let you save halfway through a stage, and considering how long each stage is, that can be a bit frustrating. Each stage – depending on how good you are at Scrabble – can take up to 20-25 minutes. Shorter stages pan out to be 5 minutes each if you’re quick to spot words in scrambled letters.

What makes Thomas such a wonderful game to play with kids is also the storybook factor. The game plays in chapters, and each segment of the story is actually entertaining – they’re not just fillers. You can also click on the book anytime during the game to see a little note on each of the animals you’ve rescued, and look at the meanings of the words you have spelled.

Thomas and the Magical Words might not be a new game, but it is a great game that can be enjoyed by children and adults alike. A great educational and entertaining game for those of us who love Scrabble (and those who need “fun” put back into spelling!)

Curtis says: I enjoyed watching this. There are lots of colors to discover, and the vegetables are really cute. When they get harvested, they go “yipee!” When I get older, I will learn from this game that blueberries and oranges are harvested in the summer, and you can get pumpkins and corn in autumn!

Harvest Mania is about harvesting fruits and vegetables. In the regular (classic) mode, there is no time limit. However, each time you make a move, more veggies will fill up your screen. Once you can’t make any more matches, you’ll have to start the round over.

The core gameplay is very simple: match 4 in a box or more. when you get a box, all the colors of veggies taht are attached to it will also disappear. The more the better, since as you advance in the “years” of the game, more veggies will start shooting up from the ground, blocking the paths that your veggies can move in. Sometimes power-ups will grow out of the ground, such as the crystal that can be counted as any color of vegetable, or the gopher, who will harvest 10 random veggies if you surround it with four same colored veggies.

The game isn’t that hard if you think about what’s going to grow, and how you’re going to take advantage of where colors are coming in in the next round. It is going to be impossible if you mindlessly drag them around. When your screen fills up, it’s GAMEOVER. As in you have to start OVER. This may seem harsh, but since the goal of the game is to just accumulate as much veggies as possible, it’s not so bad. There is also a prize-winning element involved: if you set up your POGO Account (they’re part of Electronic Arts) you can use the credits you accumulated in the game (by hitting bonus goals and such) to win prizes off their web site.

Once you harvested a good amount of veggies (say, 200+) you can take it to the farm screen where you can use your vegetables to buy things for your farm. There are basically just animated sprites – they don’t really add anything to the game, but you (and your tot) can build things on this map and save it to the desktop as a wallpaper.

The graphics are a little dated but vibrant all the same; the music is catchy and the sounds are appropriate and really, really cute. Did I mention that your vegetables are cute? If you have a baby that thinks vegetables are icky, it might just be time for a little bit of brainwashing. Since this is a color matching game with no time limit, it’s also a great oppurtunity for little hands and eyes to do a little bit of clicking, dragging, and color matching.

A fun and educational game all around with zero violent elements. The buying and building screen also gives the opportunity for a little talk about value for money and makes room for creativity. Definitely a great game to play with your tot!

Curtis says: I love the sound of change! This looks like a lot of fun, but it only managed to hold my attention for 10 minutes. Mommy is trying to get me to recognize the number 1 …but really, I’m too young for this. This may be a game to play when I get a bit older – the math is so built in you don’t notice it!

Cash Cow is a pretty straightforward game: you’re presented with a square screen full of loose change, and you have to make dollars out of it. That’s it. There are only 5 valid combinations: 5 pennies make a nickel, 2 nickels make a dime, 2 dimes and a nickel makes a quarter, 4 quarters make a dollar, and 10 dimes make a dollar. All new coins that you make will glow; using glowing coins in your combinations will net you some power-ups, such as the piggy-bank for grabbing a good chunk of change at the same time, the bank bag which will grab more, and the penny roll which will grab all the pennies at the same time.

At the end of each round, the cash that you collected will be used to build things around the farm. It’ll fill up with new windows, grain silo, a haystack, a pitchfork, etc. It’d go from looking pretty bare at the beginning to quite a bustling farm. There’s also a timed-mode that’s more challenging. The concept, IMHO, is amazing. This would teach your child how to count like nothing else could – there’s also no time limit in the regular game so that little fingers can go 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 pennies: a nickel! Your little tot probably wouldn’t even notice that with all the fun going on that she’s doing math.

The graphics is really smooth (unlike my video here…it uses hardware acceleration for the graphics so screen caps tend to come out a lot choppier than it really is) and the cartoonish look lend itself well to the game. The music is very appropriate, but it is repetitive and quickly gets annoying. Little ears probably wouldn’t mind; they just love repetition.

Now, onto the bad stuff. I love the concept, but there are a few things that defies logic. Alright, I admit, casual games don’t lend themselves well to logic. Case in point being every storyline in every MCF game and every match-3 game. But let’s discuss that another time, shall we? Cash Cow “buys” these upgrades with the money you net, but $10 for a window and $50 for a haystack just doesn’t add up. Then there’s the $60 for the pitchfork. That’s one expensive pitchfork.

There’s also the counting system; maybe just to make the game a bit easier, each time you make a coin on the board, it’s also added to your total. So you’ve doubled your money by counting your change. Once you’ve counted 2 nickels into a dime, you’re left with a dime on the board and 10 cents gets added to your wallet. Hmmm. Then when you really get going, you’ll start to wonder – why can’t I select 2 dimes and 5 pennies to make a quarter? Or 1 nickel, 1 dime, and 10 pennies? Why are there only 5 combinations? Then if you look at your cow closely, did you notice that IT HAS HORNS, NO UDDER, and it’s a COW?

Why am I being so nit-picky about this game? Because it is fun. When it comes down to it all, it’s a matching (not quite 3) game with math in it that has a whole lot of potential to be educational – something that you can use to teach your child the value of money. But it fails on that end on so many level that, when it comes down to it, you can only do that on the surface level. However, it is still a fun diversion – worth the download. Is it worth the cash? Well, that depends. If you’re buying it for yourself to play, yes. If you’re hoping that it’d be great parent-child time to learn how to count, yes. If you want to use it to teach your child the value of money, no. It’s just not realistic enough for that kind of play.