26 May, 2015

"Little friends" and cool puzzle apps

Best. Game. Ever.

No, not Cards Against Humanity. I'm talking iPad games. And three-year-olds.

I downloaded this app a couple months ago. You control one of the colorful, parachute-like figures and have to manipulate the blocks into towers. I left my son to his own devices with his, yes, device, and a bit later, my mom popped in and began watching him play. Fast forward 10 minutes or so, and they both came to me asking how to get more than one parachute-creature to appear. "Where my little friends go?" my son asked. "You got little friend?"

(Hilariously, he now also refers to his schoolmates this way, and when he had to go to work with me last Friday, he asked on the way there, "You have little friends there, Mommy?")

It's a very minimalist game, with very few settings to adjust, so it didn't take me long to determine that there was no feature I could turn on to make the "little friends" appear. Puzzled, I looked up the game, Drei, by Etter, on Google.

And discovered that "little friends" was a very apt word choice. Because those "little friends" are other players, on their own iPads and tablets, simultaneously, around the world. Some of the levels require collaboration between two or more players in order to beat the level. The collaboration is mostly intuitive, too, because the program only allows you to say a handful of words ("Slowly", "Hello", etc.), although it will translate them into a variety of languages.

I was pretty impressed. Over the last few months, I've discovered a handful of other apps that breathtakingly elegant, stunningly creative, and manage to be just challenging enough for the combination of a three-year-old and a 33-year-old. Many share the spirt of World of Goo - physics-based manipulative puzzles games with gorgeous graphics and a surreal soundtrack.

A few recommendations for other apps:

1. Monument Valley. "An illusory adventure of impossible adventure and forgiveness." Multi-dimensional Escher-like structures that you have to rotate to get a princess to her crown. This one also has spare, lovely bits of poetry between levels. It's fun to watch a preschooler do this and try to figure out whether they have an adult's response to Escher.

2. Blockwick (and Blockwick 2). "The blocks here are all different shapes and colors with mysterious symbols. Everything is mixed up, but when you place same-colored blocks next to each other, they glow. Organize the blocks to bring light and order to this world." And, oh yeah, you can buy the soundtrack on Bandcamp. Finn sometimes says, "Mommy, you can do it," when I'm playing this game. (He can do it too, some of the time.)

3. Windosill. You can play online too (that's the original version). "Explore a dream-like world of eleven beautifully-constructed environments. Equal parts puzzle game, physics toy, and living picture-book, Windosill rewards playful investigation with mysterious and beautiful surprises. Designed to be experienced in a single sitting (anywhere between 20 minutes and 2 hours), Windosill is suitable for clever kids and imaginative adults alike."

Have anything similar to recommend? Post your suggestions here!