Top

Veggie Tales Game Review: Step by Story – Larry’s Missing Music

Veggie Tales Game Review: Step by Story - Larry's Missing Music

Veggie Tales Game Review: Step by Story – Larry’s Missing Music

My son loves to help me review games! He will take any chance he has to get his hands on the coveted controller or iPod Touch. So today’s assignment was Veggie Tales: Step by Story – Larry’s Missing Music.

Developed under license by Playful Owl, LLC, the game has a very simple goal: To help kids from 2 – 6, or pre reading to early reading, form sentence structure, form associations and help lay the foundations for grammar. The premise is simple: Larry is in a variety of settings without any music and the child must help Larry by having a secondary character create some music wish a comedic consequence. It plays out like a simple version of mad libs: there are 4 blocks given and each must be filled with a setting, the second character who solves the problem, what they used to solve the problem and the result of the solution. A story can read like, “Larry’s shower needs music, so Bob the Tomato sang a pump and quack song that crashed the computer!” which sent my son into hysterical laughter for about 3 to 4 minutes.

The gameplay is simple with the 4 empty boxes displayed along the bottom of the screen and a horizontally scrollable list of 5 options to choose from for each box. When the story is complete, a cheer will go up and you will can play your custom story in a very simple animated movie which concludes with Larry stating, “You can figure it out if you use your imagination.” You can then share the story by sending a link to friends or family via a list of email addresses entered in the settings menu. All actions and buttons are narrated by a small child letting the child know exactly what they have interacted with or selected.

While this game does a great job of showing the building blocks of story and sentence structure, it does suffer from some fairly serious flaws. The biggest obstacle we had to overcome was a choice made by the developer to have the buttons require a press-and-hold action rather than just tapping. As an example,when selecting something from a menu, simply tapping it does not work. You have to hold the button down for about 1 second before it will move to the next section or part of the program. This is made more confusing in that if you tap the button, it will animate and a child’s voice will speak the option you selected – as if something should be happening. My son and I thought there was a bug in the program at first and we tried uninstalling it, restarting the iPod and waiting for a minute hoping it would do something. Not until I went to the App Store description page did we see that you have to press-and-hold a button for it to do something. While this is a fine idea for young children, it is not communicated in the game at all. Most kids who are in the upper age range of this programs stated demographic are familiar with how a Nintendo 3DS or iPhone works in that you tap on a button and something happens immediately.

The other issue is a severe lack of content. The entire app centers around only one scenario, Larry’s missing music. And there are only 5 options to pick for each of the 4 empty blocks, so you can run out of custom stories very quickly, making the game unattractive for multiple play through value. It might hold the attention of a toddler, but a child of 5 or 6 will find it very boring very quickly, considering the flashier games available on the market today.

The only other issue I can find fault with is a bug in the settings panel. There is place for you to make a list of email addresses. When a child is done creating a story, they can click a “share” button which will email everyone on the list with a link when a story is shared by your child. There is a bug that prevents you from seeing this list if the app is ever fully closed or the phone is restarted. They are still there and will receive the emails, but there is no way to remove them from the list once it has been made. The only way I found to purge the list was to wipe the app and reinstall it.

Playful Owl’s motto on their website is, “Meaningful Play, not Meaningless Distraction.” Step-by-Story has a great core idea, one they have experimented with on other programs available on the App Store. However, they have not seemed to move forward or make progress in smoothing out basic issues like usability, optimized code for smooth operation and bug problems, as well as communication to the user on how to use the app. Combined with a restrictive set of content, this app would do better to release for a smaller price point and offer an option to purchase more scenarios through in-app purchases. At $2.99, the game is a bit over priced for the content they offer. There are other apps on the iOS and Google Play store made by smaller teams with a great deal more content and polish.

One Response to Veggie Tales Game Review: Step by Story – Larry’s Missing Music

  1. Nick @ Playful Owl April 6, 2012 at 5:05 pm #

    Hi,

    I’m Nick, CEO of MoveableCode, the company that makes Playful Owl products. Thank you for taking the time to conduct a thorough review of Step-by-Story.

    I am very sorry to hear that your experience wasn’t entirely positive. However, we view all feedback as an opportunity to improve our products.

    There are some points I would love to get your further thoughts on.

    1) Press and Hold. Candidly, this has been an ongoing internal debate for us. We have many many hours of studying kids age 2-6 playing with iPads. What we saw was that over 90% of new (kid) iPad users will frequently accidentally touch the screen when trying to hold the device. If that accidental touch causes something to happen in an app, it can lead to confusion and distraction for the child. Our goal from the beginning has been to make Step-by-Story a play product that can be played with by young children by themselves. The interesting thing for us has been that on average, kids pick it up without problems where as the adults often have difficulty. As adults we are much more used to having “bad” things happen if we don’t obey the rules of an interface. Kids just don’t have that fear.

    The difference just between 2-4 and 5-6 is also significant. At 5-6, a kid has mastered the art of using a single finger on screen, rather than a messier multi-finger button grab.

    Currently, within the app, the third time you tap a button without press & hold, it does actually trigger an audio instruction “to make a choice, press and hold”.

    It sounds as though you had only tapped a button twice before thinking there was a bug in the app? I completely agree with your point that older kids and adults will have learned “standard” user interfaces, like double clicking a mouse. However, for most of our users, the iPad/iPhone is their first real experience with a computer where Mom or Dad aren’t doing all the work.

    Would it help to make the press and hold prompt happen on the second tap?

    2) Content. Each Playful Owl app is deliberately kept focused on a single activity with a relatively narrow focus. This is entirely for child developmental reasons. There are many apps on the app store that include lots of whistles and bells, many mini games and other attractions. While they may grab and hold a child’s attention, they are not actually developmentally good for the child.

    What we’ve seen across thousands of users is an average of 10.1 stories being made every time the app is opened. For most kids, that’s easily 15-20 minutes of play, which is actually slightly better than what you would see from a traditional pre-school toy.

    3) I will look in to the settings panel bug. There is a delete button, but it sounds as though that wasn’t functional for you. It would be great if you could send an email to me with your model and iOS version so we can fix that issue.

    4) In-app purchases. Again, we would love feedback from you and your readers on this one. Our original design incorporated downloadable content, but what we heard loud and clear from the parents we spoke with before we launched was that they really did not like apps with downloadable content for kids in this age range. There were concerns about the nature of the content, the potential for accidental billing and having their kid nag them to buy something on a regular basis.

    Please share your thoughts on this – all comments welcome.

    5) App improvements. We are actually a very small company, not a big, well funded developer. Our first apps were launched in late December and we have pushed two incremental updates since then. We have a major update to 2.0 currently in the final stages of testing. We completely agree that the app can be improved and are working as quickly as possible to do this.

    Our goal is not to teach keyboarding, or how to use a computer. It’s to organically allow our kids to create stories as a preparatory tool for reading.

    Again, I’d like to encourage you and your readers to please continue the conversation. Like you and many of your readers, the founders of our company are all parents and we want what’s best for all kids. We believe that means meaningful play.

    -Nick