There are five episodes, the first, “The Beginning” is free, and then each subsequent chapter costs $3.99 for iPad or $1.99 for iPhone. There are even a few OS X Deskplorers apps for sale on the Mac App Store, priced between $3.99 and $5.99.
Check out the teaser for Deskplorers: “Cavemen”, it’s a great place to start looking at the collection.
The application functions almost as if it were a serial television program. The Deskplorers have headed into the History Book for Season One: Jump In Time.
The Deskplorers series of apps each comprises a book, a catalog, and section of mini-games.
The player has to find objects from the catalog in order to continue reading the story. This is not as easy as it may sound – there are tricky choices to make, and if kids make the wrong one, it costs all of their points.
Tip: Change the mini-game level from easy to difficult to double the number of points a player can earn per game.
As readers enter the storybook, the interface is as central to the experience of the app as the text. The visuals are composed of a clever mix of paper and photos, which is part Ezra Jack Keats and Eric Carle, part Little Big Planet.
Here’s a demo that highlights the whole series:
These edu-apps have great sound effects too – when a player enters the rainforest in “Pirates,” for example, it sounds like an actual rainforest. The stories are full of small details like this that enhance the user’s experience. Some of the chapters include highly entertaining animated sections too.
The book relies on context rather than heavy-handed techniques to teach vocabulary. In “Egypt,” for instance, the Deskplorers encounter hieroglyphs and the shadoof, but the plot doesn’t grind to a screeching halt in order to acknowledge new word. Instead, the shadoof appears again, with a definition in the catalog, which helps to reinforce the concept.
The app integrates problem solving in a manner similar to how it addresses vocabulary. Problem solving is woven into the chapters so seamlessly that children will never realize they are learning.
That is where the mini-games enter the picture. These games play as if they were spawned by an elementary school teacher in cahoots with a mad scientist. The games practically vibrates with the sort of off-hand intelligence that I am always trying slip in my children’s media diet.
The mini-games are the same across all of the apps, so a child has a chance to improve her skills over time. My seven-year-old’s favorite was Absorb! from “Egypt”, where she engaged in a little phagocytosis as a Tom-shaped amoeba soaking up little Bratty-shaped cells.
The Deskplorers are funny too. In “Pirates” Tom buys a boat, that’s not only tiny, it’s an actual walnut shell with matchstick masts. In “Egypt” Spoon tries to communicate with a native fisherman using hieroglyphs made up of hot dogs and images of pigs.
There are also small personal touches to keep a kid feeling special. At the end of each chapter one of the characters addresses the player directly, inserting the child’s name into dialogue and directing him to the catalog. As kids play, the game also sends “urgent” messages that are actually screen shots of the game that get saved directly to the camera roll.
The app can accommodate three profiles at a time, which should be sufficient for most families. There is, however, no carryover between apps.
At the end of the app kids have a chance to win medals by dragging objects out of the chapter and placing them on the exact page where they enter the story. When a player puts the objects into the story the first time, however, the pagination isn’t always obvious, so recreating this one aspect of the story was even difficult for me.
Deskplorers offers an unparalleled, immersive experience. As a child navigates between the storybook, catalog, they can’t help entering the character’s world. While not every child may want to play each episode again and again, even completing the game one time is well-worth the investment. Deskplorers is guilt-free screen time.