A Robot Assembly Line
The Robot Factory is an open-play digital toy without clear rules or goals. Kids select different bodies, limbs, heads, and accessories to build custom robots. Kids can then take their robots into the "real world," a digital landscape that serves as an obstacle course to put kids' creations to the test.
How to Build a Robot
The Robot Factory has very few instructions, so kids discover how to play as they go. After creating a profile, kids find themselves viewing a torso. Scrolling brings more torsos into view, some of which animate when they're in the spotlight. Kids press a check button to select, then tap different tabs at the bottom of the screen to open pages with various body parts, similar to selecting among different tools on a digital art easel.
As kids start dragging body parts close to their robots, red dots show all the possible points of connection. Once robots are constructed (with a splash of color, and recorded noises to express their robot-feelings), kids can take robots into a side-scrolling outdoor simulation to see how their creations survive in the environment. Kids use their fingers to guide their robots forward and, if kids gave the robots flying features, into the sky. As a robot jumps over rocks and avoids obstacles, glowing green orbs along the path help restore its life energy before it runs out.
There is a password-protected parents-only section with settings, a (coming-soon) manual, and news from the developers, including some real-life robot stories.
Nice Effort, But Not Engaging Enough
Open-play apps are difficult to create, because it's hard to engage kids without the usual achievement bells and competition whistles. Unfortunately, The Robot Factory kind of misses the mark. The complete lack of guidance does encourage exploration, but it can also lead to frustration and confusion when the interface isn't intuitive.
At the beginning, kids are asked to choose a head and a color and a name without perhaps realizing they are creating a profile, not a robot. When kids enter the side-scroller, it feels like a video game, with the life force and score along the bottom, but the score is never really reported or compared. Moreover, the side-scroller lacks variety; while the obstacles do increase over time, the build-up is too slow for most kids to stay engaged.
On the positive side, the robot parts are quirky, fun, and well-animated. Inventors will enjoy attaching arms where heads should go, Picasso-style. The parts encourage creativity and exploration, as kids don't know what parts will do until they use them. Surprise, this one shoots fire!
Overall, we applaud Tinybop's attempt, and we hope that The Robot Factory will help kids build patience along with their robots. But the robot-testing course is too slow for most kids to really enjoy it. We hope that parents will get insight into how to help kids get the most out of The Robot Factory when its manual is released.
Link to the App Store
There is a link to the app store from the home page that displays other apps from the developer. Clicking on "buy" leads kids to a parental gate, but it is far too easy for The Robot Factory's target age group to solve. In other words, this parental gate is ineffective.
The Robot Factory's is best for builder-types who have the patience to explore and stick to a task without a lot of reinforcement. Parents can help kids get into The Robot Factory by creating a real-life obstacle course and sending different household objects through the course to help spark kids' imagination and learning about engineering and design.
This The Robot Factory's app review was written by Liz K. McKinney.
All tech products are judged on a five star scale by looking at the following factors: fun, education, ease of use, value, and technical.