Santa's Merry Band - Mibblio

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Title: Santa's Merry Band

DeveloperMibblio

Compatibility: iPad // iOS 5.1

Size: 341 MB

Description:   I know.  I've reviewed a lot of Mibblio apps recently (and haven't even had a chance to review the main app).  But they keep coming out with seasonally appropriate ones -- Halloween, Hanukkah, and now Christmas.

The basic structure of the app is the same as with their other apps -- the song plays while the user can add or remove different tracks (e.g., guitar, percussion, keyboards) from the recorded song while simultaneously being able to play melody and stringed/guitar instruments in harmonically compatible keys, not to mention percussion.  It basically lets kids (and adults) play along in ways that allow some creativity but also help make whatever comes out sonically sound decently.

In addition, the songs are accompanied by illustrations that feature lyrics to those songs.  The result is a musical picture book over which the user has some small control.

Once you've done one Mibblio, you've sort of done them all, conceptually, so the value of any particular app (or individual "mibblet," as they call each song) comes down to the song itself and the accompanying illustrations.  There are 8 seasonally-appropriate songs in this particular app:

- G. Love "Christmas Baby" (illustrated by Gabriele Tafuni)
- The Brian Setzer Orchestra "Dig That Crazy Santa Claus" (Leo Antolini)
- Guster "¿Dónde Está Santa Claus?" (Larry 3)
- Indigo Girls "I Feel the Christmas Spirit" (Laura Wood)
- Emmy the Great & Tim Wheeler "Marshmallow World" (Villie Karabatzla)
- KT Tunstall "Mele Kalikimaka" (Kim Sielbeck)
- Dan Hicks "Santa's Workshop" (Joey Ahlbum)
- Rosie Thomas "Why Can't It Be Christmastime All Year?" (Karolina Lijlema)

I liked most of these previously-released tracks-turned-apps, though sometimes what works well on record doesn't work as well in an interactive app -- the Rosie Thomas track, which I have loved since first released, has some kind-of-long instrumental sections during which not much happens in the app itself.  But most of the tracks are quick and snappy, with illustrations -- an area in which Mibblio has definitely distinguished itself -- that will be a treat to young readers/listeners/whatever we're calling app users these days.  Especially fun are the Indigo Girls' bluegrassy take on "I Feel the Christmas Spirit" and British duo Emmy the Great & Tim Wheeler's rendition of the fluffy chestnut "Marshmallow World," which has a suitably fluffy set of accompanying illustrations.

At a tick under $5, the app is a little pricy, but considering you get 8 songs, it's a decent value even if every single song doesn't appeal to you.  Your family will get decent use out of it for 5-6 weeks, and then you can put it away (read: delete it from your iPad) for eleven months, so it'll be fresh for next year.

Age Range: 3 through 7

Price: $4.99

LinkiTunes

Note: I was provided a copy of this app for possible review.

Happy Hanukkah - Mibblio / Matisyahu

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TitleHappy Hanukkah

Developer:  Mibblio / Matisyahu

Compatibility: iPad // iOS 5.1

Size: 78.9 MB

Description:  Mibblio is back with another seasonally appropriate app, this time celebrating Hanukkah with reggae-rapper Matisyahu.  Matisyahu released "Happy Hanukkah" as a single in 2012, and while it's not a kids' song per se, it's certainly family-friendly.  As with their stand-alone app for "Miss Elephant's Gerald," the app takes the song and applies to it Mibblio's "mibblet" architecture, which allows the user to select the individual tracks (e.g., drums, keyboards) they want to listen to from the song and play music and chords (as well as percussion) in chromatically harmonious ways.

As with a lot of the Mibblio mibblets, the quality of the illustrations are key to whether the overall effect is positive, and Hilli Kushnir's artwork is tremendous in this regard, providing a series of joyful tableux (e.g., flying dreidels, twinkling candles, a playful kitten representing the lion of Judah) to accompany the celebratory text.

One note for Mibblio fans -- unlike the "Miss Elephant's Gerald" app, this is not available in the main Mibblio app.  So at $2.99, some families may not want to spend that amount for an app whose playability is limited to maybe 2 or 3 weeks a year.  But families celebrating Hankkuah (or getting ready to celebrate it) will find this fun to play along with.

Age Range: 3 through 7

Price: $2.99

LinkiTunes

Note: I was provided a copy of this app for possible review.

Toca Band - Toca Boca

Title: Toca Band

DeveloperToca Boca

Compatibility: iPad / iPhone / iPod touch // iOS 5.0

Size: 48.9 MB

Description:  The most musical of the many playful apps from the Swedish app powerhouse, Toca Band is probably the most intuitive and repeatable "make your own music" app.  There are roughly 15 different characters, each one with a unique musical sound -- the rapper, the "la la la" lady, the beat-maker, the thingy that looks like a harp.  If you've used any Toca Boca app, you know the recognizable but slightly daffy drawings that populate them.  The user can move each character (up to 7 in all) onto 3 levels of platforms -- the higher the level, the more complex the music each character makes.  There's a fourth "star" platform that lets the character "solo" (pursuant to your child's touch commands).  The notes are all synchronized to the same melody.  It's a great melody, actually, but you'll probably get tired of it 5 to 10 minutes after you start playing it.  And you (or, rather, your kid), will probably play with it at least 5 to 10 minutes at a time.

So, yeah, if there were a second or third song, that would be great.  Also, just because of screen size, it works better on the iPad.  Toca Band does one thing really well and, from a parent's perspective, almost too well.

Age Range: 2 through 7

Price: $2.99

Link: iTunes

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Miss Elephant's Gerald - Mibblio / The Pop Ups

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Title: Miss Elephant's Gerald 

DeveloperMibblio / The Pop Ups

Compatibility: iPad / iOS 5.1

Size: 93.5 MB

Description:  The Brooklyn-based band The Pop Ups enter the app world with an app that lets kids play along with the slightly jazzy pop tune (which I've previously noted here).  The best part of this particular app, besides the Pop Ups' song, are the illustrations by Liz Starin. They are perfect for the song.  The app has a decent replay value.  As with the "mibblets" produced by Mibblio as part of its primary app (in fact, this song is available there, too, for $0.99), it allows the user to play along on various instruments whose notes adjust depending on the chords being used. This allows your kid (or, well, you) to always be in tune.  The user can also mute or un-mute specific tracks to create their own arrangement.  Pop Ups fans will be happy, and this is one of the better implementations of the "play along" genre.

Age Range: 3 through 7

Price: $1.99

Link: iTunes 

Note: I was provided a copy of this app for possible review.