Review: Dora’s Christmas Carol Adventure for iOS

Ok, so pretty much any parent with kids under the age of 10 has probably heard of Dora the Explorer at some point. I know I have. My oldest son is 9, my middle son is 6, and my youngest daughter is 4, so Dora has been a constant around our house for a while now. I think she will continue to be for awhile yet, as my daughter is definitely a big fan.

For anyone out there who doesn’t know who or what I am talking about, Dora the Explorer is one of Nickelodeon’s biggest cartoon characters, and has been for several years. She is a young, bi-lingual Hispanic girl who goes on educational adventures that, like most kids shows, manage to neatly resolve themselves in 30 minutes or less. The show covers math, reading, patterns, and other basic skills, and encourages the kids who are watching to help Dora on her various quests by participating in the puzzles and problems that she is trying to solve. I have become a connoisseur of kid’s programming over the last 9 years (maybe less so than my wife, but still), and I can definitely say that Dora the Explorer is one of the better shows out there.

When I heard about the release of Dora’s Christmas Carol Adventure, an interactive storybook from Nickelodeon and Budge Studios for iPhone and iPad, I knew that I had to get it. As I previously stated, my daughter Sadie loves Dora. She also loves to have stories read to her (and read a bit herself), and is crazy about my iPhone and iPad. I knew this would be a perfect fit. So, as you read the remainder of this review, know that my daughter Sadie had a big hand in it as my little helper.

The Dora’s Christmas Carol Adventure app itself is quite basic. The opening splash screen serves as the Main Menu, and has only Start and Resume buttons, as well as a few links to other Nickelodeon and Budge apps.

Once you press Start, you are taken into the story. By default, the story is read aloud by Santa Claus and Dora and has musical accompaniment and sound effects in the background throughout.

The words of the story appear in a bar at the bottom of the screen and change color from black to red as they are spoken, making it very easy for a young child to follow along. This is also very good for word recognition for children who are beginning to read some on their own.

The story is broken into short segments on several well drawn and decorated slides. An arrow labeled Next appears at the bottom right of the screen when each passage has been read, and clicking on it will take the reader to the next passage or page. The current passage can be re-read by clicking anywhere on the red text.

There is a pause button in the upper left hand corner of the screen. Tapping this button brings up a menu on the left side of the screen with Resume, Restart, and Menu buttons.

It also has a toggle to turn off the Read To Me feature. When you do this, the text is still displayed in black, but the narration is turned off so that you or your child can read the story for yourselves. I really like the inclusion of this feature, as it makes the storybook more versatile.

I love my apps and so do my kids, but I don’t want to allow them to become a total replacement for reading stories to my children, so being able to read it together without the narration is a great option. Unfortunately, the operation of the Read To Me toggle was a little spotty. There were times when the app became confused and didn’t turn off the narration after I toggled the switch. Also, if I turned it off and then went back to the Menu and started the story over, the narration would be on until I toggled the switch on and back off again. This is a minor bug, but it is confusing and should be addressed.

One of the best features of Dora’s Christmas Carol Adventure is the interaction that is required to progress through the story. Right from the beginning, your child is asked to perform a simple task to get to the next slide.

In this example, you have use your finger to wipe away the “Christmas Magic” to reveal Santa Claus in the background.

One slide later, you have to draw a path on the screen with your finger to get Dora to the Christmas tree.

All of the tasks are pretty simple, so younger children should be able to handle them without any trouble. Once I got Sadie started, she got through the rest of the required tasks on her own without any trouble. Of course, she has been messing around on iOS devices for two years now, so take that into consideration.

Besides the tasks that have to be performed to advance the story, there are also some optional interactive elements sprinkled into some of the slides. For example, the elves, presents, and the window on the slide with Santa will all react in a variety of ways when your child taps on them.

One elf rolls out a naughty/nice list and the Santa-in-the-Box springs open with a tap. Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer also makes a guest appearance when you tap the window.

The final slide also allows you to interact with the characters as the play instruments and sing. You can turn each one on or off and arrange their song in different ways by tapping on them.

These elements aren’t essential to the plot, but they do encourage your child to explore the screen and spend a little more with the story, which adds more value to your purchase.

Sadie and I spent most of our time with Dora using the iPad version. I also downloaded it on my iPhone 4 and tested it there, as well. Both versions are identical, so you will get the same basic experience except for the obvious difference in screen size. The iPhone version is $1.99, and the iPad version normally retails for $3.99. However, there is currently a promotional price of $1.99 for the iPad version. One thing to note, however, is that even though the price is currently the same for both versions, this is not a universal app. If you download both device specific versions, you will have to pay for both of them. However, even at $3.99, I think Dora’s Christmas Carol Adventure is a good buy. It is easy to get jaded in a world of inexpensive but full-featured apps, but if you compare this price with what you would pay for the story in book form, and how much more interactive and versatile it is, I think it is well worth the price. You should also factor in how far a good story goes with most kids. I can remember asking my parents to read the same stories over and over when I was a younger. My Sadie is no different, as she has opened this app up every day for the last two weeks, and doesn’t seem to be tired of it yet.

While I did not have any trouble with this app during my testing on either of my devices, I did read several negative customer reviews in the App Store complaining about it crashing constantly. Version 1.1 of Dora’s Christmas Carol Adventure expanded the device compatibility, so I wonder if some of the older iOS devices are having some memory or processor issues with the app? I didn’t see where anyone identified the device it was crashing on, so I am not completely sure. As I said, I did not have any issues with lagging or crashing on my latest generation devices. If you have an older iPhone or iPod Touch and run into problems, you may try closing down applications or rebooting your phone to clear additional device memory. If you are of the jailbreak persuasion, SBSettings will also take care of freeing up memory for you without all the hassle.

Dora’s Christmas Carol Adventure isn’t a very lengthy story, but the combination of the artwork, music, narration, and interactivity make it a good value at $1.99 and $3.99 respectively. If you have young children in your house who are fans of Dora the Explorer and love to listen to or read a good story, then this app is definitely a good choice. The fact that they can either use it on their own, or have you read it to them is one of the real standout features for me.

As I was getting ready to finish up this review, I asked my daughter if she still liked her Dora Christmas book that we have played with the last two weeks. She replied with an emphatic, “Yes, I love it! Can I play it now?” Judging by that response, you shouldn’t have to worry about this one getting old before Christmas comes, and if your child or children are young enough, it will give you hours or Dora Christmas fun next year, as well.

Dora’s Christmas Carol Adventure is available for the iPhone and iPod Touch for $1.99 and the iPad for $3.99 with a current promotional price of $1.99, in the App Store here.

Budge Studios provided a promo code to iSource.com for the review of Dora’s Christmas Carol Adventure. For further information regarding our site’s review policies, please see the “About” page.