Available On: iOS, Android, Fire OS
At my daughter’s preschool graduation she confidently announced that she wanted to be an artist when she grew up. She draws and colors every day. Her desk is a warzone of papers, crayons, paints, Play-Doh, and magic markers.
Like most kids she’s also in love with her iPad, an old hand-me-down. She watches videos and plays games. Nothing had prepared me for how well two of her favorite activities could intersect with the newest Dr. Panda product. Dr. Panda Plus: Home Designer combines the creative joys of drawing with the magic of augmented reality to transcribe your creations into a kid-friendly digital playhouse.
The Doctor Is In
Dr. Panda Plus: Home Designer is both a physical product and an app. The sturdy box contains the 51 flashcards and 12 erasable markers you’ll need, along with a QR code to scan once you’ve downloaded and installed the free Dr. Panda Home Designer app.
Installation was painless and easy, even on my daughter’s old iPad, and we were were up and running within minutes of opening the box.
The app shows you how to bring the flashcards to life with a simple video introduction. Like any AR product, hold the object in front of your device’s camera and the object ‘comes to life’ on screen.
With Home Designer, the thick, glossy flash cards represent furniture pieces and various Dr. Panda characters. With over 50 objects and characters you can fill out whatever room you like, from kitchens to kids’ playrooms and living rooms. You can even change the walls and floors.
Every card is double-sided. One side provides a stock image of the object or character, while the other provides a blank white outline, letting you use the markers to color in whatever you wish.
As soon as you scan an item or character into the game they appear as a three dimensional object. In order to use that object you have to spell it first. A word hunt game pops up, tasking you with catching cute letters with googly eyes as they skirt around the screen, and placing them in the proper order.
Once you’ve spelled the word you can place the object inside one of many digital dollhouses. Characters can interact with furniture along the same style as The Sims. They can change clothes, read books, sit in chairs, and sleep in beds. The baby characters will sleep in cribs while they rock, much to my daughter’s delight.
Seeing your custom-patterned lampshade appear on screen is enthralling. We were able to express ourselves by re-coloring Dr. Panda’s friends’ clothes and furniture, and the app perfectly recreated our efforts – flaws and all.
Welcome to the Neighborhood
There are only two game modes in Dr. Panda Home Designer. Design Mode is a sandbox mode, letting you scan, move, and play with objects as you like.
There’s also a Quest Mode for more structured play. One character is looking to fill their new house with a random assortment of objects. They may ask for a ‘mirror,’ or ‘a word that starts with S.’ They may even eliminate some letters to make it a bit trickier, and I appreciated the variation in difficulty.
Scan the proper object and complete a number of correct answers to finish. There’s no high score or goals, just the cute character clapping their hands excitably as you help decorate their new home.
Quest Mode is a great way to incorporate the flashcards as a more traditional learning tool, though hunting through 50 different cards to find an answer can be daunting. With Design Mode there doesn’t seen to be any limit to the number of playhouses you can add and decorate, with each house providing four different rooms to customize.
Dr. Panda Plus: Home Designer has been rated Ages 4+ and E for Everyone. It’s designed for younger kids who are recognizing letters and learning to read, while also learning to draw inside the lines. My five year old felt like the perfect age, and we could easily get another year out of it. You could definitely go younger with increasing amount of parental supervision.
I love Dr. Panda Home Designer’s elegant simplicity. The product is easy to set-up and using the markers and cards is as intuitive as drawing on paper. We rarely encountered any problems scanning our crazy artwork into the game. The app does exactly what it sets out to do: provide several digital dollhouses with which to customize, decorate, and interact with. It lets a young child stay focused on a single, creative task, while also learning about objects and spelling. Dr. Panda Plus: Home Designer is a welcome addition to our repertoire of child-focused gaming apps.