Play Panda Hero and Save the Earth!

Hacking the Holidays

Panda Hero: Be a force for good!Panda Hero: Be a force for good!

Panda Hero: Be a force for good!

How are you celebrating Earth Day? Barefoot Explorers encourages you to “be a force for good” with their first iPhone game, Panda Hero. It’s a combination of an top-down action-adventure game and an interactive virtual pet, and for each app sold the company will plant three trees in the real world. It’s a win-win situation: you (or your kids) get to play a fun game, and you help save the Earth while doing it!

You've planted a tree!You've planted a tree!

You've planted a tree!

There are two parts to the game: the missions and the pandas. The missions the action-arcade portion game, controlled by tilting the iPhone to slide your character around the levels and jerking it up to jump. It’s a bit like those marble-labyrinth games, except that in this case the marble is you. Rescue caged animals (which will then help you for a little bit), collect coins and watch out for poachers, poisonous mushrooms and other baddies. There are also “magic berries” which make you invincible for a short time—but you should probably explain to your kids that these aren’t real. The ultimate goal of the three missions is to rescue the momma panda and her two babies.

Once you’ve rescued some pandas, the menu screen will also allow you to choose the panda’s habitat. This portion of the game is like a virtual pet: play with them, wash them and put them to bed. Also, using the coins you collected in the missions, you can buy food, toys, and accessories for the pandas. (The accessories are somewhat absurd, like sunflower glasses and a coolie hat.) It’s not as complex as, say, Touch Pets Dogs or The Dog, but it’s pretty cute and my kids loved it.

There’s also a section on the main screen to learn more facts about pandas and trees, like the fact that Giant Pandas eat up to 50 pounds of bamboo a day, or that the three trees planted from the purchase of your app will have about the same impact as removing a car from the road for a year. You can choose from a number of avatars (for some reason there are six girls and four boys) and enter your name; you also get to name the pandas after you rescue them. It doesn’t really make any significant changes to the game itself but my kids love seeing their names on the screen so it’s actually a nice feature.

Cross tricky bridges, collect coins, explore ancient temples, and trek through the snowCross tricky bridges, collect coins, explore ancient temples, and trek through the snow

Cross tricky bridges, collect coins, explore ancient temples, and trek through the snow

The adventure portion of the game is pretty good—certainly more variety than the rolling-marble games I’ve had on my iPod and pretty nice visually. Since it’s designed for kids about 8-14, you do have a health meter but unlimited lives—if you lose all your health you just start back at the last checkpoint. One feature about the caged animals that I found interesting: they roll at a slower speed than you do, which means that if you want to send them ahead to deal with poachers (yeah, ironically the animals can fend off poachers) then it takes some tricky tilting to get them ahead of you. The game is a little too challenging for my six-year-old but I think would be appropriate for most tweens. Older teens may enjoy it as well, but with only three missions (and a few levels per mission) the game isn’t very long.

Panda Hero: mom and baby pandaPanda Hero: mom and baby panda

Panda Hero: mom and baby panda

I do think it’s a little strange that after you rescue the pandas, you put them in a little habitat where you can play with them and treat them as pets—what’s the lesson we’re trying to teach here? But it is a pretty cute part of the game. The pandas will play with balls, eat bamboo or fruit, and even moonwalk. There are some differences between the mom and the kids in what they’ll eat and how they play with things. As I mentioned above, though, it’s not a full-fledged virtual pet app, so there’s only so many things you can do with them.

Overall, I enjoyed the game and it’s a unique combination. My kids right now can enjoy playing with the pandas while I play the arcade game; once they’re older I think they’ll enjoy the adventure game themselves. It’s neat to see the two sides of the game tie into each other. I also like the idea of a company that will plant trees for the apps sold, even with the somewhat inconsistent messages presented by the game itself.

Check out the Panda Hero website for more screenshots, gameplay video and more information. Panda Heroiconicon is $2.99 in the App Store.

Wired: Buy an app, plant some trees! The rolling adventure game and interactive pandas make a great combo.

Tired: Not a very long game; putting hats on the pandas sends a mixed messages about the point of rescuing animals from poachers.

Note: Barefoot Explorers provided a free download for review purposes.

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