iPad Games for Newbies: Both Young and Old

Busy Shapes 2

A really well designed and thoughtful game about shape matching and basic platform gaming design.

Toddler Appeal: My two year old could play the first levels immediately and with assistance about half the game in a week or two. Within a month he could do 90 of the 110 levels on his own. Beautiful colors, pleasing sound effects and exciting interstitial animations. Supports multi-touch and while there are a couple glitchy spots, it over all has very smooth and forgiving game play.

Adult Appeal: A great primer for platform gaming. Teaches about timing, reading 3D design and basic game logic mechanics. 

Busy Shapes 1

A extremely well thought out shape matching game with basic color theory.

Toddler Appeal: My go to recommendation as a first game for toddlers. The sounds and textures are fantastic, the colors pleasing and the difficulty curve reasonable. Somewhere around the level 80 the puzzles become frustrating and my son still can't beat the last 4th of the game without me doing all the heavy lifting, but he will happily replay the first portions over and over again. Supports multi-touch, has no glitches and is of the high quality I expect of Edoki Academy games.

Adult Appeal: Don't bother. The early levels will be too easy and I found the later levels annoying instead of fun. It also has no reward at the end and just loops back to all the levels played on random.

Think Rolls and Think Rolls 2

An obstacle laden logic game with cute graphics.

Toddler Appeal: There's an easy mode that very gently teaches them the logic puzzles. My son made it three worlds in with minor assistance. The critters talk in a manner similar to the Minions that my son found hysterically funny and obstacles such as balloons and crackers seem designed to appeal extra well to this age group. It supports multi-touch and has great UX

Adult Appeal: It has a challenging mode, enough content to feel worth the price and is an enjoyable physics based logic game.

Dinos Jump

A beginners platform game replete with mini games and extra pleasing sound design.

Toddler Appeal: The main game is currently impossible for my 2 year old to play, but short enough that we can do the run together to open up the mini games, which he loves. The mini games range from matching, memory, puzzles to easier computer games. All of them have an educational, teach you about dinosaurs edge. My son loves the sounds and cute design. My only complaint is as a multi-platform game, it does not support multi-touch, which can be frustrating and its fairly punishing in terms of flailing toddler fingers that don't execute particularly well on their intended tasks.

Adult Appeal: The platformer itself is good practice in the basics of side scroller game play. The mini games, with the exception of the T-Rex on the unicycle, will all be too juvenile.

Pango Blocks

A puzzle based game where you are trying to build a path from point A to B with adorable interstitial animations.

Toddler Appeal: Entertaining cut scenes as a reward for finish a section, cute character designs and puzzles that go from dead simple to extremely difficult. It doesn't support multi-touch and it's way too easy to hit go, before you've completed your bridge, but even with that and being susceptible to the toddler flail, it's still a fun, engaging game.

Adult Appeal: Has a difficult mode and, honestly, even on easy I found there to be a bit of a learning curve even for me with the last set of levels actually challenging.

Fruit Ninja

An oldie, but a goodie. I recommend the classic version and playing it in Zen mode initially and moving on to Arcade once you've gotten the concept. Slash fruit and try to beat your high score.

Toddler Appeal: This is not a kid's game, but it's very forgiving and has lots for them to love like zany sound effects and many different types of fruit. Supports multi-touch and has scads of different "swords" and "dojos" to play with.

Adult Appeal:  This was the first iPad game I got into. It's mindless, enjoyable fun and the fruit facts at the end of each round are surprisingly edifying.

Think Rolls Kings and Queens

Toddler Appeal: Incrementally harder than the first two Think Rolls game this makes great progress on their learning curve. There are bats and spiders for them to click on which actually turn into points at the end of the level. The theming is especially appealing with ghosts and crocodiles and other concrete fanciful objects. The ability to decorate your avatar is also a big plus!

Adult Appeal: The theming is fun and it's a nice change to get to modify your characters instead of just choosing different avatars. You get to save your creations and your reward for level completion is more accessories for your people. Puzzles are new and enjoyably challenging. 

Pettson's Inventions 1-3

Toddler Appeal: This is a pretty steep learning curve, the app store says it's for ages 6+, but within a week, my son had figured it out and now regularly plays through all three games with only the most minor assistance. The second is definitely the weakest game, I recommend turning off extra parts in settings and I will warn you there are some puzzles in that game that just have a tedious number of parts needed, however they're color coded, so once your kid understands it s/he should be fine. Every invention is a chain reaction of silly critters and objects, sure to make your child laugh. My son doesn't care so much about beating the game as getting an invention going and then rewatching it several times. The silly factor is a great balance to the challenging logic factor and the skills transfer nicely into reading design and problem solving in the real world.

Adult Appeal: The logic takes a little getting used to, but once you adjust it's a fun challenge to try to figure out how to make the chain reaction work. Pressing the play button mid construction ends up giving you hints as to what's missing and, in general, it feels like a good brain builder and design reading game. Watch out, in Pettson's Inventions 2 they add extra parts to your inventory. You can turn off that option in settings, which I recommend, because I felt it made the game too hard!

Crazy Gears

Toddler Appeal: This is not a "my first game" app. My son could barely do it until he'd completed Think Rolls and Pettson's Inventions. However when your child has graduated to understanding basic logic and problem solving, it is a really wonderful game. As the name suggests, it's a series of increasingly harder puzzles where you have to put gears together to pull the next puzzle into view. It has the lovely tactile sounds from Busy Shapes (same studio) and a good learning curve.

Adult Appeal: It's pleasantly challenging, with nice sounds and graphics. From an adult perspective, I don't think it's any harder than any other starter game, but it's nice theming and good brain exercise.

Good Games for Toddlers

Shape Gurus 

Content is a little limited, but it's a fun loop, nice graphics and smooth game play.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar- Shapes and Colors

Beautiful graphics, though it has a glitch where a piece will become impossible to manipulate and you need to get out of the ap and go back in for it to reset. Has some interesting sorting features of dark to light colors and large to small shapes.

Gazilli Shapes

The monster has a grating voice and a couple of the mechanics are frustrating or unintuitive, seriously my toddler knows that their shape counters are shaped like buttons and is annoyed that they are in actionable items, but it's a s solid shapes game and has some exotic ones like trapezoid. 

Sprinkles Junior

Ok, so not exactly educational, but it does teach them to douse fires with water and as far as gaming for tiny humans goes it's fun, intuitive and a good starting place. It freezes occasionally, but not to an offensive degree.

Blaze and the Monster Machines Dinos Rescue

There is no learning curve, each level is the same difficulty, which I find annoying, but there are 50 levels to play and the mechanics are challenging enough that this was a game my son couldn't figure out at all when first introduced and is now a pro at. The theming is adorable and he claps every time he saves a baby dino. Puzzles are based on moving obstacles with water, water or bouncey ball cannons and have both a base level of completion and a higher achievement bar to aim for. 

Cars and Trucks

Yes, I realize how horribly generic the name is, however the app is pretty unique. I wish it had a bit more content, but it's still easy to get your money's worth. It presents several concepts in uniquely easy to digest ways such as 'fast/slow' 'big/small', picking out what image is different etc. Like pretty much everything on this list, it only has about a week's worth of gameplay content, but it's educational, fun and worth the nominal price. 

Wee Trains

Of all the train games out there I've seen or downloaded, this is the best. The music is catchy, the art attractive and it has the right balance of choo choo fun and actually getting to do stuff, like load cargo, fix tracks, etc. My son finds the music cars too hard (you need to repeat a musical pattern that the app shows you), but otherwise has no trouble navigating this game. I wouldn't call it educational, but it's certainly no drivel either. If your kid needs some serious downtime, this would be my go-to app.

Artie's Magic Pencil

I would not have thought of tracing as a skill until I bought this app for my son. When he started, he found it so frustrating we had to trace 3 out of every 4 lines. Within a month he was a whiz at it. The game has pleasing simple art and a darn good plot for a game with no words. You go through a world tracing geometric shapes to make creatures and objects that help you on your quest to save people from a monster. It's well thought out, engaging and, for the under five crowd, quite challenging.

Gus on the Go

If you live somewhere where knowing a second language at young age is pretty critical, this app is a great starting point. It has excellent design that lets kids know when they get the answer right. I realize this sounds like something all apps should have, but it's actually pretty hard to implement for the under 4 crowd and Gus does it better than any others I've seen. It teaches them all that basic toddler vocab that they need: vehicles, animals, numbers, foods, clothes...and in a very fun way. My son went from no Danish to knowing the basics in about a week.

Endless Numbers

This is the most expensive app I've ever purchased for my child. It cost $15 for the full version of numbers 1-100, but after trying out the free version with numbers 1-10 my son was so insistent that he wanted more, I caved. It was worth it. A month later he can talk about numbers up through 999. He counts by odds and evens. He has no trouble identifying double and even triple digits. If you want to jump start your toddler's counting, this is the app to go. It pairs repetition of names with cute little stories and interactive sequencing. If you're looking for the iPad to be an education tool as much as an entertainment advice, this is a must for your collection.