Monday, February 10, 2014

"Jack and the Beanstalk" from Nosy Crow shows real innovation in bridging the gap between e-books and games

Jack and the Beanstalk

Interactive story app (iPad version tested)

Published by Nosy Crow

One of our biggest frustrations when it comes to storytelling apps is the way the platform for delivery is viewed. So many times we've looked at iBooks and storytelling apps that merely offer a few extra whistles and bells, but serve up a story much in the same way print books do. This always seems like a complete waste, given that most modern tablets are so full of features that really ought to be used to their full potential.

Nosy Crow have been chipping away at the "storytelling app" cliches for a while now. Their apps crop up every year in reputable "Best App" roundups, and you've only got to see their app store ratings to know that they're definitely doing something right. So what's their secret?

Up till now we've not experienced them directly, as apps are still a bit of a hard sell to us for various reasons (check out our guest articles on Helen Dineen's excellent "CAPPtivated Kids" blog to get an idea of why we feel the way we do about them).

Nevertheless, when Nosy Crow very kindly gave us the opportunity to review their latest storytelling app, "Jack and the Beanstalk" we wanted to see whether their bold claims of a "gamified reading experience" held water.

Time to explore, and there's plenty to discover in "Jack and the Beanstalk"

I'm very happy to report that they do indeed. "Jack and the Beanstalk" not only breaks most of the usual rules for storytelling apps, it invents a few of its own along the way. Gone is the single-line-of-story from start to finish, opting for branching narrative dependent on what the reader (or should that be 'player') does during the course of the story. Gone too are those irritating immersion-breaking navigation controls or controls for points of interest. Nosy Crow's excellent development team have obviously spent time not only thinking about their content and the method of delivery, but they've honed the user experience to a point where children from a broad age range will be able to adapt to how they want to use the app. If they choose, they can have a relatively standard story experience or opt for more interaction.

Tricky bit coming up!
Charlotte delighted in the voyage of discovery piquing her curiosity in each scene as Jack finds his way through the story. From time to time I'd join her to help her over some of the tricky bits (I'm not sure that allowing the app to be panned around or pinch-scaled was such a good idea, it can mean frustration for younger players but it does mean you can soak up all the lovely details in the illustrations).

Points of interest appear after a short while if children don't find them under their own steam

Adapting a well-known fairy tale is also a good move in this case, because when the surprises happen (and there are plenty of surprises tucked into the "Jack and the Beanstalk" app) children are genuinely delighted by them (and sometimes, thanks to some superb audio production, a little bit scared by certain scenes - perhaps one to play with younger children cuddling on your lap if they're slightly nervy of mild peril).

Jack and his mum. The story is told with brilliant audio and excellent child actors, helping children more readily identify with what's being said / conveyed. 

In essence, bridging the gap between story and game means maintaining a really good quality and consistent experience right across the board (there's nothing worse than a story telling app that dishes up the same tired old minigame tropes to win over kids who would rather play than read). Game-playing kids are served well in "Jack and the Beanstalk" and again, the app expertly appeals to quite a broad age range - even the very young will find it easy to use, intuitive and plenty of fun.

Returning to the top of the review, Nosy Crow's developers use the iPad's features in some very cool ways (like piecing together a broken mirror - which actually uses the camera to show the child's reflection while they play).

Gold! Gimme more gold!
We won't spoil too many of the other surprises for you. Nosy Crow's ethos is sound, charging a reasonable price for an engaging app that kids will return to again and again - eschewing the detestable model of microtransactions or ad-driven apps in favour of quality and consistency for a one-shot price. If you're the sort of person that thinks £2.99 is expensive for apps, consider how much the average "free" storytelling app will cost you once you start paying for all that extra content.

On another matter, Apps vs Books, E vs Print is often seen as some sort of bizarre unwinnable war - with the lines of conflict tightly drawn on both sides. Consider then that Nosy Crow are Switzerland, deftly establishing a neutral zone where stories and apps can live in perfect harmony.

"Jack and the Beanstalk" from Nosy Crow is available on the app store, priced £2.99.

Check out the app trailer below:

Charlotte's best bit: Helping the giant's librarian sort out his book collection, and rebuilding a broken mirror. 

Daddy's Favourite bit: Absolutely top notch five-star presentation, a brilliant branching approach to the story that's a take on a classic, and a truly well balanced app exuding quality and immersion in the story from every pixel. For a hardened story-app naysayer, it's not faint praise to describe this as the way we'd love to see all storytelling apps shaped in future. 

(Kindly sent to us for review by Nosy Crow)