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Comprehensive Reviews

Random Selections: The eBook Edition

Rating 4.00 out of 5
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This time around I’m going to take a look at two stories that have been treated to their own custom readers on the iPhone.  The first is the legendary Cat In The Hat from Dr. Seuss, published by Oceanhouse Media.  There’s nothing overly “wow” about the reader, but it’s done a decent job of keeping me entertained despite the fact that the contents are obviously geared towards kids, and the little ones will surely love it.  The competition this time around is the first issue of Pocket God Comics, the illustrated adventures of those abused, misunderstood pygmy stars of the phenomenon Pocket God.  Much like the game itself, I struggle to see the thrill in this one.

The Cat In The Hat

For those that are either too young, live a secluded life, or for some odd reason just don’t care enough to read it, The Cat In The Hat is basically the tale of a couple of bored kids that get left at home while their mother is working (a no-no by today’s social services standards).  Their boredom is “cured” when a curious cat arrives at their home, but the cat soon wreaks some havoc on the household.  In the end all is well, the moral of the tale being never converse with tall, oddly appareled cats that can talk.  Well, that’s probably not the true moral, but I’m not really hear to critique the story itself since Oceanhouse didn’t write it.

What I do want to discuss is the interface, which is pretty decent if not overly inspired.  The story is presented in phrases of a few words at a time, much like the original book is probably configured.  You can either have the words read to you or you can keep the narrator silent, though I’d recommend listening to the narrative at least once.  It’s actually quite good and very reminiscent of how you as a mother of father might tell a story, where some of the voices actually sound good and others don’t sound much different than the general narration.  If you opt to have the narrator read to you there is also the option to have the book auto-play, in which case it will read a section and then automatically flip the “pages” for you.  The down side to this is that you have to exit the application to stop the auto-play (I’m not sure why they didn’t do something simple like a screen tap to exit to the menu).

A Cat... In A Hat!

A Cat... In A Hat!

In interactive mode you either swipe or pinch the screen to move to the next page.  There doesn’t appear to be a way to go back a page, however.  On any given page you can tap on the screen, and if possible the book will tell you what you’ve tapped on.  You can also click on the text in both narrated and “read it yourself” modes to have the text actually read to you.  That’s pretty much all there is to the interaction.  The book is a universal binary, and I’d imagine that clicking on some things is much easier on the iPad, but for the most part it’s just fine on my little iPod Touch screen.

If the graphics weren’t ripped right from the pages of the book then the illustrators have learned how to copy the artistic style down pat.  There’s not really much in terms of animation aside from an occasional pan or zoom on the images, though if you’re listening to the narration the words will highlight as they are being read, and when you click on something the word will appear on top of it.  There are some sound effects to enhance the storytelling, and the music played during the menu is quite fun, though I don’t imagine you’ll be spending much time around the menu just to listen to the music.

As I stated in the beginning, there’s not a ton of “flair” to this eBook, but what you do get is a nice looking, polished product that will introduce a new generation of kids to the timeless tale of a cat and his hat.  If you have young kids or grandkids or are even a big fan of the story yourself, I’d highly recommend checking this out.  And while you’re at it, you might want to take a gander at Up With A Fish, the object stacking game inspired by The Cat In The Hat.

Final Verdict: Recommended
App Store Link

Pocket God Comics Issue 1

For quite some time the Pocket God game was a fad on the App Store.  They were releasing new episodes nearly every week, and for 99 cents it was a steal.  Thing is, I didn’t get it.  I mean, I bought the game, but I didn’t get it.  I actually had the game on my device for a while before actually trying it, and once I tried it I was good for about 5 minutes before deleting it.  So what was I expecting from the comic book?  I’m not really sure, but what I got wasn’t much.  That being said, die hard fans of the game will probably get a kick out of it.  I’m not really sure anyone else will, however.

The story is basically about 6 pygmies that have been granted immortality because of a stone they possess as a tribe.  This doesn’t mean they can’t be killed, because that would take all the fun out of it.  It simply means they’ll come back to life after being killed.  So as you can imagine, the basic “story” is a string of mishaps resulting in one or more pygmies getting killed… over, and over… and over again.  I won’t spoil then ending, but it really doesn’t do much to make up for the rest of the plot.  Now I’m not suggesting that I expected some deep, philosophical conjecture here, but I would rather have seen the pygmies and some elements of the game somewhat removed from the actual concept of insta-death.

Lots Of Fish

Lots Of Fish

As for the reader, it’s pretty much a no-frills affair.  You can view the comic in portrait and landscape mode.  Portrait mode allows you to see each page in its “natural” state, but the print is too small unless you zoom in, in which case it’s cumbersome to navigate around.  In landscape mode you basically get one or at most two panels at a time.  At first this seemed a bit odd to me, but in the end this was how I read the entire comic, because it just worked out better.  There are a couple of transition types you can set for when you turn the page, but other than that there are no real settings for the reader.  It was tolerable reading it in landscape mode, but I think it would work much better on the iPad where I could actually see the whole page at once and still read it.

The illustrations are really nice, as one would hope since it’s a comic book.  Each pygmy has its own personality, and the overall feel of the design is sort of “Adult Swim”.  The shark looks great, and the octopus cracks me up because it looks like a pygmy head with tentacles.  There is no music or sound effects, which is really a shame.  I could easily see some tribal beats to provide a bit of atmosphere, and I would love to have heard the laser when the shark shot the octopus.  This is a multimedia environment, and the developers could have taken advantage of it.

I’m a bit puzzled as to the target fan base for this comic.  I guess it must be geared towards die hard Pocket God devotees.  I’ve been a comic reader for more than 20 years, and I don’t think the average comic book connoisseur is going to enjoy it.  Anyone looking for a remotely multimedia experience obviously won’t find it here, and even fringe Pocket God users will probably find it boring.  Maybe I’m being overly critical, but the comic doesn’t make a whole lot more sense than the game.

Final Verdict: Not Recommended
App Store Link

Two very different stories, two different styles of presentation, and two completely different verdicts.  That’s all for this round, and as always, I have no idea what’s up next for Random Selections.  Keep reading…

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