If you were like me, you applauded Press Here, the ingenious book by Hervé Tullet, for its anti-app bravado. If the news that there is now an app version (Chronicle, April) of the book disgusts you, please don’t be too quick to judge.
The first thing to realize is that Press Here was translated from the French, in which it was called Un Livre—”A Book”—and in most of the many languages it’s been translated into, the original title stuck. The French version of the “Press Here” app came out about a year ago and was titled “Un Jeu,” or “A Game.” In other words, it was not necessarily an app of the book but was rather Tullet’s exploration of his yellow, red, and blue dots in a completely different format.
In its English translation of Un Livre, Chronicle Books chose a title that emphasized the book’s interactive nature. For obvious reasons, when Chronicle made the English-language version of the “Un Jeu” app, they chose to stick with the book’s title. A bit confusing, n’est pas?
Unlike the book, pressing dots in this app actually does make something happen, but what that is may not be what you were expecting. Tullet makes up his own rules and the player’s goal is not to win but to figure out what those rules are. There are fifteen separate games, each using the hand-drawn dot motif of the book. But to call them games is a bit deceptive. They start out seeming like little puzzles to solve, but in fact most have no fixed conclusion.
They are more like little scientific explorations perfectly suited to 2- to 5-year-olds. And adults. Remember those non-competitive games that became popular in the 1970s, intended to encourage youth groups and corporate retreaters to enjoy the journey rather than aim for a destination? That’s what Tullet does here.
The home screen shows five rows of three dots, lined up like app icons and jiggling around a bit. Pressing a dot reveals a game title. Press again and you enter that game (or diversion, experience, puzzle — whatever you want to call it). In each, the player must explore by tapping and dragging dots and blank screens. In some games, tapping a dot changes its color. In others, it makes the dot larger. One game gives the dots magnetic properties. You can make fireworks, play foosball (without numeric score), play with “rain,” test your memory with a lotto game, and more.
My personal favorites are the ones that create music. I still haven’t completely figured out what they are doing, but I find that playing around with them is both engrossing and relaxing. The game called “Music Box” has something to do with gears and old records. You tap to add dots that will connect to some extra-fancy dots (little round doodles) and when you have connected a certain number of them, music begins to play. As you connect more disks, more layers are added to the music — repeated bass riffs, treble, etc.
The other two music games are called “Many Roads” and “Free Play.” In the first, three open dots or circles (blue, yellow, red) are seen. Pressing on each plays a bit of music: blue is clarinet, yellow is oboe, and red is flute. As you press longer on the initial circles, additional dots fill in a grid and the music becomes more complex. When the music dots reach an impasse, a boing sound signals the start of phase two in which pressing the solid dots erases them while playing distinct sound effects depending on the color.
“Free Play” seems to be different each time, but the basic idea is that the screen is filled with even rows of dots and pressing on each plays a note or sound effect. Or you can swirl your hand around the screen, messing up the dots, and see what happens to the sound. Perhaps all the games are randomized in this way, leading the player to want to try again and again. This addictive quality may be the only thing “Press Here” has in common with other game apps.
I became so engrossed that I kept forgetting to explore as a child, too. But even though I approached each game in a fairly methodical way, there’s still plenty of appeal for those who prefer fierce jabbing and swirling rather than my careful tapping. It’s also easy to jump around from game to game as interest levels wane. The little Home button appears on the screen when there’s been no tapping for a couple of seconds.
The only glitch I’ve found is that “Drawing” allows you to make lines and dots on the iPad but only makes dots on my iPhone. At first I thought this was intentional since the iPhone screen is so much smaller, but I found a video of the French version in which “Drawing” was fully functional on the iPhone.
Had enough? Then good, I’m out of space. Want more? The app is inexpensive considering how much you get ($1.99 for iPad and 99¢ for iPhone). If you don’t have an iPhone or an iPad, this just might be your reason to get one.