The Peanuts gang is back in two new interconnected Loud Crow Interactive apps.
A follow-up to last fall’s fabulous A Charlie Brown Christmas app, Loud Crow’s latest story app It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown! (October 2012) is based on the 1966 animated holiday TV special of the same name. Linus spends Halloween night in a pumpkin patch, faithfully waiting for the elusive Great Pumpkin to appear, while everyone else (even morose Charlie Brown) enjoys “tricks or treats” and a costume party. The app is narrated by Peter Robbins — the original voice of Charlie Brown, now grown up — and features much of the plot and dialogue (including the original character voices) from the cartoon. A user-friendly format in terms of narration, animation, page turns, and word recognition allows readers to experience the beloved tale in a new way.
Unfortunately, this story app relies on its connection to a free supplemental games and activities app called The Great Pumpkin Festival, and the combination is problematic. Whereas the Christmas app did a nice job, in a single app, of integrating easy-to-use activity features into the story, this pair of apps is glitchy, confusing, and cumbersome.
Once users create the required account for The Great Pumpkin Festival app and log in, they choose costumes and accessories to customize their own Peanuts avatars. (Some free options for each item are provided, but the more interesting ones must be “purchased” with either coins or candy bought through iTunes or earned by participating in activities.) Users can carve pumpkins, browse other users’ costumed avatars and decorated pumpkins, and “like” pumpkins and guess what people carved. On Halloween, the pumpkin with the most likes will be crowned “The Great Pumpkin.” Avatars, pumpkins, and achievements may be shared to Facebook. The Festival app itself is pretty fun — for the social media–savvy and for those willing to buy more coins on iTunes (with real money!) to pay for things in the app. My problems concern how it connects to the Great Pumpkin story app.
On the title page of the story app, readers can log in to their Festival app account to upload their avatar. If you have your Festival account turned on, your avatar will appear several times in the story alongside the Peanuts characters. It would make sense for the app to simply ignore the concept of avatars if the user isn’t logged in to their account. And for the most part, it does. However, in one scene, when there is no avatar inserted, a black ghost appears on screen in its place as Lucy directly asks the avatar what it is supposed to be. This pulls the user out of the storyline and makes the secondary app intrusive on the story.
Additional issues in the story app: it occasionally just shuts itself off, at least one of the text balloons appears to be misaligned, and I think there’s supposed to be a candy matching game to play when the kids go trick-or-treating, but it doesn’t work properly. I would have appreciated a how-to section with more information on the activities. Reviews of the app in iTunes reveal that other users experienced similar problems. There is also a redundancy to the scene where users can play three songs (“It’s a Long, Long Way to Tipperary,” “Pack Up Your Troubles In Your Old Kit Bag,” and “There’s a Long, Long Trail”) on the piano, à la Schroeder, while Snoopy dances on screen. First the narration includes each song, then the keyboard appears and the user plays each song, then an animation kicks in and the song is played for a third time.
Some of the features do work well: users can tap objects on the screen to activate additional content, and the animation is generally well timed to the narration. Users also have the option to decorate their own pumpkin, which appears once in the story; turn the narration and/or music off; and navigate using a helpful scene selection guide. Users can discover five more activities in the story to earn rewards (i.e., more candy for the supplemental app).
Are you confused yet? I certainly was after spending an afternoon with these apps. Frankly, the number of drawbacks to the story app as it now stands outweigh the positives. Here’s hoping they improve the story app in later updates. I wish Loud Crow had done a better job of linking the two apps — or had released one all-inclusive app. Since the free Festival app works well on its own (though it’s a bit dull after the initial creation of avatars and pumpkins), I recommend that you download it and forego purchasing the story app.