In Ghost Hand Games’ app The Legend of Momotaro (November 2012), Corey Finkle retells a well-known Japanese legend of a boy who emerges from a huge peach to be adopted by a childless couple. Momotaro exhibits exceptional strength and wisdom for his age very early on. When Momotaro is a teenager, he learns of oni, or ogres, terrorizing nearby villages and sets off to stop them. He befriends a dog, a pheasant, and a monkey on the way to the ogres’ island fortress. Together the four companions deceive the ogres, defeat them, and return stolen goods to the villages.
The app opens with a tutorial explaining “a few things you might want to know” in order “to get the most out of this book”. Once the story begins, the scenes progress horizontally, as though on a scroll, while narrator Yuko Kishimoto pleasantly relates Momotaro’s tale. Jason Nemec and Thom Adams’ cut paper-looking illustrations are beautifully layered and detailed, with patterns reminiscent of origami paper or kimono fabric. Subtle animations and gentle sound effects add to the atmosphere.
Tapping a person, animal, or object triggers an origami flower to appear and unfold, revealing one of several types of interactive elements. The most prevalent is a “Learn Japanese” feature, which presents the Japanese word for each object verbally and visually in romaji (the Latin-based alphabet), hiragana syllabary components, and kanji character(s). A kanji tracing exercise is included for each word. Touching various plants throughout the narrative allows the user to explore Hanakotoba, “the language of flowers,” and the significance of a particular flower’s appearance in Momotaro’s story. Additional features describe various facets of Japanese culture (e.g., different breeds of koi, a recipe for pickled plums, or umeboshi) or invite users to “look closer” with maps. During Momotaro’s journey and battle with the ogres, users can create a customized image of him in armor, then save and/or share this image. (This armor does not appear in the narrative, however.)
The narration may be turned on or off at any time, and automatically stops when users enter an interactive feature, then picks up where it left off. Users keep track of already accessed “surprises” with the associated kanji characters along the bottom of the scroll, which light up when surprises are discovered. Tapping an unlit character provides a hint about the location of that surprise, and shaking the device briefly reveals where all of the surprises are hidden. I occasionally had trouble triggering interactive elements due to the way objects overlap in the illustrations; this is a very minor frustration in the grand scheme of this lovely, thoughtfully designed app.
The Legend of Momotaro is currently Ghost Hand Games’ only story app, but I hope the developer continues in this direction. Available for the iPad (requires iOS 5.0 or later); $2.99.