The latest in Nosy Crow’s fairy-tale app series, Jack and the Beanstalk (January 2014), features all of the developer’s thoughtful design hallmarks (main text and speech bubbles narrated by child actors; intuitive, no-reading-required navigation; a wide repertoire of possible interactive responses; subtle verbal and visual interactivity prompts), but this is perhaps the most activity-driven and complex installment in the series. Here Nosy Crow expands upon the choose-your-own-adventure format introduced in Little Red Riding Hood, in which the user’s choices affect both the direction the story takes and the ultimate outcome.
Some narrative elements are fixed and true to the fairy tale’s traditional story line: Jack and his impoverished mother must sell their cow, and Jack trades the animal for a handful of supposedly magical beans. The beans grow into a giant beanstalk, which Jack climbs to reach a giant’s castle. The giant discovers Jack stealing his treasure and chases him back down the beanstalk, but clever Jack chops it down and defeats the giant.
However, the middle section of the story — exploring (and plundering) the castle — is user-driven. The user and Jack help the castle’s non-giant residents (cook, butler, frog prince, dragon) with nine tasks, most involving counting, matching, or identifying patterns. Completing each task earns the user a key to another door and another activity; three of these activities give Jack opportunities to obtain treasure: golden coins, a golden-egg-laying goose, and/or a singing harp. Although the user doesn’t have to complete the tasks in order to progress through the story, different combinations of completed tasks and stolen treasures result in different endings to the tale. During some tasks the user may accidentally wake the giant, cutting (literally) right to the chase. Jack and his mother may end up rich, reunited with their cow, and feasting on delicious foods; or they may face a future of nothing but bean-based dishes. A map-format menu allows the user to skip around in the story and try out various options.
One drawback: once a task is initiated, it’s very difficult to get out of it and back to exploring the castle. I found this frustrating as I struggled — over and over and over — to replicate the tune played by the singing harp. (The harp’s a jerk, too, which was funny at first but ultimately added to my frustration.)
The developer’s cheeky, often self-referential humor permeates the app. The castle is decorated with portraits of the giant and fairy-tale villains from other Nosy Crow apps. The giant speaks in an updated version of his rhymed cadence in the traditional story: “Fe fi fo fum! I can see you, here I come! You may think that you’re the winner, but I’ll eat you up for dinner!” In one iteration of the ending, Jack and his mother have van Gogh’s Sunflowers on their wall.
Both a story and a game, this app rewards the user’s curiosity and engagement. Available for iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch (requires iOS 4.3 or later); $4.99.