Developer Ink Robin‘s Piccadilly’s Circus (2012) is a showstopper of a storybook app. The human and animal performers of Piccadilly’s Circus are “a happy bunch who always got along (even first thing in the morning).” But the claws come out, so to speak, when ringmaster Mr. Piccadilly must take a sick day. Each performer feels he or she would be the best replacement for Mr. Piccadilly. Not only that, each performer considers him or herself capable of filling any of the circus’s many roles. They decide to swap acts for the evening. Unsurprisingly, everything goes awry — culminating in a collapse of the big top tent when the elephant attempts a tightrope routine — and hilarity ensues. All elements of the app, from the witty text to Adam Larkin’s winsome illustrations to Trevor Lock’s engaging (and charmingly British) narration to (perhaps most of all) the clever animations, are infused with tongue-in-cheek humor.
Ink Robin takes full and thoughtful advantage of its digital medium. The majority of the story’s pages fit within a single screen, but scenes inside the big top are much larger, allowing the user to explore the variety of acts and giving the circus an appropriately larger-than-life feel.
This smart use of size is particularly effective when a dancing dog takes over the role of the human cannonball: the screen zooms out to show the dog accidentally shot through the top of the circus tent (the cannon not being calibrated for small dogs, of course) and away through the night sky.
User-initiated animations with sound effects extend both the plot and the story’s humor. One of my favorites comes when the animals line up to apologize to Mr. Piccadilly for the night’s disaster; tapping the animals in turn produces a chorus of “sorry”s until you reach the last-in-line monkey — who’s been manning the concession booth: “BUUUURRRRP.”
Available for iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch (iOS 6.0 or later); $2.99. Recommended for preschool and primary users.