App Reviewed on: iPad 2
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Set in a dystopic world, Numberlys blurs the line between book, app and movie in a way that will engage younger readers and enthrall everyone else. Developer Moonbot Studios is the publisher who made the book-app turned Oscar nominated short film, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. Numberlys has a dark science-fiction tone with characters so adorably realized, I instantly thought Pixar. It turns out my instinct was not far off - the creative duo behind the studio includes former Pixar employee William Joyce.
The tale is of a dark, colorless world whose inhabitant's lives are extremely ordered - some of the imagery is evocative of a North Korean military parade. All is not lost to monochrome mathematic monotony, however. Five industrious inhabitants decide to mess with the various shapes that form numbers until they put together an alphabet, and introduce the magic of words, names, and color to their realm.
It’s hard to pigeonhole this app. It is a book that seems made for children learning their letters and numbers, and as a digital kid's book it includes narration and lots of simple activities and games to help the story progress. But this app is really more movie than book, in that the art and cinematics steal the show: the experience is a theatrical one, intermission included. The world of Numberlys is at once dark and inviting; the text alone would fail to convey the deeper meaning that fills the app's presentation.
My one concern is target audience. Pre-schoolers and their parents, the biggest consumers of this type of digibook, are going to buy Numberlys. The letter and number plot is a siren's song to this market, and if they enjoyed the first Moonbot publication, a more Oz-like affair, will be hoping for more of the same. But, while they are most likely to enjoy the simple game-like elements, I suspect the sepia style and ominous undercurrents will put off the youngest readers. This title is best suited to school aged children, teens and even adults who prefer Gregory Macguire to Baum or Fritz Lang for that matter. Older readers and adults however, will find the games and tapping simplistic if not tedious and the use of the narrative “pages” somewhat superfluous.
That said, this is the rare interactive book that will genuinely entertain the whole family. It leads a trend of blurring the lines across medium to focus foremost on story, and whatever means - words, illustrations, moving images and interaction - best convey a complete sensory experience. Numberlys pulls off this genuinely multimedia approach superbly. I am eager to watch where Moonbot goes next and to see Numberlys, like Mr. Lessomore, in print and theaters soon too.