Winter Forest - Chapter 1 is an interactive storybook for iPad with some interesting elements that kids will enjoy.
This story begins the morning of main character Milley’s 12th birthday, important because she is now old enough to explore the woods behind her house on her own. After wandering further than she is supposed to, Milley comes across an area of the forest that seems to be more fall-like than it should be for the time of year, and then more winter-like the deeper she goes until she is lost and can’t find her way back home. She also meets a possible ally along the way, Will the talking cat.
The storybook section of this app contains colorful Anime-inspired illustrations and interactive hotspots which can be found on each page and include interacting with the objects found within, such as turning on a light or sliding open a drawer. A few mini-games are included that focus on basic counting and colors, a maze and an activity involving catching hopping frogs.
One element worth mentioning is the ability to make different choices that, in theory, leads to multiple story lines. Children may appreciate these choices as my son does, but in reality one is led in a specific direction, be it to wander too far away from home or to take left turns over right turns, as there is only one correct answer that progresses the story. The other choice simply asks the player to re-think their decision-making until the other choice is made - unlike the popular Choose Your Own Adventure series of children’s novels that truly allowed decision-making by children.
I liked the set-up of Milley leaving her house to venture into the forest for the first time alone, but for me, the story really begins as she crosses a bridge, going deeper into the forest against her mother’s wishes. Interactive hotspots can be found in nature as well, and include some nice moments such as peaceful wind chime sounds played when tapping flora as well as playing musical notes by tapping mushrooms. Some of the hotspots are not my taste, though, such as a dancing flower with loud club-like music that really takes me away from the mood of this story.
Although the story is always enjoyable, I became much more engaged when the tone changes as Milley realizes there is a problem as the forest becomes colder and colder. Lost and hungry, Milley ultimately decides to eat questionable berries she finds, starving, much to the chagrin of a mysterious voice. From here, this interactive animated storybook becomes a video to watch that I really enjoyed.
I was very nicely surprised to find in the video segment that the character warning Milley not to eat the berries is a talking cat. I really appreciate how the audience is manipulated a few times within this scene, not knowing what to make of this cat or these circumstances, but it is not long into this video that the creep factor increases, in a very good way. Reminding me very much of Studio Ghibli, the cat, Will is a smug, aloof and annoyed animal, toying with Milley during their first interaction. This complex character is my favorite from what I have seen in this first chapter of a longer story, and I admire the voice acting here, along with the music used throughout this video section. By the end of this scene, the audience is left feeling ambivalent about Will’s true intentions - friend or foe of Milley.
It is unfortunate, however, that the resolution within this section is quite low, reminding me of blowing up an iPhone app for the large screen of the iPad. The colors found throughout are also muted, beyond that of a stylistic choice.
I also don’t quite get Milley’s character, as this twelve year old girl carries a large stuffed bunny, Gatsby, with her, taking to this toy in a way more credible for a much younger child of five or six.
Although these issues were distracting for me as an adult, my son was engaged, taken aback by the introduction of Will, as his character could be interpreted as vaguely scary as his approach to Milley is abrasive and intimidating. Having said this, my son and I am very interested to see the next chapters of this story.
I did enjoy the cinematic cliffhanger created by the end of this video, but it would be nice if the other chapters were available within this same app as I don’t think it makes sense for children to have to wait an undetermined amount of time to hear more of this story, and it is worth pointing out that the price of the complete tale may add up as it is unknown how many installments one will have to pay for to get the full version of this story based on an original novel.
Although intriguing, this app in no way stands alone as a complete story - something parents will want to keep in mind before sharing this first chapter with their children.
I would like to acknowledge the wonderful 23 page Users Manual found within the Help section of this app, explaining everything one could need to know about the working of this app, including a page-by-page guide for the included hotspots as well as information on where to find the included mini-games and a menu of pages, elements that I wish were included in all interactive applications.
All-in-all, this is a very good experience from Winter Forest. I look forward to the next chapters of this story, especially the video style of storytelling found within this app, but I hope that the basic image quality can be worked out in the future.