App Reviewed on: iPhone 3GS
Graphics / Sound Rating:
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Starting up Parallel Universe for the first time was rather confusing for me. It wasn't so much that it was a complicated process, but rather that I was lacking in a proper degree of understanding. At least initially. Even after rereading the press info document (repeatedly) and restarting my map once or twice in order to experiment I was still fairly lost. It wasn't until I'd messed around with it for a couple of days that things finally made sense. For better or worse.
I'll attempt to explain Parallel Universe to the best of my ability so that anyone else attempting to play around with it won't be quite as lost as I was: It's essentially a map-making "game" that utilizes location services and 8-bit graphics. When a map is created, it just sort of exists with the chosen player character (male or female) sitting in the middle of it. Sticking to a small area for a bit will result in the construction and upgrading of buildings, while wandering through the neighborhood will create roads. After a night on the town or even a day at school, portions of the map will start to appear significantly different.
Parallel Universe is most certainly a fascinating idea. The concept of creating a personalized pseudo-fantasy world through a kind of augmented reality is more than a little novel, and watching the world change and grow around my little character is pretty darn cool. I also have to admit, the looped chiptune music fits the tone quite well and manages to avoid becoming obnoxious. So kudos to the sound designer/composer.
The problem I'm running into is that Parallel Universe wasn't really designed with New York living in mind. It doesn't run in the background so as to save battery life, which is a noble gesture but it means that cities will only begin to pop up if it's left on. And walking around Manhattan while staring at my iPhone screen isn't particularly safe. Or smart. I could leave it running and just start walking, but it would still shut itself off after a minute or so. Even sticking to one spot to build cities is fairly unimpressive, as it still requires leaving the app running and constantly tapping the screen to keep it on.
I think Parallel Universe is a fantastic proof-of-concept, but it's going to need a lot of adjustments before it's really any fun. It's more framework than fleshed-out game. I could see things like RPG-style quests, the ability to link images to specific spots on the map (i.e. taking pictures while out for a walk) or even simple stat-tracking making a difference here. I really hope we see some content updates in the future because it shows immense promise.