Rapunzel 3D and Goldilocks 3D: Two gimmicky and unfocused e-book apps

David Winograd
D. Winograd|01.18.11

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Rapunzel 3D and Goldilocks 3D: Two gimmicky and unfocused e-book apps

Rapunzel 3D and Goldilocks 3D are two US$1.99 interactive children's books from Bacciz Apps. I'm sorry to say that they're also not very good. They are complicated, inconsistent, and neither provides a satisfying story. Both titles use elements often seen before in other interactive children's books, but this time they are used seemingly at random. I don't believe children will enjoy either of these apps; instead, kids will likely become confused and frustrated at the "everything but the kitchen sink" design approach and the total inconsistency of the implementation.

The first problem cropped up when I tried to navigate the settings screens. There are seven options: Display Text, Hide Text After Narration, Disable Interaction During Narration, Auto Page Turn, Page Turn Swipe, and volume controls for Narration, Sound FX and Music. Each app lets you choose between three songs to play in the background. I can easily see getting rid of at least half of these options.

Tapping on a dog displayed at the top of each page displays even more options. These include Home, 3D mode, Sound, which is a duplication of the settings screen, Share -- which lets you post to email, Twitter, Facebook, send feedback to Bacciz, and a request to rate the app in the iTunes store. There is also an "I Can Read" option, a duplicate of the title page that gives you the option of eliminating the narration until you tap on the text box, but it doesn't give you the option to "Read it Myself" -- that option shows up on the title screen. One positive thing about this mode is you'll see thumbnails that you can swipe to go to any page. However, the text boxes that the app reads to you if you choose "Read to Me" are further complicated by arrows on both sides of the text boxes that make them appear or vanish.

3D mode requires anaglyph (red and cyan) glasses and also disables all interaction, which isn't mentioned in the plethora of options. I've been a fan of 3D since Creature from the Black Lagoon, but the 3D effect is not very effective. Sometimes in 3D mode, the page opens in 2D mode, then it flips to 3D.

In 2D interactive mode, the graphics are flat and cartoonish, and the stories have nothing more than a passing resemblance to the classic stories of Rapunzel and Goldilocks. The Goldilocks story starts at the porridge scene with no lead in, and Rapunzel starts with a mom longing for vegetables in the witch's garden instead of wanting a child.

Most of the interaction in the 2D mode borders on schizophrenic. As in other books, touching an object displays and speaks the word. These books follow suit, but only up to a point. Other times, touching an object plays a voice or a sound that is usually inappropriate to the story telling. Sometimes it doesn't make any sense at all. For example, in Rapunzel, an animation of the Prince on horseback rides in and vanishes, but touching where the horse was displays and speaks "Horse's Neck," when there is no horse on the page anymore. On another page, the witch makes Rapunzel vanish, but touching where Rapunzel was brings her back for no apparent reason. Touching rocks on the tower that the Prince climbs plays a variety of car horns, buzzes and anything else the developers seemed to have around. Tapping on a cat's paw shows and says "paw," but touching the cat makes the cat howl. In Goldilocks, touching a ladder plays a harp chord.

On one page, touching the Prince's cape shows and says "Aquamarine," which is the cape's color, but on another page, touching the cape plays and shows the word "cape." Touching Rapunzel's hair makes part of her hair turn color, and the app says and shows the color name, but it doesn't change the color of the hair on her head. This color changing gimmick shows up again when you touch a dragon. At another point, touching a bail of hay has the soundtrack say "hay," but the word is not displayed. The main problem for children is that there's no consistency in anything. Sometimes there's a sound, sometimes a word, sometimes a voice, sometimes an animation, but all too often nothing happens at all. I can see this as being extremely confusing to children who revel in knowing what to expect. Tapping the "Home" button doesn't take you to the first page, but rather to the page you last viewed.

Each story has three potential endings. Three doors that shouldn't exist on a tower appear nevertheless, and touching one branches off to one of three different endings. One includes Rapunzel turning the landscape into an amusement park. In Goldilocks, one ending has her making friends with the bears, another has her bringing in three planes and taking the bears to a nice tropical island, and the third shows Goldilocks running away in terror.

These apps make me wish the developers could make up their minds on what they wanted to accomplish. I also wish they had gotten some beta testers to actually make suggestions toward a coherent direction. Overall, these apps are not storytelling, but rather a hodge-podge of gimmicks, ... and none of them are done especially well.

I've reviewed a bunch of children's books. Most of them have been wonderful, and I don't like to write bad reviews, but Rapunzel 3D and Goldilocks 3D are two of the worst I've seen. If you'd like to buy your child a great version of Rapunzel, I recommend the Grimm's Rapunzel pop-up book. But I would steer clear of these.

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