On my iPad: The Sailor's Dream

This is On my iPad, a quick look at an iOS game we think you'll enjoy.

When I was little, my favorite books were pop-up books, where you'd pull a tab or turn a dial and something would happen on the page: Knights would ride jauntily across the space to attack a dragon, or the sun would set and the moon would rise. It felt like the book was coming to life right in my hands, a tiny kind of magic. The Sailor's Dream is the modern evolution of that kind of storytelling, casting you in the role of storyteller as you pull at the seams and make the tale of a sailor and his lady love come to life.

It's difficult to classify The Sailor's Dream as a game, per se, though it has some puzzle-ish elements to it. It is, first and foremost, a story, though one that relies on the player to do some exploration and discovery in order for it to be told. Upon opening The Sailor's Dream, you'll find yourself at sea, floating amongst several different islands. Swiping to either side allows you to select different islands, home to the Secret Lighthouse or the Faraway Ruins. A quick swipe up and you land on the island, free to follow the paths to its different locations, such as The Creaking Stairs or The Lost Hallway, by swiping in the corresponding direction. Some paths simply lead to lovely visuals, like a room filled with tiny, firefly lights or a geometric shape that warps the music when you tug on its points. Each island holds an important piece of the sailor's tale, and some islands hold even more, if you can figure out how to unlock their secrets.

It's difficult to really discuss The Sailor's Dream in detail, because like those pop-up books from my childhood, its joy comes from the reader's personal moments of discovery and surprise. So I won't tell you how to find the little bits of tale hidden within those islands and instead share that the story is tender, charming, sad and tragic, with just enough mystery to leave a few things open to interpretation, but not so much as to be frustratingly ambiguous. To read it is to become part of it and be transported to those islands, listening to waves breaking on shore and ropes creaking on the ships about to set sail.

As its proven with previous efforts like Device 6 and Year Walk, developer Simogo really understands the unique qualities of mobile devices and how they can best be used to transform the fairly ordinary experience of reading a short story into something magical and memorable. The art of The Sailor's Dream is both fantastical and authentic; its islands are clearly nowhere we know and yet also comfortably familiar, with weathered steps that we've climbed countless times and books that have always been just that way on the shelf. We know these places that we've never visited, and they are warm and welcoming while being utterly strange.

The Sailor's Dream also makes clever use of audio to craft its tale, peppering scenes with bits and bobs that make delightful sounds when you tap them, as well as with story-advancing songs and background music. Many mobile games overlook how key sound can be to imbuing an experience with emotion, but it's something The Sailor's Dream understands intimately, right down to its wistful, whistling theme song. Either play someplace peaceful or make good use of your headphones, because experiencing The Sailor's Dream without its audio is to only understand half of its heart.

Your time with The Sailor's Dream will be short and bittersweet, but it's an exciting glimpse at how mobile devices can advance and enhance our ability to tell stories. There are secrets to discover on those islands, if you're only willing to row out to them and explore. Make the journey; you'll be the richer for it.

This review is based on an App Store download The Sailor's Dream, provided by Simogo.