Disney gave us a hands-on heavily embargoed look at a new Star Wars app last week called Star Wars Journeys: The Phantom Menace. While sort of a neat throwback - it's an iOS take on the classic Buena Vista storybook + record sets some of us had in kids mashed up with trivia and a video game - it's also aimed at people much shorter and younger than the average reader of sites like this one.
Featuring lush art and amazing voiceover work by James Arnold Taylor (Obi-Wan Kenobi and others on The Clone Wars), it's $6.99 and will be on the iTunes store roughly nowish. To answer the question "is it cool?" I'd have to say "kinda" and "not if you're old enough to have seen The Phantom Menace in theaters in 1999."
I had a brief hands-on with this at Disney Store HQ after checking out tons of nifty new toys, and like those this application was clearly aimed at a younger audience. We were told ages 6-10, but I'd say the book part is even younger - I was listening to book and cassette things when I was about 2 or 3, and I assume that this kind of app definitely fits the bill for a preschooler. Each "page" has some really great 2D artwork and faux parallax scrolling giving the illusion of depth we all fawned over when those multi-level backgrounds first made their appearances on the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo games, which in and of itself wasn't half bad. You can also pan the camera around about 180 degrees to see more of the scene than what is dumped on the screen in front of you - it gives you a chance to see some really nifty hand-drawn (digital) art. Unfortunately each page has a sort of weird, jerky movement that makes early Flash animation look like Max Fleischer's Superman cartoons. For those hip to the now retro Strong Bad and Homestar Runner, Disney's animation quality wasn't quite there yet. Still, it's pretty to check out.
The "story" component is rather interesting in what it does to try to exceed the mandate of killing a few minutes like those old records and tapes. This time around, there are hidden objects you can touch and find which unlock various entries in a database telling you who all the characters are. It's simple, but this sort of thing can be appealing to a younger audience - think of the "cast" pages in some of those old Star Wars hardcover storybooks we had as kids back in the 1970s or 1980s. Obviously an older fan with unfettered access to Wookieepedia has no need for such things, but this is clearly made for the next generation of fan who may not have the luxury of a portable Blu-Ray player in the car yet.
The other component is - and I realize this may be a dubious honor - one of the more interesting and bare bones takes on Pod Racing video games I've seen to date. It's basically just built around Tatooine from what I saw, and I think I've developed the same aversion to Pod Racing in video games that I have to the Battle of Hoth. I never want to trip another AT-AT with a Snowspeeder again, and even though this game has pretty great 3D graphics compared to what some of us suffered through on the Nintendo 64 back in the late 1990s, touchscreen controls or even motion-sensing accelerometer based controls are not for us old farts. This is for our kids, and it looks like the unlockable vehicles and increasing difficulty levels should be something they might enjoy. There's very little fog or draw-in problems, so the technological limitations of old have indeed been solved.
For seven bucks, this piece of digital ephemera is likely to offer kids something that has been increasingly uncommon - a fleeting part of their childhoods. Before the internet things were there, and when you sold it or your parents dumped it at a garage sale it was gone forever. Things like apps are going to be lost to time as hardware incompatibility or indeed just cleaning off room for the next Angry Birds game, and as a kid I spent hours and hours listening to various book and tapes in the back seat of my parents' car on the way to some boring thing. Instead of being a piece of clutter that you carry until you die, maybe it'll be a pleasant hazy memory down the road. I assume this will be an exciting thing for some kids, but I am oblivious as to the attention spans of the average 6-year-old with access to unlimited cheap or even free digital entertainment. What's the half-life of an app in the hands of a young whippersnapper these days?
I was told it's theoretically possible to unlock all the extra in-game items and in-app encyclopedia in one go through but it's unlikely. As such, kids may be encouraged to go through it a few times to unlock the goodies, and then play through the game on various difficulty levels if they're so inclined - easy mode is pretty easy, and the tougher modes ratchet up fairly well. If your kid is a seasoned fan of Mario Kart 7 they'll probably make short work of it.
Since the last book-and-audio Star Wars items I remember seeing were two unique Episode I-based CD-and-book sets while I was diving through the dollar bins in Tucson, AZ nearly 14 years ago I honestly could not have imagined the format seeing an all-digital revival with the first prequel. Disney has succeeded over the years finding things kids haven't enjoyed yet and presenting it to them - take a look at how they reinvented the classic TV sitcom format for the grade school and tween audience - but I also know that as someone who enjoys this sort of thing and worships at the altar of video games, I'm not its key audience. I will say that the people in the room seemed to be enjoying it and for anyone that didn't have to survive the endless gauntlet of racing games in Star Wars from 1999 to 2002, it may well be worth your while to check out.
Additional games for the other movies seem to be on deck, but no specific information was given nor were any teases for applications aimed at an older fan. For reasons I don't understand this story was under a press embargo until this morning, but there you have it - in a week filled with exciting Star Wars announcements, this may be the least of them.
Special thanks to Disney for an early look at this app. Specs required to run it: iOS 6.0 or later. Compatible with iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, iPhone 5c, iPhone 5s, iPad 2 Wi-Fi, iPad 2 Wi-Fi + 3G, iPad Wi-Fi (3rd generation), iPad Wi-Fi + Cellular (3rd generation), iPad Wi-Fi (4th generation), iPad Wi-Fi + Cellular (4th generation), iPad mini Wi-Fi, iPad mini Wi-Fi + Cellular, iPad Air, iPad Air Wi-Fi + Cellular, iPad mini with Retina display, iPad mini with Retina display Wi-Fi + Cellular, and iPod touch (5th generation). This app is optimized for iPhone 5.
And here's their full press release, which I haven't read before writing my article but it is a less cranky version of what you just read:
DISNEY PUBLISHING WORLDWIDE LAUNCHES STAR WARS™ APPS FOR NEXT GENERATION OF FANS
New Portfolio of Apps Introduces Legendary Saga in Unique Ways; “Star Wars Journeys: The Phantom Menace” Available Now on the App Store
GLENDALE, Calif., May 1, 2014 – Drawing from the success of its interactive storytelling products, Disney Publishing Worldwide today announced the launch of “Star Wars Journeys,” a new episodic series of apps featuring the stories, heroes and villains from a galaxy far, far away. With immersive story content and fast-paced activities and game play, “Star Wars Journeys” apps will introduce the epic Star Wars universe to the next generation of fans like never before. More than half a dozen apps are slated for release for the Kids and Entertainment categories of the App Store; “Star Wars Journeys: The Phantom Menace” is available now and additional apps in the portfolio will roll out in sequential order leading up to the release of Star Wars Episode VII.
Each “Star Wars Journeys” app includes interactive features that fully immerse readers in the franchise’s epic adventures, including a 180-degree parallax viewing experience, infinite zoom scene transitions, collectible character profiles, brand new art, and unlockable hidden content. As The Force is strong with these apps, each will also feature a set of unique activities that deepens the story experience.
“The Star Wars film franchise has continuously excited and engaged audiences of all ages for more than 30 years” said Andrew Sugerman, executive vice president, Disney Publishing Worldwide. “Now, Disney Publishing is connecting Star Wars fans to their favorite franchise through a series of innovative new apps that combine storytelling, play, and technology for an epic experience. We are thrilled to help introduce the Star Wars universe to the next generation of fans, and provide those already familiar with the power of The Force new ways to connect with this legendary franchise.”
“Star Wars Journeys: The Phantom Menace,” which is available now for iOS, reveals the first story in the classic saga in an explosive new way. As readers tap and swipe their way through the story, they are challenged to fast-paced races across four different galaxies in customizable anti-gravity podracers where they can earn special rewards that allow them to complete the story. Additional apps in the “Star Wars Journeys” portfolio rolling out in the coming months include:
• “Star Wars Journeys: Attack of the Clones”
• “Star Wars Journeys: Revenge of the Sith”
• “Star Wars Journeys: A New Hope”
• “Star Wars Journeys: The Empire Strikes Back”
• “Star Wars Journeys: Return of the Jedi”
The Star Wars mobile apps portfolio will continue to evolve with the addition of an all-new category of user generated creativity apps, leading up to the release of Star Wars Episode VII. The new suite of apps will offer fans unrivaled storytelling experiences by providing them unprecedented access to the rich Star Wars universe they know and love. Through technology and innovative storytelling tools, these new apps will deliver deeper engagement and unlock imaginations in only a way Disney can.
“Star Wars Journeys: The Phantom Menace” can be found on the App Store in the Kids and Entertainment categories. For additional Star Wars mobile apps updates and information, visit www.DisneyStories.com, Facebook at Facebook.com/disneyreads and Twitter at @DisneyReads.
About Disney Publishing Worldwide
Disney Publishing Worldwide (DPW) is the world's largest publisher of children's books, magazines, and Apps, with over 700 million products sold each year. DPW consists of an extensive worldwide books and magazines licensing structure as well as vertically integrated publishing imprints, including Disney-Hyperion and Disney Press in the U.S. and Disney Libri in Italy. DPW's digital products include bestselling eBook titles and award-winning original apps. Disney English is DPW's English language learning business, which includes learning centers in China and a worldwide retail-licensing program. Headquartered in Glendale, California, DPW publishes books, magazines, and digital products in 85 countries in 75 languages. For more information visit www.disneypublishing.com.
About Lucasfilm Ltd.
Lucasfilm Ltd., a wholly owned subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company, is a global leader in film, television and digital entertainment production. In addition to its motion-picture and television production, the company's activities include visual effects and audio post-production, cutting-edge digital animation, interactive entertainment software, and the management of the global merchandising activities for its entertainment properties including the legendary STAR WARS and INDIANA JONES franchises. Lucasfilm Ltd. is headquartered in northern California.
STAR WARS and related properties are trademarks in the United States and/or in other countries of Lucasfilm Ltd. and/or its affiliates. © & TM 2014 Lucasfilm Ltd. All rights reserved.