"Once upon a time there was no alphabet, only numbers," begins this highly polished app from Moonbot Studios. The story is told in a theatrical way, with exceptional computer animation and interesting games built into the storyline. The look of the app is very dark, in monochromatic tones that remind one of a black & white propaganda film about a communist country during the cold war. It even feels omnious at times, with dramatic music and a narrator with what sounds like a combination of an eastern European accent and a computerized voice.
This grim world is transformed by five number-named characters that have a dream ... to go beyond numbers and create a world that is more expansive ... a world defined by an alphabet of 26 letters. This is where the games come in ... complex and at times challenging activities are presented for each letter. My Kindergartner could not complete many of them on his own, asking for help often. I'll admit, it was hard to tell at times if this app was aimed at adults or children, or some age group in between.
At first these activies puzzled me, seeming to engage my child in a way that didn't have anything to do with learning his letters. I assumed story comprehension for young readers/listeners would be lost. However, this has become an app that my 5-year old not only requests constantly, but also one he seems to really understand. "The world was so sad before the letters, mommy," he told me one day after playing with this book. "I couldn't have even had a name if I was a Numberly," he continued, "but then I helped them make all the letters, even Z, like in my name!"
This is one of those apps I am grateful to have waited to review, seeing many critical discussions of it over the past two weeks. I had some of the same thoughts when I first opened this app. It's nothing like The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, which Moonbot released in May of 2011, but one thing definitely ties these two apps together. This is a fantastic piece of digital media ... polished, thoughtful and innovative. But it's not your basic ABC book in any way, shape or form.
Overall this is one of the more unique offerings in the AppStore and nothing like the usual ABC genre. Perhaps it helps that my high expectations were lowered by all of those who were critical of this app at launch, but my experience with The Numberlys has been exceptional. I have rarely seen an app with such a sophisticated storyline that my young reader could explain so easily. If you enjoy apps that defy the usual categories, challenge our notions of reality and provide a lot of entertainment value for users of all ages, look no further. Highly recommended!
All reviews are of the app, not the platform/device. Based originally on iPad versions. Minor technical details may vary.
William Joyce/Joe Bluhm
Moonbot Studios LA, LLC
20 - 30 Minutes
Based on non-digital book: No
Allows Own Narration:
Uses Motion: No
Age: 4 - 10
This is a story set in a sci-fi world, dark and ominous and defined by only numbers and a totalitarian universe. Five friends feel the 'numbers' are not enough, they crave something more ... something different. They begin to play with different forms until one by one they create each of the 26 letters of the alphabet. Once they've created all of the letters, words begin to fall from the sky, bringing color and goodies to their world that they had never known ... and who wouldn't be excited to live in a world where jellybeans fall from the sky in all their glorious colors?