Babel, The Cat Who Would Be King is a stunning new book from EPIC, where 'every pixel counts' (and it shows). Told in English or French, this must-download app weaves a tale about an ambitious cat, a sly caged bird and a castle built to touch the sky. Full of political intrigue, plot twists and charming characters, this beautifully illustrated title is one of the most unusual and enjoyable apps to come across my screen in a long time. It even features subtle literary allusions (especially to the biblical Tower of Babel) in a way that will have both adults and children riveted from the first page to the last. The story, music and polished production values for all the animation and interactivity, make this a truly exceptional title.
Hints are provided if you want to be sure to see everything that can be pressed, pulled or moved on each screen. These hints definitely get in the way the first time reading through the story, but are quite useful. You can turn them off, too, which quickly became my family's preferred way to explore this book. Since my husband is French, I asked him to review the French version, which he said was even more lyrical. My little boy, ostensibly the target audience, loved the story and feast of things to play with in this app (plus our cat even got involved briefly; Babel's 'meow' is quite realistic).
The story is so engaging, it would be easy for me to forget to talk about the great interactive elements, including the use of motion and the device's microphone to 'blow' things around. These enhancements are just delightful, but don't steal the show so much as move the drama along and reinforce it in a visual way. Certain touches make this an extra-ordinary book for interactivity, though, including a scene where you can pull a rain cloud near a sheep (who is hanging off the edge of the tower). The sheep then reaches up and takes a bite out of the cloud (and chews on it) in a way that surprised and delighted me instantly ... something difficult to do to a reviewer of apps. Every little detail is like this ... thoughtful, story-related and fun.
The only things I would suggest for a future update, would be to add highlighting word-by-word and to move the page turn arrows to the bottom right and left corners of the page. The current page turning (set at the top, centered around a page guide) is unusual and felt very unintuitive when reading. But this is a very small improvement in what is otherwise digital perfection.
Overall, this is an app that took my breath away. It has great animation, creative interactivity, polished sound-effects and music worthy of a feature film. Including enhancements that match the well-crafted story, every step of the way, makes this complex tale accessible to even the youngest readers. In the end, the bird gets free, and the sheep seek out greener pastures "where kings are less ambitious". Babel then puts the flattened bird cage back on his head, remarking that it "looks like a crown of laurel leaves". Richly detailed and immensely satisfying, this app is simply a literary delight. My highest recommendation.
Note to readers: This review was expedited by the developer for a fee. The review's content is the same, but timing of publication has been prioritized.
All reviews are of the app, not the platform/device. Based originally on iPad versions. Minor technical details may vary.
EPIC Web Agency Sprl
12 - 15 Minutes
Based on non-digital book: No
Allows Own Narration:
Uses Motion: Yes
Age: 3 - 10 +
English • French •
An old cat named Babel is struck by lightning one day as he is scratching the sky for a cloud to torment. He falls down, landing face-to-face with a little bird in a cage. But Babel is not a very smart cat, so he takes the cage and puts it on his head as if it is a crown. He then declares himself king, but the little bird has other ideas. It wants to get free. So it whispers into the cat's ear, convincing the cat that it is the voice of the sky. He taunts poor Babel and suggests he must have followers if he is to be king.
Soon Babel the Cat has found many sheep who are willing to follow along. The bird then suggests that Babel must have a castle, one so tall it reaches the sky. He forces the sheep to build this tower for him, bit by bit. But now the bird suggests that Babel needs enemies to fight in order to be a respected and powerful leader.
The enemies that Babel finds are the clouds he was tormenting in the beginning of the book. These clouds form a terrible storm that destroys the castle and everything around it. In all the chaos, the bird gets free. The sheep find greener pastures and Babel is left with a flattened cage for his crown. "Oh, it looks like a crown of laurel leaves!" he says, placing it back on his head.