Fans of fairy tales have flocked to Nosy Crow's beautifully produced apps since the launch of the Three Little Pigs app in early 2011. Jack and the Beanstalk follows in the same tradition as Little Red Riding Hood and Cinderella, featuring familiar stories with humourous dialogue (in speech-bubbles, which kids love) and reader-driven features that make for an immersive reading experience. The Grimm aspects of this and the other tales are softened, so there is nothing especially scary, although the characters can be a bit 'sassy' or impertinent at times. This dry humor, coupled with Ed Bryan's beautiful artwork and seamless animation, are a winning combination.
This tale, however, does have some unique qualitities that the earlier Nosy Crow titles lack. Earlier editions involved nuanced storytelling that sometimes ventured into the realm of 'gamification', asking users to build the homes of the "three little pigs" from straw, wood & bricks or to sort the invitations for the royal ball. This app doesn't have 'just a hint' of games in its midst but is embedded with games that any reading of the story (even the Read by Myself) will encounter. Users MUST complete these game elements in order to complete the story, creating a barrier or at least impediment (imho) to the natural flow of the storytelling.
I wanted very much to LOVE this app, but I had a very difficult time even liking it. From the first page, I disliked the jaunty (almost sexual) pose of the mom of Jack, pictured with her patchwork dress. Her pressure on the boy seemed to lack any warmth and the story itself is nicely written but not as well thought out as previous titles from this developer. But most of all, I disliked the game elements. They break up the story in ways that interrrupt reading comprehension, frustrate young readers and at one point made me, personally, want to throw my iPad at the wall. These are not the reactions I expect from a Nosy Crow title and I am as deeply disappointed as anyone to say this ... but the kids I tested the app with were equally dismayed. Nothing about this title felt 'finished' and several times I asked my programmer husband if the 'task' we were trying to complete (simply to get to the next page) could have been more intuitively or seamlessly presented to readers.
The section about the library (organizing books by color) and the task of lifting the giant's arm to move gold into Jack's backpack were so poorly designed and truly *not fun* that I wondered what the purpose of the gamification in this app was even about. And the constant return to the sea of doors with keys was maddening. What was the purpose from a literary standard? There is no decent narrative arc to justify most of the 'quests', like having to find a room with a random guy and bats to 'fling' away. Is Nosy Crow simply trying to follow the crowd and make an app that blurs the line between reading and a game?
I expected better from this stellar publisher ... as they have been a great source of digital and print literature for kids. If they were drawn into this quagmire of un-related game elements, I worry who will be next. I have simply been at a standstill in trying to write this review. I keep asking myself, "What were they thinking?" In particular, the constant reinforcement in the app should be less negative ... I have often heard that people (and kids) need many more 'positive' statements vs 'negative' ones to ensure behavior, so the dominance (nearly 10-1) of negative reinforcement in this app (every few second refrains from the character's tell the user, "That's not quite right" or "Try again") are especially concerning.
So, I am giving this the lowest rating I can possibly give a truly lovely app that has some value, but less than I hoped (based on previous publications and expectations of this brand). So, if you love Nosy Crow apps, definitely download this one - it's chock-full of excitement for young kids. But, if you are more interested in kids learning and reading more satifying digital children's literature ... I'd give this app a pass. And this is the first time I've felt that way about Nosy Crow. I'm sorry. But that's the truth of it!
Recommended (with reservations).
This app has been thoroughly evaluated by our staff. Please click on the 'star ratings' tab above, to see how it fared in all nine of our rating categories. See synopsis tab for more details about the storyline.
All reviews are of the app, not the platform/device. Based originally on iPad versions. Minor technical details may vary.
Nosy Crow with Ed Bryan (Artwork)
Nosy Crow Limited
45 - 60 Minutes
Based on non-digital book: No
Allows Own Narration:
Uses Motion: Yes
Age: 6 - 9 +
Welcome to Jack and the Beanstalk - Unlock the Story!
Our Jack and the Beanstalk app blurs the distinction between story and game more than ever before to create a completely new kind of reading experience for children: this is where on-screen gaming and reading meet.
Jack and the Beanstalk rewards success with more story, and encourages repeat play with endless variety. Play games in different rooms of the giant’s castle and collect keys to unlock more of the story - and capture the giant's treasure without waking him up to carry on playing!
Jack and the Beanstalk features:
An exciting, open environment to explore: find the right key to open nine different doors in the giant’s castle, each with unique games and characters behind them
Real consequence within the story: wake up the giant at different points in the narrative to create new ending
A totally non-linear narrative: work your way through the castle in a different order every time and experience different endings based on Jack’s progress through the castle. [Source: iTunes]