A #1 iTunes Books best seller in over 42 countries, The Adventures of Pan wraps up its epic seven-part interactive story with the release of PAN: Han Awakening, the final chapter of the series, for iPad users.
In addition to completing the experience for the numerous iPad users of the app, the entire series is available for download and use on the iPhone for the first time.
The Adventures of Pan (PAN, for short) is the story of Pandora (also “Pan”, for short) , a young female member of a race of cloud-dwelling panda bears. Shortly after Pan was born, her parents descended to the earth below and disappeared, leaving Pan in the care of her grandfather, an elder of the tribe. As Pan grows, so does her proficiency with a mysterious ability. Confronted with this new power and the secrets that her grandfather has kept from her, Pan sets out to find out what really happened to her parents.
Along the way, Pan makes new friends and a few enemies in her quest to find out what happened to her parents. As Pan learns more about her growing abilities, she and her companions are caught up in an epic adventure regarding an ancient prophecy and an unspeakable evil whose awakening coincides with Pan’s developing power. Lest parents be concerned, all of this is presented in an age-appropriate way (the app is rated for ages four years and older). While PAN has its dark moments, they are no more so than what one might find in other epic adventure stories of this kind. If anything, the art style, humor, and voice acting help to diffuse any anxieties younger users might have… or that parents might have about letting their youngsters explore the app.
The story elements are standard for the genre, revolving around friendship, hope, and hard work. What surprised me was the additional sophistication and maturity in the story, particularly the elements centered around not giving up in the face of failure and, yes, betrayal. Though created for children, the story is properly epic in scope and still a better narrative than any or all of the Star Wars prequels.
Each of the seven books of the story play out over roughly 30 minutes each, resulting in approximately three and a half hours of interactive storytelling. Narrative cut scenes are presented to help move the story along, sandwiching scenes that allow users to interact with Pan or her companions in order to help them progress to the next story point. Sometimes all that is required is tapping on the various characters in the scene to present their dialogue in order to move forward. Other scenes require tapping, swiping, or tilting to maneuver through one of PAN‘s numerous mini-games.
For all that the app gets right–from the art to sound to storyline to Pixar-esque humor for parents and children alike to mostly spot-on voice work–the physical interaction with the story can be frustrating at times.
Some scenes spell out exactly what the user needs to do (“drag the characters to this location”). Many scenes, however, give no clear direction on what sort of interaction is required. I’m tapping the screen and nothing is happening. Should I swipe? Still nothing. Try tilting the device. There, that got it. The ambiguity led to multiple frustrations and inadvertently hitting the button in the lower left corner of the screen that takes the user back to the previous scene, which led to increased frustration.
Additionally, the various forms of interaction aren’t consistent, congruent, nor built upon one another. For example, in one of the early scenes, users throw Pan’s boomerang by swiping. In a later scene, Pan’s boomerang is thrown by tapping on Pan. In neither case is the user being taught “this is how you throw Pan’s boomerang”. There’s no learning a particular method early on in order to use it at a later time. The various mini-games and interactions seem random and not always what one might think of as the “best” or most intuitive way to interact with the elements on the screen.
PAN is a beautiful app that tells a surprisingly engaging story that centers around a young female protagonist who leads a co-ed group of anthropomorphized creatures on a quest to find her parents and stop a world-threatening evil before it returns to power. There are multiple hours of enjoyment to be had, but some of that enjoyment is undermined at times by lack of clarity in how the young user is expected to interact with the elements in particular scenes. The storyline and humor are appealing to children and parents alike, which is good because there are going to be times where parents will need to help their children figure out what to do or interact for them (I’m looking at you, Frogger-style mini-game) in order to advance the story.
The Adventures of Pan is available today on the iTunes store for both iPad and iPhone at a price of $4.99 for each individual book or the entire series for $29.99.
Disclaimer: A review copy of the iPhone app was provided. All opinions are my own.