Disney Publishing Worldwide today released Star Wars Journeys: The Phantom Menace for most current Apple iOS devices. The first of a series of planned apps, each associated with a difference episode in the Star Wars saga, ‘Phantom Menace’ the all-inclusive app retails for $6.99 on the App Store. Disney Publishing Worldwide was kind enough to share the app with us prior to its release in order to bring you the following unbiased review.
Overall, the app is extremely smooth and extremely slick. While Disney Publishing’s apps have always been substantially of higher quality, ‘Phantom Menace’ perhaps raises the bar just a tad, but is also not without its shortcomings, though few and far between. There are essentially three modes to explore in the app: Profiles, Story Experience and the all-too-important Podracing.
We will begin with the Story Experience since it is a product of Disney Publishing afterall. Narrated by ‘Clones Wars’ voice actor James Arnold Taylor, Story Experience re-tells the story of the first film from the prequel trilogy /aka/ The Phantom Menace. To accompany the story is text (which optionally automatically scrolls along with the narration) and a 180 degree ‘parallax’ view which features all new original artwork created for the app. The parallax view allows for readers to more deeply explore the story, allowing them to pan (either using the accelerometer or by swiping) across the scenes and discovering hidden animations and soundbites by tapping on various objects. Many of the objects are presented in a layered format, meaning as the reader pans, objects in the forefront will move differently than background objects. In addition, object soundbites are presented environmentally using stereo, so as the reader pans away from a speaking character, for example, the audio will fade in/out accordingly, a rather neat trick. My biggest gripe about the Story Experience, however, is that the auto scroll often finds itself out of sync with the narration, which is not something I would expect, particularly from an app that’s meant to promote reading skills. Hopefully this will be addressed in a future release.
Podracing, however, is where the app truly shines and where most readers will find their time spent. With a number of podracers to purchase (using in-game points, not real money) and even modify — all readers are automatically given Anakin Skywalker and his podracer at no ‘charge’ — readers can compete in several different types of races around Tatooine on one of several different tracks at different skill levels. Using either on-screen controls or the accelerometer (my personal preference), podracers race around the course, dodging objects (and other podracers). A tournament option puts podracers through their paces, competing in each type of race back-to-back, keeping track of overall scores, and potentially unlocking additional tournaments. When I played on the iPad, I did encounter what appeared to be some bugs in the elimination style race, but overall the racing is just too fun to let me worry about it. Where I did encounter some issues, however, are with the interface — sometimes it was unclear on how to purchase new podracers and individual modifications and after completing a tournament, it took me a couple of tries to realize I had to X (cancel) out of the prompt to restart/continue my tournament so I could select the next tournament I had unlocked. Admittedly I also find myself going off course quite a bit on some ‘easy’ courses. A ‘wrong way’ indicator is kind enough to point that out — all too kind.
Profiles are insights into different characters, places and things in The Phantom Menace and have to be unlocked by both finding pieces inside the Story Experience (by tapping on objects) as well as podracing. Both activities also reward SP points which can be used to purchase and upgrade podracers. Unfortunately the imagery and especially the text can be a tad small on an iPhone/iPod screen.
The developers have indicated that potential updates to the app could include the ability to podrace on planets other than Tatooine. They also promise that future episode apps will introduce new gameplay that would be relevant to the episode itself, so I am very much looking forward to what they come up with there.
Overall, Star Wars Journeys: The Phantom Menace is a quality app with excruciatingly attentive detail both aesthetically and technically and well worth it for any Star Wars fan. It’s probably best experienced on an iPad, but gaming wise handles itself very well on the iPhone size screen as well.
Below are some screenshots of the app provided to us by Disney Publishing Worldwide: