Telling the age-old story of a hero born from a giant peach, Ghost Hand Games’ new app The Legend of Momotaro landed on our iPad last weekend. Promising an inspiring interactive experience while telling the classic Japanese tale, we fired it up right away. A couple of hours of reading, listening and screen-tapping later, we were left with no doubt in our minds: technology really can do great things for an old reading experience.
Produced and developed by Saratoga Springs-based Ghost Hand Games, The Legend of Momotaro presents itself as “a hand-crafted interactive storybook”. Producer Colin Baird, a firm Japanophile ever since visiting the country during his student days, told RocketNews24 that the team’s goal was to use new technology to bring the story to a whole new generation of English speakers:
“We developed The Legend of Momotaro because we thought the iPad would be a great way to introduce a young English-speaking audience to the beauty of Japanese culture and language through the famous story of Momotaro. Our hope is that the Momotaro app will inspire kids to learn more about Japan and its rich culture.”
That beauty has most definitely been captured in the app’s visual and audio design. Take a look at our short video, which shows a little of what the app can do and introduces the story of Momotaro for those encountering it for the first time.
It’s clear from the outset that this is much more than just a few pretty pictures scanned and fed into a program; the app opens with classical Japanese shamisen music while the title rests proudly on top a blossoming cherry tree. People often question the merits and potential pitfalls of combining art forms such as literature with modern technology, but we can’t help but feel that this app has found just the right balance. As well as faithfully telling the entire folk tale in eloquent English prose, there are dozens of interactive features to keep readers entertained and learning.
Tapping the screen to begin the story, we’re shown a wide, hilly landscape where a single wooden house sits beside a flowing river. As wind stirs the long grass, the river flows gently by and the sound of birds chirping can be heard in the distance. Touching the block of text or the flower petal adjacent to it starts the story text scrolling. Coupled with a classic yet finely detailed visual design, Yuko Kishimoto’s audio narration – in English but with a charming Japanese lilt – sets the scene for the story perfectly and runs at a speed that even younger readers will be able to keep up with.
▼The story of Momotaro is one that almost every Japanese person is familiar with
Presented as a Japanese emakimono picture scroll, the app features lines of kanji characters along the bottom edge of the screen that point to the numerous clickable objects in each of the beautifully illustrated scenes. By clicking on the 地蔵 jizo kanji (below), for example, the small red-capped statues of the same name sparkle for a couple of seconds, reminiscent of – for this life-long gamer at least – The Last Ninja‘s hidden items.
By tapping on this sparkling object, a small flower appears which, in turn, reveals a page giving information about that particular object, ranging from simple descriptions to, in the case of umeboshi dried plums, learning the process involved in the making of umeshu plum wine. Each section of the scoll has dozens of items to discover, meaning that even when the story itself is over there’s still plenty left to see.
Something that will come as a real boon for Japanese language learners is the app’s inclusion of both a pronunciation guide and kanji writing practice. While it’s unlikely that you’ll rely on The Legend of Momotaro to get you through your next Japanese Language Proficiency Test, there’s plenty to be learned here, and you’ll be surprised how much you can pick up.
The Legend of Momotaro is definitely the kind of thing that we’d like to see more of in the future. Developer Ghost Hand Games has done a great job of bringing an old tale into the digital age, and there is plenty here to entertain both younger readers and Japanese language learners alike. While there will always be those who enjoy the simplicity of a paper-bound book, and we’d never hope to see physical copies disappear altogether, the potential to combine genuinely interesting stories with new technology to enhance the experience in this manner is something that has us tremendously excited. Well worth a purchase.
The Legend of Momotaro is available now for iPad and iPad Mini, costing $2.99.