It’s a crime what passes for ebooks: The same ol’ text digitized and spat back out again. Zzzz. With all of the technology in our pockets these days is this really the best we can do? What about the dreams of Microsoft Encarta and the multi-media revolution of the 90s?
Fortunately, the popularity of the iOS platform (and iPad in specific) have reopened minds to new ways of consuming the same old media. 955 Dreams’ The History of Jazz and On the way to Woodstock bring us back to that dream of the early 1990s when books, video, music, and interactivity could let us explore a topic or story as active participants rather than passive consumers. Now we have Square Enix’s Imaginary Range: A comic book app that shows you need not be educational to enjoy the benefits of a multimedia “book”.
Imaginary Range HD, for iPads running iOS 3.2 or better, takes your standard digitized comic book, adds a motion comic mode, sprinkles in a handful of mini-games, and pours over a delicious sauce of new age music.
Swiping left and right moves you through the story panel by panel or, if you prefer, page by page. The panel view mode is obviously the preferred method of use as it not only adds ‘motion comic’ effects such as parallax scrolling and screen shake, but sometimes contains hidden logos which can be circled for coins. Occasionally, you will be prompted with an action icon. This is your cue to play a short, easy game. These range from seek-n-finds, to slider puzzles, to a Flight Control clone where you guide missiles at the weak point of a giant alien walker. The games are just engaging enough to make for a nice break and are inserted at points where they add, rather than detract, from the experience; ‘Power up’ or combat sequences, for example. These mini games will also award you coins. Coins can then be spent in the Gallery section to purchase scratch off tickets for a chance to ‘win’ the honor of viewing concept artwork. The mini games themselves are also repayable upon completion of the story.
The actual content of Imaginary Range is a little suspect, however. In true ‘Episode 1!’ flavor, it throws you right into the thick of the action and only vaguely hints at Mysterious Pasts. Despite some foreboding quotes from the characters and a particularly bleak opening, Imaginary Range appears to be a rather light hearted affair. The schizophrenic feel of the title can be explained away somewhat by the end of the story, but IR still feels like it is trying to figure out what it wants to be. What never disappoints is the soundtrack. Imaginary Range’s smooth New Age ‘Trance’ styled techno music is the perfect accompaniment to reading the comic sections and features faster paced, yet stylistically coherent, tracks for the game sections.
Oh, and Imaginary Range is free. Yeah, free. One of my favorite features in a piece of software.
I absolutely love the format of Imaginary Range and look forward to seeing how this series evolves in the future. I would definitely sign on the line now to spend a couple of bucks a month for new episodes. Unfortunately, Square Enix has a reputation for HORRIBLY over pricing their software and I am terrified what they will charge. But that’s later. Today, Imaginary Range is free, fun, and a tantalizing glimpse at what could be the future of the medium.