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iPad App Review: Tomorrowland D23

(Available in the iTunes App Store for iPhone, iPad, & iPod Touch. Requires iOS 6.0 or later. Price: Free to Download)

Tomorrowland – A vista into a world of wondrous ideas, signifying Man’s achievement. A step into the future, with predictions of constructed things to come. Tomorrow offers new frontiers in science, adventure and ideals. The Atomic Age, the challenge of Outer Space and the hope for a peaceful, unified world – Walt Disney; July 17, 1955

At the time of its reveal that Summer of 1955, Tomorrowland signified a portion of Disneyland, that often seemed to fascinate Walt Disney: the future. It’s no surprise that Walt himself often looked to the future for new innovations, both within his studio, and later in his own Theme Park.

Sadly, Walt’s vision of Tomorrowland (almost) being a testing ground for what the future could become, soon seemed more science fiction, than science fact. The attractions of TWA flights into space, plastic houses, and peoplemover transportation systems, failed to move beyond the confines of the small land. Today, the themes of Tomorrowland are all but lost in a sea of attractions tied to properties like Star Wars, Finding Nemo, and Toy Story.

But  back in the day, Walt continued to “keep moving forward.” His visions post-Disneyland, would soon encompass “Tomorrow” in another way: an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, or EPCOT, which was to be built adjacent to a second Disney theme park: Walt Disney World. However, Walt’s death in 1966, and a company whose risk-taking stalled with the death of its creator, put the kibosh on a project that some saw as too risky in the rather turbulent era of the late 60’s. EPCOT would materialize in 1982, no longer a planned urban community, but a cross between a world’s fair, and a showcase of technological innovation.

Many have often had fond memories of those flights of fancy that Walt put before us on his Disneyland television series, showing rockets blasting off into space, of what exotic creatures may exist on other planets. Luckily, it seemed that several in the film industry remembered them as well.


In the last few years, Brad Bird (The Incredibles, The Iron Giant) and Damon Lindelof (Lost) have been hard at work on a film that seems as secretive as a JJ Abrams film. The project? Tomorrowland.

The first hint of this project came in January 2013, when Brad Bird tweeted a picture of a black box said to have been found in the catacombs beneath the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, CA. The box was labeled simply on the front, with the number “1952,” but inside, there were found numerous items. Photographs, old magazines, and much, much more. Word was, the contents of the strange box, “inspired” Brad and Damon on their film collaboration.

At 2013’s D23 Expo in Anaheim, Bird and Lindelof took to the main stage on the second day of the Expo, and began to dig through the box, showcasing several of the artifact inside. We saw everything from a strange disc, to a doctored photo of Walt Disney with Amelia Earhart, and blueprint of It’s a Small World, that contained hidden details.

Also at the D23 Expo, was the continuation of a wonderful little inside-marketing pitch to really get in the heads of die-hard Disney fans. A man known as Wallace, briefly had a website and Twitter account active, showcasing his love of Disney cartography, and even had an exhibitor booth at the Expo. Interspersed throughout the expo, was a grand treasure hunt, that if you had the time (and most likely a pass to the parks!), would lead you and several other cohorts, on a grand-scale adventure, following clues and riddles (a summary of the journey can be found at Inside The Magic).

Wallace (behind desk) talking with a guest at his booth at the 2013 D23 Expo.

Sadly, I only got a few clues in with some folks before I could not continue, as I did not have a pass to the parks. I did visit with Wallace to let him know that I could not continue, and was very excited when Wallace offered me a small consolation: a print of one of the images he had created, based around 4 of the 1964 World’s Fair attractions that Disney had had made. Of the four choices, I went for the print of the one Disneyland attraction that I had never been on: The Carousel of Progress (which closed at Disneyland in 1973, before I was born).

The Tomorowland shirt was an exclusive release at the D23 store. The brochure, business cards, and poster were obtained from the meetings I had with Wallace.

While only some knew of the viral campaign that was playing out under their noses, the majority of the expo-goers, had the opportunity to visit within a booth that promised to reveal several of the finds from within the “1952” black box, let alone some other odds-and-ends found around the Disney Studios.

For those taking the tour, there was the ability to borrow out iPads with a Tomorrowland app installed. For those of us with iPhones and iPads of our own, it was simply a matter of finding a connection, and downloading the free app to our own devices.

Also of deterrence to keeping the secrets from getting out, were security guards stationed around the exhibit, making sure no photography was taken (close-up, that is). However, a few bits of the display, did make it onto the app.


Of the different display pieces in the booth, 13 have corresponding information bits included on the app.

Several of the information bits have included audio commentary. Aside from an unnamed narrator, we hear audio from the likes of writer/producer Damon Lindelof, and former Disney Imagineer Bob Gurr.

The app doesn’t give away every detail of what is in the exhibit, with some parts telling that certain legal reasons keep them from showcasing various items. As well, a few of the dimensional items included in the exhibit are fragmented into multiple pictures.

The app does paint a wildly imaginative world in our heads, from experimental storage discs (like the one above), a second-step in the development of Walt’s Audio-Animatronic figures, a cancelled jetpack-related ride, and even an abandoned TV-show script. The TV show script is rather intriguing, in that all the live-action segments scripted inside, are heavily crossed out, with “NO!!” scrawled on the last page. I recall looking deeply at the pages up-close, but I couldn’t make out anything that had previously been typed.

One piece that I found myself wrapping my brain around for several minutes when going over the exhibit, was the piece below. It shows an overlay of a city that follows the same radiating design aesthetic that Walt had in mind for EPCOT, but the torn overlay appears to be set up over a region with some hilly terrain…which is most definitely not Florida.

Notable throughout the exhibit, is a special logo that appears on numerous pieces, of a “plus” symbol cutting through the letter “u.” This appears to be the symbol of a group called Plus Ultra. The general idea is that Walt himself was a member of this super-secret society, that sought to find a way to keep advancing technology into the future. The symbol can be seen on several of the items displayed within the app.


Sadly, the app has not been updated since late August of 2013. It can still be found in the Apple App Store, albeit buried rather discretely. It’s hard to tell if the app may be updated as we get closer to the film’s May 2015 release date, or if it was just that special little extra bit of info for those of us, willing to have our curiosity peaked by a dream of a place, where nothing is impossible.

If you have had your appetite whetted by the latest teaser trailer, then you might want to seek this app out. It’s a free download, and provides some further tidbits that may or may not be revealed in the final film. It probably won’t change your world, but it may give you some more to think about, as we wait to see what Tomorrowland has in store for us, come next May.

iPad App Review: Frozen Free Fall

(Available in the iTunes App Store for iPhone & iPad. Requires iOS 5.0 or later. Price: Free to Download, with buyable Power-Ups)

Since the introduction of Apps and the Apple App store in 2007, many companies have utilized “smart” products to also play to our growing need to be entertained on the go. Ergo, games for multiple mobile devices can usually be found on several.

Of course, it is usually in simple games of matching and shapes, do we sometimes find ourselves going to. When I was growing up, one game that was most entertaining, was Tetris. We had a copy for our Nintendo Entertainment System, and I always remember it as the only game my Dad would sit down and play.

Prior to the release of Frozen in late November, was the release of a game titled Frozen Free Fall. Following the same setup as games like Candy Crush, Free Fall brings you a Frozen-themed matching game, where matching 3 of a jeweled object will cause it to disappear. There are also other things that will happen if you match 4-5 of a certain colored jewel, usually with ice/frost-based results.

There are currently over 90 levels, where one can earn 1-3 stars, based on how many points you score. The levels include tasks like clearing a certain number of ice blocks, making certain items drop from top-to-bottom, and a timed level where you need to earn a certain number of points.

The game can be oriented for both portrait and landscape formats on the iPad, and each screen includes a character from the film, who also can give you the ability to utilize a special item to make some jewels disappear, or clear out certain sections of your gameboards. For those who have seen the film, you will get both young and old variations of certain characters, as well as background images taken directly from the film! There’s also a minimal amount of animation on the characters. They will do little gestures during game play, as well as give you an affirmative if you beat a level, or a look that says “sorry” if you fail.

In truth, the game does nothing really new with the matching game format. It’s a cute tie-in to Frozen, but I’m sure it is the presentation that will make people click on it (okay, it definitely WAS the presentation that made me click on it!).

Musically, you won’t find any of the film’s toe-tapping songs, or any of Christophe Beck’s score. Instead, some original music is included, with piano and string melodies, that is actually quite soothing, if a touch sad at times.

When you first start unlocking various characters, you’ll be given 2-3 special items that character can use, free of charge. The problem is that the level you’re on, will then force you to use those items. So, what you may think you can stockpile later, will most likely be gone after a few gameplays.

It’s almost like the game is doing this to whet your appetite, and make some in-app purchases.  This also seems evident in how the game tries to regulate your game play activity. At the beginning of a full gameplay session, you are given 5 lives to play with. However, once you blow through all 5, you have to wait a certain amount of time for your lives to build back up.

The in-game purchase option allows you to buy items such as a 5-pack of lives for 99 cents, as well as packs of various power-ups. The power-up packs range in price from 99 cents, to $2.99. I believe they’re trying to make people think that $2.99 is a drop in the bucket, but I could see some people falling back on them like a crutch trying to get 3 stars on some levels. If you’re not careful, Frozen Free Fall could become a rather expensive game to play/invest time in.

One person I discussed the game with, said the strategy to winning, is patience. It may take you several dozen times, but eventually, you just might get a board with the right combination to get you at least one star, if not more. If you take the game at its value as something to just sit down with and unwind to, I think it’ll help (unless you get tense in the case of the timed levels).

As of now, Level 90 leads you just past Wandering Oaken’s Trading Post (and Sauna). We can assume further updates will be coming down the line, as the game’s path seems to be following that of the one we see within Frozen. Of course, just how many levels we’ll encounter, is anyone’s guess at the moment.

Frozen Free Fall has definitely proved a good time-waster over the month of December, and is something that can be enjoyed by both kids and adults. However, I strongly caution parents to watch their kids, as if you’re not careful, I could see some parents find some bills charging them for power-ups and add-ons to the game, if their password information isn’t protected.

iPad App Review: Tiny Death Star

(Available in the iTunes App Store for iPhone & iPad. Requires iOS 6.0 or later. Price: Free)

The Summer of 2011 proved to be quite an exciting time for me when it came to finding games for my iPad2. While the promise of being able to play TellTale Games’ video game sequel to the Back to the Future Trilogy was one reason for the gadget’s purchase, I was not finding a lot of games to fill up my new toy with.

It was during one afternoon when I began a search for a game that could take me back to the vertical-building of Maxis’ SimTower game, that I came across Nimblebit’s 8-bit ode to structural conquest: Tiny Tower.

While it was no SimTower, the concept had soon captured my attention (and much of my free time). The simplicity of building a skyscraper into the heavens with all manner of businesses and residences, proved not just a hit with me, but also with many others. Apple even called it the 2011 iPhone Game of the Year.

Since the runaway success of Tiny Tower, Nimblebit expanded the adventures of their tiny “bitizens” into the sky (Pocket Planes), and in a trans-continental fashion (the recently-released Pocket Trains). However, a fourth game has now appeared, in which the humble company has found itself partnered with two of the biggest names imaginable: Disney, and Lucasarts. The three have combined forces to bring Nimblebits’ bitizens into a galaxy far, far away. The world, of Tiny Death Star.

Returning to the world of vertical construction, the game puts you in the service of The Galactic Empire, helping The Emperor and Darth Vader construct The Death Star. Just like in Tiny Tower, you will be put in charge of bringing businesses and residences to this project. It may seem a little odd that the Emperor would see his “technological terror” as a way to bring outsiders onto a weapon of this size, but don’t worry: there’s a method to his madness.

You see, while businesses and residences can be built vertically up from the main floor…the Empire is also building down into the super-structure, with all sorts of familiar rooms for their own agenda. So in a sense, the Empire is profiting off of the commercialism above, that will help it construct a weapon of ultimate doom.

Face it: it’s sheer genius!!

We’ve already seen the success the Star Wars franchise has had being combined with the Angry Birds series, so it is fun to see a little love given to something you have to create (which, will/may/possibly be destroyed by The Rebel Alliance?).

The game gives various businesses based on not just the films, but the Expanded Universe as well. Though some can be a little questionable. For example: you can construct a Mon Cala Aquarium…yet there’s a restaurant called Mon Cala Seafood.

Unlike Tiny Tower with its uniformity to its bitizens, Tiny Death Star encompasses all sorts of alien species and characters from across the Star Wars universe. You’ll see Rodians, Ewoks, Gungans, and many more. Even main characters from the films will sometimes appear. For example, take this image above, where Boba Fett has stopped in to have some Neimoidian cuisine.

There are various business levels to uncover, and I’m sure each of us has several that we’re eager to see. While the restaurant levels include such hotspots as The Cantina, the most fun levels for me appear to be under the stores labelled as Recreation. This is where you’ll find the likes of The Rancor Pit, Dark Side Cave, not to mention a Holonet Cineplex, with three very familiar, pixelated posters on display.

The design fun even extends to the various residence levels. One that I rather enjoyed was the Coruscant Apartments, where you can see the planet’s neverending traffic lanes moving outside the window. In fact, that is a plus this game has over the likes of Tiny Tower: every other floor has a small animated scenario in it!

Given everything I’ve said so far, it sounds like this game should be a home run: it plays to my love of “building” games, and my fandom of Star Wars. However, there is a Dark Side to this ray of sunshine.

– Notable among them, is the accumulation of Imperial Bux. Though it is free to start and play much of the game, there are times when Imperial Bux will be “a necessary evil.” The other Nimblebit games give players plenty of opportunities to accumulate Bux, which can help you purchase characters, faster elevators, and more. One of the more recent additions to the Tiny Tower game, was being able to watch short video ads and be awarded with extra bux, which Tiny Death Star does not give as an option. I was a big fan of Tiny Tower‘s methods of not forcing me to buy things, which in turn, made me want to put down some money and make some purchases. As it stands now, Death Star has made me keep the wallet latched shut.

– Some of the button configurations on the main screen are a little odd in their placement. As I have an older iPad model, my left thumb is not able to properly operate the elevator buttons easily. If you have one of the more recent iPad’s with the skinner sides, I could see this issue being ok. There is also the rather ‘glaring’ tab of the Emperor in the upper left, and the “add a new floor” tab up at the top. It feels that these choices could maybe have been added as pop-out/drop-down choices by finger-swiping. As it is, they ruin what should be a very clean visual aesthetic.

– Given that this is the first release of the game, it is also not without its bugs. I’ve had a few times where the game has crashed on me, and then somehow sped up the game’s processing time, collecting the credits from  2-5 hour period. Not that I wasn’t grateful, but I was expecting a more competent gaming clock. I’ve even had some levels that should take a minute to process certain store stockings, and it miraculously gets me my stock right away!

On a more positive note, one feature the game has, is the ability for guests visiting various floors to “help” regarding restocking. Let’s say I have a person wanting to visit a store on level 12, and there’s 10 minutes left to stock a certain item. Well, if I drop off the customer to that floor, one minute of restocking time goes away!

There is also a Dark Side to this method as well. If one has Imperial floors that extend into the Death Star, you can guide your elevators to these levels, and drop the person off on one of these floors. If the Imperials on these floors are working on a certain project, these “visitors” will take off one minute of build-time. Though just where the visitors go…well, I’m sure The Empire will disavow that any persons disappeared within the confines of The Death Star.

In the end, Tiny Death Star is still in its infancy stages. While I was easily annoyed at the shake-down methods of Universal Movie Tycoon and Jurassic Park Builder, Death Star still has the chance to make updates/changes that can improve the quality of the game.

After playing the game for the past few days, my experiences have allowed me to rate it a B-average. After all, how can one be that upset when one sees the song list for Rebo’s Karaoke, with the most pricey/popular song being, Yub Nub?

As you go on through the game, little scenes will be unlocked, such as this one. Remember that warning Han Solo gave C-3PO about Wookies being sore losers?

iPad App Review: “Manos,” The Hands of Fate

(Available in the iTunes App Store for iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 5.1 or later. Price: $1.99)

Ever since my cousin introduced me to Mystery Science Theater 3000 one December evening, I have been a fan of the show. Over the years, I’ve seen almost all of the films they have reviewed, with some that were downright hilarious…and others that were downright painful.

Several films that the group on the Satellite of Love endured, received a second life due to their appearance. One that gained notoriety due to the show, was Manos: The Hands of Fate. The story followed a small family attempting to find The Valley Lodge, and instead, end up at a strange house overseen by a shaky, large-legged fellow named Torgo. Though Torgo advises the family to go away, the father of the family claims they should stay the night, much to Torgo’s claims that “The Master will not approve.”

Many have taken fandom of the strange film to heart,  but one of the most impressive from a pop-culture standpoint, has been the 8-bit inspired game created by FreakZone Games. Unlike the film that seems to plod along at a slow and boring pace, there’s more than enough to keep you wide awake as you attempt to make it through the game.

Taking on the role of the family patriarch in the film named Mike, it’s up to you to make it through the game’s eight levels, armed with jumping skills, and a handy revolver. You can also find shotguns throughout the game, but I guarantee that you won’t have one in your possession for very long.

What makes this 8-bit game so much fun, is that its developers remembered numerous 8-bit games from the 1980’s that were film adaptations and thought: “Wow! They really put alot of stuff in those games that weren’t in those movies!”

I myself have memories of such games, notably Back to the Future and The Goonies II. Yes, The Goonies never got a movie sequel, but a Nintendo game sequel that for some reason, turned Kerri Green’s character Andy into a mermaid, which Mikey and his friends need to find in a mind-numbing series of caverns. You encounter everything a frozen cavern, lob molotov cocktails around (I’m not making that up!), and find several strange persons that make one wonder just what they are doing in the nearby caverns of Astoria, Oregon.

The developers of Manos took all that they experienced, and poured those memories into this game. There’s enough of the film’s ‘plot’ throughout, along with numerous situation and character references. However, the film would make for a very boring video game, so they’ve spiced it up with plenty of annoying obstacles, and several cameos from other films that appeared on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

A few choice cameos from those films include:


Ro-Man, aka The Robot Monster

Remember when you played 8-bit games as a kid, and some levels or bosses would be so frustrating, that you’d throw a fit? Yelling out loud, pounding on the controller, wondering why after 48 tries you still couldn’t beat that specific boss? Well, Manos recreates those feelings and much, much more! This ain’t a cake walk, folks. If you want to make it through the Valley Lodge, you’re gonna suffer in a way that only old-school 8-bit can provide. I swear, by the end of the game, you’ll never want to look at another couple in a car drinking and necking again.

However, several of the levels give one the ability to level-up their health with some hidden ‘crystal hands’ laying around. If you collect them all, you’re treated to a special ending…if you can last that long.

The creators of the game also have a little fun with the design of some levels. Several allow you to go left and right, while others will have you at the mercy of the game as the screen moves along, and you try to keep up. The designers even have fun with one level, whose stylings look eerily similar to a game released in 1987 for the Nintendo Entertainment System.

If there’s one fly in the ointment for this i-based games, it’s in the controls. I played my copy on an iPad2, and found my left thumb fumbling a few times attempting to hit the directional arrows.  I can only wonder what these controls are like on an iPhone or iPod Touch.

Some may even find sheer terror in the fact that the game has no save or password feature. Better shut yourself off from the kids, your girlfriend, or that home  improvement project that’s almost finished. My first play-through took about 60 minutes, but after playing it several times, I was able to make it through the game in 20 minutes.

When it comes to making purchases on Apple’s Appstore, I’m still somewhat of a cheapskate. However, I have to say I don’t regret the $1.99 that I dropped on this game. It really is a fun little time-waster, and I was more than happy to support such a whimsical homage to one of television’s greatest series, and one of the biggest ‘stinkburgers’ of a film they had to sit through. I’ve made sure not to reveal too much, as some areas will have you laughing out loud, and others going: “…WHAT THE-!?”

iPad App Review: Cinefex

(Available in the iTunes App Store for the iPad. Requires iOS 5.0 or later. The app is free to download, while single-issue prices are $4.99. Subscription to the magazine for 1 year is $18.99 for 4 issues)

Along with my early love for animation, I also became intrigued by special effects as a youngster. My mind was blown seeing DeLoreans disappear in a flash of smoke and fire trails, of animated characters moving real-life chairs around, and in 1993, seeing computer-generated dinosaurs that just had me wishing my family’s Macintosh Performa could do what I was seeing on the big-screen!

Unknown to me at that time, the magazine world had a publication that would be a dream come true for my ‘acquired tastes.’ I still remember going down to Cedar Rapids, IA in December of 1997 with my family, and visiting the Barnes & Noble there (the closest one to my hometown of Waterloo, IA at that time). I had been amazed by James Cameron’s Titanic a few days before, but almost every store had already sold out of the official movie ‘companion’ book. It was while perusing the periodicals, that I came across Issue 72 of Cinefex. That $8.50 purchase was like a portal to me. Encased within, were stories and anecdotes on bringing back to life the once proud ship, and then sinking her using as many modern day effects tools as possible. Cinefex also broke down the different effects shots by company (over 14 in all!).

Over the next 15 years, I’d purchase the magazine periodically, and read up on some of the films I was most curious about. Cinefex would often cover films that I couldn’t find detailed making-of material anywhere else (such as A.I. Artificial Intelligence).

After buying an iPad 2 in 2011, I was hesitant to actually buy any magazines or subscriptions for my newsstand app. Entertainment Weekly just didn’t do it for me anymore, and I was wary to drop money on the UK’s Empire magazine (not that they aren’t a good publication, I’m just a little too cheap). But to me, the iPad’s screen seemed the perfect size to be filled with the pages of Cinefex.

It just so happened that the magazine was also eyeing the realms of digital publication, and in August of 2012, they released their app, designed by New Scribbler Press.

The scrolling menu showing all of Cinefex’s issues.

Once the application opens, you are treated to a horizontally-scrolling ‘issue library,’ showcasing covers from every issue of Cinefex. Any issues you purchase will be seen above the library area, in a zone marked ‘My Issues.’ Currently, issues #128 to the most recent issue are available for single purchase, but there are expectations that soon, the entire Cinefex library will be available for single-issue purchase. As of my writing this review, issue #127 is available as a free download to test the app’s capabilities. However, I decided to actually complete a purchase, and went for issue #130, which detailed the effects work of such summer productions as Marvel’s The Avengers, and Prometheus.

Price-wise, paying $4.99 for a digital edition of the issues feels more comfortable to me than paying $12.50 for a printed issue (and a little easier than scoping out multiple Barnes & Nobles for the latest release). If you are connected to the internet through Wi-Fi or a 3G connection, you can even archive your purchases, and pull them back up at a later time, saving you valuable shelf-space around the house.

While price and storage convenience of the digital publication are nice, the app’s navigation compared to the printed version is a bit of a learning curve.

Tapping anywhere on a page of the issue, will bring up the navigation bar.

Instead of the text and pictures grouped together, each article has its text on a single page that can be scrolled vertically to be read. Images and digital media related to the article, can be viewed by scrolling horizontally.

Pages such as this one, that have multiple small squares like the ones to the right of the page text, can allow viewers to toggle between before-and-after shots, like this one showing a quinjet landing in Marvel’s “The Avengers.”

The high-point of the digital publication, is the interactivity afforded the articles. Unlike the printed magazine, one can see progression video of various effects sequences, get more comparison shots, and behind-the-scenes still images.

Interactivity also extends to several ads for visual effects houses, or effects-related software or tools that are in the publication. Several of the ads in the publication function as mini-commercials (thankfully, you control if you want to watch them or not).

The addition of video content to Cinefex provides a great way to show layering and compositing of digital effects (topmost image). These stills are from a compositing reel from Industrial Light & Magic for the film”Battleship,” showing the multiple layers used to make the final film image seen above.

Of course, the app is not without some flies in the ointment.

Given the amount of data involved, it took some time for issue 130 to load via my Wi-Fi connection.  I also got a few network errors saying there was trouble retrieving inventory status, once I archived issue 127.

One thing I do wish the digital copy would have, is a bookmark feature. The app has crashed on me several times, and I’ve usually had to start from square one, and either use the ‘history’ function, or flip through pages to get back to my place.

Personally, I wish the format would be closer to the printed magazine structure, with the ability to enlarge pictures, or click on icons to open some of the video features, or see various pictures showing some of the effects work.

There is at least a way to send feedback regarding the app, so it’s nice to know there’s been some effort put forth to listen to the readers of the publication, and continue to enhance and improve on the app over the course of its lifespan.

The digital publication of Cinefex is definitely a good thing in my eyes. Those with iPads who don’t have access to a Barnes & Noble, can now gain easy access to this information. Plus, the promise of digital back-issues for purchase will help satisfy special effects fanatics both young and old, and those just beginning their fascination with behind-the-scenes material.

iPad App Review: Fix-It Felix, Jr.

“Fix-It Felix, Jr” is the 8-bit inspired game that plays into Walt Disney Pictures’ fall 2012 release, “Wreck-It Ralph” (Ralph is shown here on the title screen).

(Available in the iTunes App Store for iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 4.3 or later. Price: Free)

After seeing the latest preview for Wreck-It Ralph, many of us have felt that Walt Disney Pictures’ upcoming fall release is to video game players, what Who Framed Roger Rabbit was to people who had grown up with animated characters.

Though the film is titled Wreck-It Ralph, Ralph himself is the bad guy of an 8-bit game called Fix-It Felix, Jr. In the game, Ralph scales the facade of Niceland Apartments, angrily pounding on the building with his massive fists. This causes brickwork to rain down, smashing the glass on several windows. It is then up to the game player (in the role of Fix-It Felix, Jr), to repair the damage Ralph has done.

Each time you finish a level, Ralph goes up 5 more floors, and Felix pursues him. However, along with dodging the bricks Ralph dislodges, you’ll also need to deal with ducks flying by. The higher up you go, the faster Ralph moves about knocking out bricks, and more ducks fly by to hinder your progress. Each level also has a time-clock that you have to abide by. Word is there are a total of 10 levels, but as of this posting, I’ve only gotten as far as Level 9 (whether the game ends as it does in the trailers for Wreck-It Ralph, I do not know).

Felix gets to work, trying to steer clear of falling bricks, and flying ducks.

Felix starts out with 3 lives, but over the course of the game, the tenants of Niceland Apartments will show their appreciation for Felix’s help, and assist him. This involves leaving a pie cooling on their windowsills. When Felix eats it, his hat will flash, and he’ll gain an extra life, and invulnerability for 5-7 seconds.

The touch-screen controls.

The game is set up in a locked vertical position, with directional buttons and an ‘action’ button at the bottom to control Felix. The controls can get a little cumbersome as the amount of obstacles start piling up in the later levels. my hand/eye coordination kept slipping on the directional controls, but then again, that could just be me in my ‘old age.’

The designers of Fix-It Felix, Jr have created a wonderful homage to the games of the 1980′s. The game app was developed by Frima Studios, and seems to combine traits of such arcade classics as Donkey Kong, and Rampage. Though it does not follow exactly what we’ve seen in the film’s previews (or the playable game on the film’s website), it put me in mind of some games that were ported over from arcade machines to home video game consoles (you seldom got everything exactly as you got in the arcade). Even so, I do wish I had one of those iCade cabinets in order to play the game properly with joystick and push-button controls.

The image above is a version of “Fix-It Felix, Jr,” which is seen on the official “Wreck-It Ralph” website (

Another version of Felix can be found on the official Wreck-It Ralph website. The game graphics and style look a little different than the iPad app variation. The controls are the same (directional controls and one ‘action’ button), but the game play is set for a horizontal screen, and Felix does not have to deal with ducks getting in the way of his repairs. This variation reminded me of the game graphics I used to see on my old Apple IIgs back in the day (anyone else’s family have one of those besides mine?).

One little detail I love is that this game is called Fix-It Felix, Jr, which means it’s a sequel. One has to wonder if this game series in this alternate world went the way of Donkey Kong (who found himself  in several different iterations of games, including Donkey Kong Math). Of course, Mario started as an adversary to Donkey Kong before getting his own earth-shattering title. Could this be what was in store for the character of Wreck-It Ralph?

The film Wreck-It Ralph also intends to send us into the realm of many different games, from a Call of Duty/Halo space action quest and a candyland-inspired racing game. Imagery of these games in the film previews puts them moreso in the realm of PS3/XBOX graphics, so I doubt their well-rendered imagery will appear on the iPad. Even so, Fix-It Felix, Jr is an enjoyably retro way to spend a little time gaming away. Plus, it’s not everyday that the game you’re playing has such a distinct connection to the film its related to.

One of the most talked-about scenes from the upcoming film’s previews, was this one, in which Ralph goes to a group therapy session for bad guys in the gaming world.

iPad App Review: Jaws Revenge

(Available in the iTunes App Store for iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, iPod touch (3rd generation), iPod touch (4th generation) and iPad. Requires iOS 3.1.3 or later. Price: $1.99) 

When one mentions Jaws, the first image that comes to mind for alot of people, is a giant shark.

When Fuse Powered Inc released their Jaws app for the iPod/iPhone and iPad previously, it focused moreso on the human element of the first film, where you attempted to save beachgoers, and take down the giant shark terrorizing the citizens and tourists of Amity Island.

Naturally, when it’s man-vs-shark, the game can’t end there. That brings us to Jaws Revenge. Sure, there’s a few of us who want to be the good guy and rescue our fellow man, but what about those days where you’ve had a bad day at the office? Your brain is ready to throb right out through your ears, and that nervous tic has creeped back into your eye? You got to blow off some steam, so what do you do? Take on the role of the most famous Great White Shark in history, and start chowing down!

Munch down in the depths, or spring into the air to take down birds or other yummy treats above the water line.

That’s pretty much all you do in Jaws Revenge: chomp down on people, boats (including The Orca!), flying craft, and even belly-flop across decks and aircraft carriers, gobbling down humans like you were at a buffet line.

Along with the familiar Amity Island locale, you can also unlock 3 other levels as you upgrade your shark. While the other two locales are in modern times, the fourth one puts you in the time of pirates, zeppelins, and primitive flying machines.

Jaws Revenge also gives you a choice to play various levels to earn shark tooth coins to upgrade your shark. Along with these levels, you can also ‘free swim,’ earning extra coins, and collecting license plates. Once you collect them all, they will form a familiar message.

Some of the license plates you can eat/collect.

The shark that you see in these images are the bigger-n-badder version you get after you’ve completed the upgrade into a Mega Shark. Originally, your shark will be slightly smaller in size. However, this doesn’t mean one can’t have some fun. The more that you chomp down on things, you then start building up your ‘Frenzy’ meter. Once the meter maxes out and you activate ‘Frenzy Mode,’ the screen takes on a reddish-tint for a limited amount of time, and you gain a little more power and a greater leaping height. At this height, you can reach shark tooth coins high on the screen, and take out high-altitude aerial vehicles.

Originally, I downloaded Jaws Revenge when the app Universal Movie Tycoon failed to function properly. I didn’t know that Fuse worked on both of these apps, but where Tycoon failed in my eyes, Revenge is all the more sweeter.

When it worked properly, Tycoon would push the player into a corner, where you were trapped into spending your own money to get upgrades or extra items. With Jaws Revenge, the player can earn shark tooth coins in two methods:

1) Use your wallet to buy packs of coins


2) Watch trailers, take part in deals, or use social media to earn coins.

This game strikes a very nice balance, where if you’re willing to drop down some money from your wallet, you can easily get your Mega Shark in a matter of seconds. However, if you’ve got plenty of time over 7 days or less, you can play plenty of levels and free-play rounds, and ‘earn’ your Mega Shark. When I experienced this in game form, I really wished that Tycoon could get this kind of earnings feature. This game’s ability to make me feel comfortable playing/earning more coins, easily allowed me to open up my wallet and buy a few things from the store.

The good and the bad regarding gameplay for Revenge, is that once you’ve gone through all the levels, and collected all the license plates from the free play levels…that’s it. The game serves as little more than a stress reliever. Then again, that’s not a bad thing.

Jaws Revenge isn’t the greatest game for the iPad or iPhone, but it’s a good game, and if you have no qualms about computerized sharks dismembering humans and animals, or bringing down airplanes and other man-made craft, you just might enjoy yourself. I know I did.

We don’t think Chief Brody’s gonna make it home this time.

iPad App Review: Universal Movie Tycoon

Ever since my Uncle Frank introduced me to the sim(ulated) world of SimCity back in the late 80’s, I’ve been fascinated by the ability to create small pockets of civilization (my sister on the other hand, was moreso into the divide and conquer aspect of games like Civilization).

Since then, I’ve played my fair share of variations. From the late 90’s sensation Rollercoaster Tycoon, to the movie-inspired Jurassic Park: Project Genesis, I’ve seen the good and the bad.

In recent weeks, Fuse Powered Inc has released a sim game based around motion picture company Universal Studios, titled Universal Movie Tycoon. The game was originally released through the Apple App Store, with a version available for the iPhone, or the iPad. Download of the game is free.

The game’s release ties into Universal’s 2012 promotion, celebrating their 100th Anniversary. Tycoon allows players to build their own iteration of the world-famous studio, and create interior/exterior sets on which to shoot movies. Several of them are even specially-themed to some of the studios’ most famous blockbusters.

Create movie-related sets and facilities for your studio, along with plants to make things look nice and pretty.

I was pulled into wanting this game when I saw the specially-made sets for certain films like Back to the Future and Jurassic Park. Thanks to an assistant and a maintenance guy in the game, you can get advice on what to build, as well as what films to make. Keep in mind that your computerized assistant is sometimes no more smarter than a real-life one (the one here claims that films like Van Helsing should be fast-tracked into production asap).

At the start of the game, you are given a certain amount of coins to buy scripts with, and hire actors and directors for your production. The scripts are based on actual Universal films, but the actors and directors are generic names (so much for my dream of hiring Robert Zemeckis and Michael J Fox). Of course, before you can get to your favorites, you have to sift through plenty of titles you may not have considered before (take Biloxi Blues, for example). You may also find yourself making the same movie over and over again to make more money (I believe I’m already on Uncle Buck 18 by now).

As you make films, you gain experience points (XP), that help move you from one level of playability to the next. As you go higher, new challenges are unlocked, as well as sets, buildings, and more.

I had assumed there would be some minor hiccups along the way, but I have come to the conclusion that what Fuse and Universal have unleashed, is a rushed game that should have had some more time to gestate.

Here is a rundown of my nitpicks:

1) The Money Pit – One would assume that with the money you’d make off of the films in production, that you could then buy more stuff along the way. Well, there comes a time when the money ceases to mean anything. If you want to get to some of the more popular film sets (or certain buildings or plants), you need to use a feature called “Movie Magic.” You’re supplied with a small amount at the beginning, but you will then need to either ‘buy’ some more (using your own credit card), watch some ads to get free Movie Magic, or take part in some special offers to get some more.

If you want more Movie Magic, it isn't exactly free.

2) The App’s functionality – Originally, my attempts to download and open the app resulted in an immediate crash. I downloaded it again a few days later, and it looked like the issue had been resolved. It has been a few days since I started playing the app, and as of today, I’m back to it crashing on me again. Definitely not a very stable game (I was lucky to get these screenshots when I did).

3) Orientation of structures and items – Certain items can be rotated, but only in 2 directions. If the game gave a full 4 points of rotation, one could really make something of setting up proper parking spaces, and shrubberies.

4) Math is hard – At one point, I was raking in the dough for my films. Then one day, I found out that all the time and effort I put into making a film, resulted in a return of: “$-1.” Eventually, this cleared up, but then, I had a film that made over a billion dollars in gross, but instead of increasing my Hollywood war chest, it sent me into $-400 million territory!  This may be the first app I’ve encountered that doesn’t know how to count properly.

5) Who are these built for again? – You can build movie star trailers, executive offices, and even prop departments…but for what purpose? With UMT, you build all these structures, but you don’t have people actually using them. One would assume your assistant would give you messages like, “we just hired some more executives. I think we need to build them a new place so we don’t get too crowded.”

6) Landscaping…one square at a time – I guess I got spoiled on SimCity 2000, where one could cover a large portion of land with trees or grass. With UMT, one can only place one plant/patch of grass/shrubbery at a time. The only thing that bucks this trend are roadways. So what could possibly take you only seconds to finish, can sometimes take several minutes.

7) You can’t stop the connection – Got an iPod or an iPad that is wifi-only? Well, unless you’re near a solid internet source, you ain’t playing this game on the go.

8) False enticements on the logo screen – While I did finally get my Back to the Future set, there are several others on the opening screen that look enticing, but do not exist. These include sets from Jaws, Psycho, and King Kong. Maybe they are hints of things to come, but if the Jurassic Park set takes 975 credits of Movie Magic, one has to wonder how much many more will be.

Given my blog name, one can assume I got into this game for the fun. Well, after a little more than a few days, the fun is pretty much over. It doesn’t help when your app keeps crashing, and the only way to continue when it does work, is to rely on your own wallet.

A couple times, I received notice that a film I was making got a negative review, and stood to lose several millions of dollars. For just 10 credits of Movie Magic, the marketing people would find a way to ‘fix’ that issue. It didn’t really make much sense when I was sitting on a pile of money that wasn’t going anywhere. In fact, that’s where most of my large cash surplus in the game went to.

The makers of this app could definitely take a tip from the creators of another sim app called Tiny Tower. With that game, you need “bux” to do certain things, but Tower also gives you ways to earn bux, or convert your coins INTO bux! The ability for Tiny Tower to give in a little to the player’s needs helped me loosen my purse strings a couple times and buy from them.

Plus, imagine if you had certain events or things to do to help you earn Movie Magic. For example, let’s say Japanese Investors were coming to visit the studio, and word was they liked colorful flowers. You could take steps to landscape certain portions with some colorful flower boxes to help make their visit be worthwhile, resulting in money to the studio, and maybe some Movie Magic for helping present the studio in a positive light.

Overall, Universal Movie Tycoon is a game that reels you in, and almost like a theme park, attempts to trap you into spending lots and lots of money. However, the methods used here do not endear me to do so, and I’m sure many others will agree that it is a definite time waster, in the worst sense of the words.

The opening screen of the game. The "Play" button should send you on your way, but good luck getting there. You have better luck seeing your iPad's homescreen than actually playing the game, given that it can't stop crashing.

iPad App Review: The Art of The Adventures of Tintin


With Apple’s App Store and iBooks changing the way many of us process the world and entertainment, It should be noted that up until now, it hasn’t been used for a rather interesting purpose: to condense those large, making-of books into a more travel-friendly ‘companion.’ For those of you wondering what I’m talking about, I am referring to the hardcover books found in the Media/Entertainment section of your local book store (or that you used to be able to find), generally giving us a view into the artistic and creative process of making most films (preferably those that are animated).

In the last few weeks, an interesting breakthrough in apps has come by way of Peter Jackson’s company Weta, publisher HarperCollins, and Moulinsart. As of December 21, 2011 (at least in the North American iTunes and App Store), these three companies have combined forces and released the first-ever iPad app that takes an Art of book, and brings it into the interactive/digital realm.

Based on the hardcover book The Art of The Adventures of Tintin by Chris Guise, this app looks to enhance the experience that many cinephiles like myself often take when wanting to learn more about a certain film.

Priced at a very modest $5.99 (the hardcover book’s retail price is $39.99), I will admit that the categorizing of this item had me a bit perplexed. Logic dictates that since it’s based on an Art of book, it should belong as a publication in the iBooks store. However, upon further inspection, layout and navigation processes soon reveal why the publishers have chosen to list this as an app.


Clicking/swiping at the star icon at the bottom opens up a horizontal scrolling menu to allow easy access to various pages. A 'contents' dossier also appears on the left-side, which allows you to access various 'characters' and environments.'

The layout of the app drops page-turning, in favor of interactive scrolling, and touch-sensitive features. Almost every image in the app can be expanded to view at a larger detail, with some of them providing additional information when expanded.

Along with this feature, are several notable ones that help push the app into new frontiers:

1) The ability to fade between images – The icon showing a finger swiping vertically over a rocketship, gives you the ability to fade in-and-out between original artwork by Tintin creator Herge, and the conceptual artwork inspired by the original piece.


2) 360-degree rotations – The icon showing a finger rotating a wire-frame globe gives us the ability to view 3-dimensional models all the way around. This feature showcases several of the film’s vehicular props, and facial close-ups of several of the cast.


3) Interview & Video Clips – This icon will allow clips from the final film to play, along with interviews from the effects crew and designers.


4) 360-degree Environmental Exploration– A couple of the film’s environments take advantage of the iPad’s gyroscope feature, and one can pan around the room in a 360-degree view as if you were actually there. Little stars in various areas will open up trivia and information boxes.


But remember, this app isn’t just about whizz-bang features. We get a little background into just who Tintin is, as well as plenty of excellent work done by the guys and gals down at Weta.

The main characters (as well as a smattering of the secondary characters) each get the chance to be talked about regarding character design, performance-capture, & much more.

Also of interest to me were the myriad environments that were created for the film. One of my favorite images is this final rendering of Omar Ben’s magnificent palace in Bagghar that Tintin, Snowy, & Captain Haddock pay a visit to. It’s (almost) hard to believe that this place only exists inside of a computer.

The iPad app for The Art of The Adventures of Tintin is a nice first-step into what the future of Art of materials can be, and it is a commendable effort. However, there are a few areas that could be improved upon:

– While the ability to zoom in and read various text portions is nice, the app tends to lag, and one might find themselves waiting 5-10 seconds for the text to become legible again.

– The interview clips interspersed throughout are nice, but they feel a little short. Some only last a minute and thirty seconds. Plus, it would have been nice to include footage of the various actors emoting or acting within the performance-capture space (aka The Volume).

The constant rotation of various 360-degree items like vehicles and characters. It might be best to keep this feature static until the user touches/opens the feature.

– The app is set to only be displayed in landscape mode. While this is nice for some pieces of art, I found myself wishing I could view some of the more ‘vertical’ art pieces in portrait mode.

Please bear in mind that these are only minor nitpicks, and I highly recommend this app for those interested in behind-the-scenes material. One has to now wonder if Disney, Pixar, or Dreamworks Animation will also join the digital revolution that Weta, Harpercollins, & Moulinsart have begun. Who knows? With the dearth of studios sidelining making-of material from DVD and Blu-Ray, Apple’s App Store may be the next place where most of this behind-the-scenes material will be found.