(Welcome to the App Lab, where Kelly Cunningham tests out a series of random apps and gives them a few minutes to impress her).
My self-assigned task for the day was to troll the app store for a new app to review since my most recent downloads have been calorie tracking apps and I did not want to bore Tapsauce readers with my engaging tale of searching for the perfect diet companion. My search had no specific terms really — I just wanted something that was interesting enough (be it in a good or a bad way) to merit writing an article about it. What I discovered was that an aimless search through the app store was a review worthy experience all on its own. Why was it such a challenge to find a top-rated app that wasn’t related to social media? What is it about certain apps that make them stand out to potential users? Or discard them? And thus, a review of the app store search began!
Attempt #1: Jurassic Park Builder
I thought to myself, “Hey, I like movies!” and since my last review was about a to-do list app (really only interesting to me as a project manager and other obsessive list makers) a game would be a fun change. In addition, I would be essentially playing games during work hours? Sign me up! The excitement pretty much ended there.
Graphically, the app is pretty impressive. I have seen other “build your own…” apps that have looked cheap and flat, presumably since they were developed in bulk (Bakery Story, Fashion Story, Night Club Story — all with relatively the same UI and concept, just different backgrounds), but this particular app had a nearly cinematic quality.
My attention was held initially for about two minutes. Upon opening the app, signing in, naming my park, etc, I was thrown into my very own Jurassic Park with no idea where to go. There was a baby triceratops that needed to be fed in order to “keep it busy,” but since it did not appear to be fenced in at all and I had seen the movie and was very aware of the potential for this scenario to go awry, I wasn’t really sure what my next move was supposed to be. I closed the app, and returned to the app store.
Attempt #2: I’d Cap That
This one mainly caught my attention because of the name. The iTunes description referred to I’d Cap That as “The #1 Photo Captions App!” I was mildly intrigued. The basic function of this app is to place random, crude captions over the chosen photos from your cameral roll. Boasting “Frequent/Intense Profanity or Crude Humor,” my inner 16 year old found this one pretty LOL worthy. Note: you have to be 17 to download this one, sorry kids. The top review in iTunes refers to I’d Cap That as the “Worst App Ever.” Surely there is a worse app out there, I thought to myself. For such a simple concept, I felt like it delivered on its promise. Still, not necessarily Tapsauce review-worthy, so back to the app store I went.
Attempt #3: Glow Draw!
I should point out that at this point, I was grasping at straws. Since I had yet to find anything that jumped out at me screaming “I may be the best or the worst app you’ve ever used, but either way you’ll definitely have solid material for review!”, I went with overtly cheesy. The writer of the iTunes description actually used “lol” and a smiley face emoticon, this I HAD to see.
Glow Draw! is as basic as it sounds. The user draws on a black background with their finger, and is able to choose from 5 different “glowing” colors. Definitely brought back memories from my 1980s childhood, but still nothing noteworthy.
Several hours had passed by now, with countless iTunes descriptions read, poor screenshots viewed, and numerous poorly designed icons scoffed at. I had reached a crossroads with the direction my review was going, and suddenly had a thought. Apps, especially games, should be immediately engaging and intuitive to hold their own in a highly competitive market, there was no questioning that. Even still, I decided that I needed a different approach. I wouldn’t (typically, anyway) stop reading a book after 5 pages or stop watching a film after 5 minutes just because I wasn’t immediately drawn into the narrative. I would at least attempt to give the storyteller the benefit of the doubt that something interesting might happen. I decided I would go back to where I started, and give app number 1 one more chance.
Attempt #4: Jurassic Park Builder- Redux
On round two, I decided that I needed to open my mind and accept that this was NOT the Jurassic Park arcade game and explore it for what it was, in theory, a customizable environment where I could build my own version of the dinosaur park. Game on.
A series of familiar movie characters appeared along the way to guide my park building shenanigans. I have to admit, it was challenging taking advice from digital John Hammond. By the time I reached level 3, I still hadn’t figured out how to build a fence around my baby triceratops (which had now grown to a full sized triceratops), but it hadn’t attacked anyone yet or left its area so I figured I was in good shape. I had, however, figured out what my objectives were and how to make them happen.
As a park builder, I was supposed to expand to impress investors, make money, and draw tourists to my park. This was mainly accomplished by wiping out sections of the forest in hopes of discovering amber that I could take to the research center to create more dinosaurs, thus expanding the tourist desire to visit. I had to keep harbors busy so that the dinosaurs could eat (so they wouldn’t get “restless”) and build roads for the tourist cars. It was important to check in periodically on the park to make sure I was collecting the money that was being deposited on the dinosaurs and make sure they were fed and happy.
The concept was pretty simple, and addictive in the same vein as the Giga Pets from the mid-1990s. I had never jumped on the Farmville bandwagon and never really grasped why anyone else had either, but for some reason earning money through peddling dinosaur DNA to tourists and competing for investors just seemed more acceptable to me than harvesting crops and forming co-ops with virtual neighbors. I’m not sure if it was my competitive nature or the slick graphics, but I was hooked!
I learned two valuable lessons from my iTunes store journey. First, assuming that triceratops that I can’t figure out how to fence in doesn’t run loose and wreak havoc on tourists, the Jurassic Park Builder app is kind of awesome. It definitely worked out better for me than it did for John Hammond in the movie (so far, at least, stay tuned for the “Jurassic Park Builder 2: That Crazy Triceratops Kills Glitter Land” follow-up article). The same app that I was initially ready to give up on in less than five minutes was rated 4+ in iTunes. Well played, app store, well played.
I also learned that in situations like this, I just needed to go back to my film roots for a little insight. It is important to accept and appreciate every app for what it is- whether it be a silly photo caption app, a simple neon drawing app, or a build-your-own Jurassic Park game. Glow Draw! is not trying to be Draw Something, just like “Joe Dirt” is not trying to be “Citizen Kane.” Sometimes you just have to throw out your expectations and push past your initial reactions to get to the best part!