Do you remember how much you loved those choose-your-own-adventure books when you were a kid? These stories would suck you right in, and you’d just have to discover each and every single possible ending, even if it took hours, right?
The folks at Visual Baker have created the equivalent for iOS. Underground Kingdom is a beautiful and entertaining “gamebook” for readers young and old, and features nearly two dozen different endings, animated illustrations and an interactive map that lets you chart your progress through the story. Click “more” for an overview.
The first thing you’ll notice about Underground Kingdom are its vivid, crystal clear illustrations, which certainly do their part to draw you in. Written in second person, the story begins with some background information on The Bottomless Crevasse, located in Greenland, and about which there are many theories circulating.
One such theory is that the center of the Earth is hollow and is home to an Underground Kingdom, complete with a Black Sun and, of course, its own unique brand of environment and inhabitants.
Throughout the story (or “stories,” depending on how you consider it), you, as the hero or heroine, will encounter quite the cast of characters, including Gunnar Larsen of the National Research Institute and geologist Dr. James Sneed, as well as unexpected animals, strange vegetation and interesting situations.
And periodically you’re presented with the opportunity to affect the storyline, indicated by an “It’s Time to Make a Choice” screen. There will be two or three options (always specific to that exact point in the story), and you can make your selection by tapping on the appropriate box.
Will you make the journey to the center of the Earth? What’s down there? And what ever became of your friend Dr. Nera Vivaldi, whose last known radio transmission was from the Crevasse? You’ll have to discover all the different endings to get all the answers.
To be a success, an app like this needs to be strong on more than one level: the story, the visuals and the functionality. In my opinion, Underground Kingdom earns high marks in all three.
The plot clips along, no matter which story route you take. New characters are introduced, scenarios change and choices are presented at what feels like a very natural pace. The illustrations and animations are very evenly scattered throughout the storyline; sometimes they take up an entire page, other times they share the page with the text.
You can interact with almost all the illustrations in some way. Tapping characters will often elicit from them an animation and/or a sound effect, rocks or feathers can be picked up and moved from one side of the page to the other, other elements can be affected by a tilt of the iPad, and so on.
Navigation within the app is simple. A swipe advances the page; story choices can easily be made by tapping the box of your choice; and a button in the lower right of the screen recalls your map, settings and other options.
The more time you spend in the story, the more impressive the map becomes. As you advance through increasingly more pages and uncover more and more possible endings, the map charts your progress, linking the different story panels with rope. Endings are indicated by blue gems. You current page is indicated by a red bookmark. And red buttons translate to open paths. Having the story charted out like this for you makes it easy for you to explore all the different endings and various storylines.
Note that from the map you can also change the language to Spanish, view the Help prompts at any time, or reset the book.
Once I picked up this app I had a difficult time putting it down. If you love to read, I guarantee you’ll get caught up in trying to follow all the various story threads. Keeping in mind how difficult it can be to write a story with a certain amount of circuitousness, I’d call Underground Kingdom well written, with minimal typos and grammatical errors. And there’s enough content to keep you entertained for longer than you might expect.
I think Underground Kingdom will even pull in those who are maybe less avid readers, thanks to the app’s sporadic illustrations and animations. Plus, who doesn’t love the idea of a choose-your-own-adventure story? I have to admit it’s exciting to see this made over for the digital age. And made over well. I hope Visual Baker releases more gamebooks in the future, and I hope they only get better and better.