Older students who enjoy mysteries and puzzles will be intrigued—and engaged—by these two, very different approaches to storytelling.
Conceived by Grammy-winning opera singer, Cecilia Bartoli, Mission: An Investigatore Steffani Mystery (UMG Recordings, Inc./Somethin’ Else, $2.99, Gr 8 Up), is an iPad app that showcases the compositions of the obscure Italian Baroque composer Agostino Steffani. In addition to his musical talents, Steffani was a Catholic priest, diplomat, and spy. The app, a companion to Bartoli’s 2012 album of the same name, features a test of Steffani’s investigative and diplomatic skills, as the only one who can prevent an assassination and help a princess escape an undesirable marriage. While the app was not necessarily designed for a teen audience in mind, it may attract teens who enjoy mysteries or historical fiction—readers who enjoyed Grave Mercy (Houghton Mifflin, 2012) by Robin LaFevers, for example.
Mission is visually stunning, with beautifully rendered backgrounds and a cast of richly designed characters, including images of Bartoli herself costumed as Steffani. Playing the role of Steffani, users can explore various locations throughout the palace, interview its inhabitants, and gather clues to solve this true-life historical mystery. Dialogue is presented only in text, although voice-over would have been a nice touch. The soundtrack of Steffani’s compositions adds depth to the overall experience, and users are invited to learn more about the music at any point during the story. Additionally, an interactive timeline of Steffani’s biography and a detailed account of the composer’s life and times shed more light on the app’s main storyline.
The app features a pleasing mix of extended role playing and short puzzles. Seasoned gamers may wish for a longer gameplay experience, but others will appreciate that the mystery and puzzles are challenging, yet not impossible to solve.—Allison Tran, Mission Viejo Library, CA
Sherlock Holmes for the iPad (GUTENBERGZ Inc, $3.99; Gr 5 Up) includes five abridged Sir Arthur Conan Doyle stories ornamented with lovely, haunting illustrations, a musical soundtrack, and minimal interactivity. Here “The Five Orange Pips,” “The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet,” “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle,” “The Adventure of the Speckled Band,” and “The Red-Headed League” range in length from 18 to 21 pages. The appropriately eerie artwork by Denis Lekhno is reminiscent of oil-on-canvas and features rich jewel tones.
While the visuals generally enhance the appreciation of the text (for example, when scenes are acted out), certain images, such as the same bottle of liquid or magnifying glass appearing on page after page, won’t add much to readers’ experience of the stories. The mode of interactivity isn’t always clear, either: some elements are meant to be dragged, some tapped, some tilted, but clues aren’t provided. This may frustrate users, especially in “Coronet,” which begins with a blank page that must be activated to reveal the text. Additionally, the abridgment often leads to choppy storytelling and quick conclusions. Inconsistent text styling (dialogue enclosed in quotation marks, or preceded by long dashes) may confound younger readers. A flawed presentation, with appealing illustrations.—Gretchen Kolderup, New York Public Library, NY