Nope, don’t like this one. Don’t like this one at all.
Do you remember a while ago when I complained that a few decent free games on the AppStore had thrown out the trend of “free” being synonymous with “slightly less fun than picking at the edge of the plastic screen protector?” Because before then you could be guaranteed that the free stuff wasn’t worth your time, and it made navigating Apple’s selection of hits and misses a lot easier.
Well, Pandora’s Books feels like a throwback to those days, a perfect example of what you could expect when you decided you didn’t want to pay Apple for your entertainment, the downloadable equivalent of the free magazine you get on the airplane. I spent the last half hour wracking my brains for something I liked about Pandora’s Books, and I’m not sure I can think of anything.
For a start, there’s almost no game whatsoever. The interactive element is that there is an anagram on the screen, and you have to redistribute the letters to spell the right word before a cartoon monster in the top half of the screen blows up a bunch of buildings that look about as connected to the landscape as the average cloud. God only knows what these disparate elements have to do with each other, or what the narrative premise behind it is, or how nobody in the development team seemed to ask where the fun side of the gameplay was, but here we are nonetheless. Lucky us.
Because solving an anagram is technically a puzzle only in the same way that throwing an egg at the wall could be considered interior decorating. Junior Jumble might serve as brief distraction at the breakfast table if all other forms of entertainment have been stolen whilst you slept, but seeing over a hundred of these pointless exercises lined up in front of each other is so boring that I found myself getting itchy feet in the first five minutes.
You can get a clue at what to expect before starting each level, where it shows you the upcoming anagrams in the context of whatever literary passage they pulled them from (and by the way, Pandora’s Books, don’t bore me to death whilst showing a list of great classics I’d rather be reading). But in that case, why even play the level when you can just read and solve the problems in your own time? Sure, it’s not fun to do, but neither are the main gameplay mechanics, so I guess it works out.
Perhaps the whole thing wouldn’t be so insufferable if it didn’t go out of its way to feel cheap and commercial. The gameplay steers you towards micro-payments every minute you endure it, the end-of-level screen kept asking me if I wanted to lose more friends by posting my scores to social media, and even the audiovisual design seems so slimey and forced-cutesy-wutesy that it feels like the Child-Catcher would use this app to lure the less intelligent kids into a mincing machine. No, none of Kerflux’s quiet dignity or genuine attempt at artistry to be found here – Pandora’s Books is just a frustrating mess that I can’t even recommend as a time killer, not when there’s so many nice diseases you can catch instead.
And maybe the idea is that you can give it to kids to shut them up for several hours, but when I was Joel Junior with his enviably healthier joints, I was given classics like Super Mario World, Pokemon Yellow and Tetris. I guess you could drop it in your offspring’s lap if you hate them or want them to do really well on Countdown, otherwise I’d give it a miss altogether.