The Voyage of Ulysses
A crash course in Greek Mythology
The iPad has been the setting for many a modernisation or retelling of classic stories, but The Voyage of Ulysses is arguably the most ancient to get the 21st Century tablet treatment. The app itself consists of original text based upon The Odyssey by Homer, with original artwork and interactivity designed to give the story a new dimension. This is combined with an interesting setup in terms of functionality, with the bottom menu always present throughout your reading, and no interaction that allows you to turn the page with a swipe. Instead you must use the arrows within the menu, and although this sounds clunky in theory, it works well for Ulysses given the layers of interaction on each page, with extra text to find within a scene in some cases. There is also a very useful help icon, which gives some extra background information on characters and aspects of the story that aren’t covered in detail.
These features give you the impression that The Voyage of Ulysses is not meant to be enjoyed solely as an entertainment resource; there is definitely a hint of ‘beginners’ guide to Greek mythology’ to the entire experience. This is epitomised by the aforementioned help icon in the menu bar, which provides little footnotes to each page, giving further information on the various gods and creatures the eponymous hero meets on his journey, as well as extra story detail that didn’t make it onto the page itself.
From the moment you start the story, The Voyage of Ulysses throws artwork and interactivity at you, with each of the 26 pages within the app being open to manipulation in some way.
This, combined with the illustrations, really makes for an engaging experience. This is also enhanced by the laid-back approach and tone of the narrative, which is conversational at times, and makes the whole story feel very accessible. This then opens the door to younger users, and this app certainly feels like it could be a useful educational tool for any student studying the Classics or Greek mythology.
The actual interactions within the story vary from page to page, from single taps that sprout lotus flowers to tilt-based mini-games where you must guide Ulysses and his raft across stormy seas. The text itself is on occasion affected by the interactivity as it changes the scene, and it is worth being aware that there are several extra passages that only appear when you complete an animation or game fully.
Although it’s a nice way of keeping the user engrossed in the story, it can lead to the occasional feeling of confusion when you turn the page and the narrative feels disjointed, even if it is supposed to be non-linear.
But this slightly chaotic sense of storytelling is all part of the atmosphere of the story, with mystical creatures and new threats appearing and vanishing quickly, there is definitely a frenetic pace within the app. Do take the time though to savour each page, not only visually, but through the various sounds that are used to make the whole experience more three-dimensional. Fire crackles as Troy burns, and grasshoppers chirp underneath the narrator; it creates a mood that will engross you, almost with a sense of outdoor theatre, which is how this story was originally told.
The Voyage of Ulysses then has done a very good job in appealing to multiple audiences. Younger users will be captivated by the mystical aspect of the story, yet at the same time parents will get joy out of finding links to modern day words, phrases and stories in the text as they read through with their children.
In general The Voyage of Ulysses completely fulfils its purpose of capturing the imagination and sparking a genuine interest about Greek mythology and the characters within it. The way some of the scenes can jump from 2D to 3D with screen interaction is instantly attention grabbing and will keep you transfixed throughout the read.
In what is a competitive and at times very repetitive market place, this interactive storybook does a good job of standing alone while making good use of the tools that come with using the iPad as your method of display.
Entertaining interactivity and smart illustrations make this more than just a history lesson. This is a very fine app.
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