A young man is determined to save Earth from an alien invasion—with a few breaks for video games.
The fate of the planet hinges on readers’ successfully completing a series of simple (or at least simplistic) games between chapters. The planet watches in shock as an asteroid hurtles toward Earth, then slows, stops and proves to be an alien spaceship. The newcomers make friendly overtures to train humanity in its advanced technology, and teenage Vincent is one of a dozen youngsters chosen. Of course, the aliens have more nefarious intentions: They need youthful brains to help power the ship’s organic supercomputer. It’s a familiar but fun setup, and though the writing is generally flat, Cataldo gives Vincent an appealingly whip-smart attitude. (Echoes of Ender’s Game are strong.) But the weakness in the storytelling is exacerbated by the interstitial games, which have a stylish 1980s-arcade look but are dull to actually play when they’re not exasperating. One, involving landing a ship on the asteroid, requires maddeningly hyperprecise steering to complete; another, in which readers swipe to shoot down alien craft, is rock-simple. Have paper handy: There’s also an “intelligence test” with 24 questions of the SAT-prep variety (“If 20 swallows build 40 nests in 60 days…”). Though closing the app will bookmark the story, failing a mission sends users back to the very beginning, to work puzzles and games all over again—a serious flaw.
Integrating games and narrative has potential, but shouldn’t saving humanity demand something more gripping than working a Sudoku? (Requires iOS 6.0 & up.) (iPad science-fiction app. 10-16)