A surprisingly deep story about freedom and rebellion wrapped in a cuddly adventure featuring space creatures, this episodic app so far is on the right track.
Judging from the first four volumes of this monthly series (there are 10 chapters planned), the tale of Plug—an overgrown red furball—and his friends is rewarding. Beginning in the Plex, which appears to be a sterile space station that houses kids called Paddywhacks, it quickly shifts in the second chapter into an adventure in the wilderness. Plug and his friends, who have been groomed to leave the Plex when they reach a certain age, discover that their home is more prison than haven and that an old man named Mosely who helped them escape has the answers to their history and a bold plan to free others like them. It's heady stuff in a story that at first seems too simplistic to be taken very seriously. The app stands out in several ways; pages can be scrolled each way horizontally, creating the feel of a larger canvas than what the screen can contain. Plug's multi-hued friends are distinct enough to warrant a set of bios included in the app, fleshing out each of their interests and back stories. And all the dialogue and text is conveyed in colored word balloons that stay out of the way of the detailed, exuberant artwork until pressed. When the origin of the Paddywhacks and the reason they're in the Plex is revealed, it's much more poignant and dark than readers may expect. It's a credit to the developers that they're not afraid to paint in bold strokes, aiming for an epic story with lots of characters and big themes. It helps, too, that the app has great sound effects and music, including songs inspired by each chapter that can be downloaded through iTunes.
Especially for an app aimed at young readers, it's a pleasant surprise that its subtext of loss and redemption is so resonant. So what if it's wrapped in an accessible, candy-colored package? (iPad storybook app. 4-12)