Parents' Guide to

Ink, Mountains and Mystery

By Neilie Johnson, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 4+

Beautiful mythological adventure with finicky controls.

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You'd be hard-pressed to find a more beautiful app out there, even of the paid variety, and this one's free, even if its controls can be frustrating. The developers of Ink, Mountains and Mystery have taken full advantage of their Palace Museum resources in creating gorgeous watercolor and ink landscapes hearkening back to China's glorious medieval period. Even better, they've rendered them in 3D, so playing is like walking into a magical dreamscape. Unfortunately, the spell's often broken by poor controls.

The biggest problem is movement. Insensitive tap controls force you to pound on the screen repeatedly before characters budge, and lots of areas that look accessible aren't. That makes simple actions like climbing hills a chore, and puzzle sequences can even mislead you into thinking you're on the wrong track. This is frustrating even when you know what you're meant to do; it's even worse when lack of feedback makes the environment seem noninteractive. The developers tried to solve this issue by having a little wood sprite point the way. It doesn't happen all the time, though, and the solution's imperfect at best, again thanks to erratic interactivity. As a result, the gameplay is often an exercise in frustration. Things fare better from an audiovisual perspective, since seeing these classic paintings come to life is truly magical. The educational angle succeeds as well, with the app introducing Western audiences to the wonders of Chinese art and mythology. (Admittedly, a little real-life history and possibly some direct links to the Palace Museum's collection could've taken things to the next level.) All told, Ink, Mountains and Mystery is a beautiful but flawed adventure game that's as likely to frustrate your kids into rage-throwing their iPad as it is to spark in them a passion for Chinese culture.

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