Numberlys – Review – The sum of good design and great storytelling

On March 14, 2012

App Type: Books

Numberlys – Review – The sum of good design and great storytelling

Our rating:

By: Moonbot Studios LA, LLC

Version #: 1.0.3

Date Released: 2012-01-13

Developer: Moonbot Studios LA, LLC

Price: 5.99

User Rating:

Released in 2011, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore is without a doubt one of the most amazing apps of any kind to enter the App Store. An iPad-optimized amalgamation of a short film and a children’s storybook, it comes from the creative minds of Moonbot Studios. This year, Moonbot’s developers and innovators present yet another story app experience in their latest iOS offering. It’s called Numberlys.

If you’ve already embarked on the journey embedded in Morris Lessmore, the heroes of Numberlys will probably look familiar to you. Remember one of the scenes in Morris Lessmore where the eponymous main character is hard at work repairing a torn-up page of an old book? That page contains a jigsaw puzzle whose solution reveals a picture of three rotund creatures embracing the first three letters of the English alphabet. Those creatures, it turns out, are three of the five heroes of Numberlys.

Numberlys depicts a world without letters, a world with only numbers. Everything is called by their numbers. Even the inhabitants have no names. There are no Ralphs and Pamelas, the narrator with his silly accent tells us; there are just 27 or 6011. Worse still, there are no jellybeans, not even pizza. Given this description, it’s no wonder this world is drenched in grainy black and white. Until…

Five of the inhabitants, namely, 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, confer and agree that there must be something more. Tired of the boring orderliness of numbers, they set out to make a difference. So, they engage in an arduous but interesting process of creating out of beams and gears the letters of the alphabet as we know it.

Like Morris Lessmore, Numberlys is a clever combination of a CGI short film and a children’s storybook complemented by the interactivity afforded by the iOS platform. While “experiencing” the app, not only do you get to be a silent spectator of cinematic clips, listener of narrative lines (which are often filled with alliteration), and reader of title cards, but you also get to help the heroes in fashioning the letters. For instance, you repeatedly bounce on a mechanical beam as though it were a trampoline until it bends in the middle to form the letter V. Then, you repeatedly flick on the screen to turn a pedestal on which the letter V is clamped until the letter W is formed apparently via mirroring. Perfect for teaching the English alphabet to toddlers.

Numberlys owes its realization to William Joyce, the author and filmmaker behind Morris Lessmore. Not surprisingly, his flair for fun character design (resembling his work in Rolie Polie Olie, an animated series for preschoolers) is on display in Numberlys, as is his knack for absorbing storytelling even as the story he’s telling is as simple as ABC. The accompanying musical score, composed by John Hunter, is delightfully reminiscent of Danny Elfman and Thomas Newman. But what sways Numberlys to the greatest extent is Metropolis. From the towering skyscrapers to the palpable dystopic monotony to the rings of light that surround each newly created letter, the influence of this Fritz Lang sci-fi classic is undeniable. It’s only fitting that Numberlys allude to this landmark film, since Numberlys is itself a landmark app.

Quick Take


Would I Buy Again:Yes

Learning Curve:Very low

Who Is It For:Anyone who hasn't yet seen how a book app should be

What I Like:The overall concept, the direction, the music, the nods to Metropolis, the interactive mini-games

What I Don't Like:The price (although it's universal)

Final Statement:Clearly developed by people who refuse to do things by the numbers and who know the ABCs of innovative book app design, The Numberlys is an instant classic.

Read the Developer's Notes:
Numberlys presents a fanciful depiction of the origins of the alphabet and is the newest interactive epic from Moonbot Studios, the creators of The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. Numberlys is a story App celebration of the early fantasy epics King Kong, Metropolis and Flash Gordon with a dollop of the Marx Brothers, a splash of the Fleischer Studios technicolor Superman and a little bit of the 1939 New York World’s Fair.

Numberlys is huge in scope. It's an adventure! A mystery! A game! And a story!

It's a new way to entertain, learn and rediscover our storytelling "golden age".

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aldrin has written 128 awesome app reviews.