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Saturday, March 27, 2010

Wishing Stars - The Ultimate iPhone Application for Disneyland Fans

Review by Rick West

Take a very enthusiastic Disneyland fan that has a rich background in computer programming, give him an iPhone and toss a handful of pixie dust all over it and you have the seed for Wishing Stars.

Kind of. There was also a heck of a lot of work that went into the development for the wildly-popular iPhone GPS-based game, designed by Greg Maletic.

Based in San Francisco, California, as the Founder of the creative technology application firm The Future of Pinball, LLC, Maletic became interested in creating a social fan application for Disneyland that would allow fellow enthusiasts to communicate with one another via Facebook and Twitter by letting them post where they were at the theme park and what they were doing. At the same time, Greg also began toying with a feature that was originally, supposed to be just a fun little twist to the application - users being able to unlock secret, additional features as they used Wishing Stars more and more.

As the project took on a life of its own, Greg soon realized that the social application could, and would be much more; a new game was being born that was unlike anything any company (including Disney) had previously created for iPhone users.

Utilizing the GPS technology resident in both the iPhone 3G and 3GS, Greg began creating a virtual scavenger hunt that would take Disneyland visitors all over the Magic Kingdom in search of "stars" that would unlock further quests within the game.

After much planning, studying other iPhone GPS-based applications for the iPhone platform and many trips to Anaheim, Greg rolled out the first version of Wishing Stars in the iTunes Store in the summer of 2009. Quickly, and with much fanfare online, Wishing Stars became the most talked about Disney app for the iPhone amongst Disney enthusiasts. Theme Park Adventure caught wind of this application as its followers started raving about it online. The capper was when TPA's good pal and indutry designer David Cobb told us that Wishing Stars was a must-have and that we needed to check it out.

We contacted Greg and he very kindly welcomed Theme Park Adventure to download and test it at Disneyland for ourselves. And we became obsessed

Wishing Stars is made up of different quest groupings, which Greg has dubbed "Quest Books". They range from easy fun (perfect for kids) to extremely challenging for the most veteran Disneyland enthusiasts around. To advance through the game and unlock further Quest Books, users need to go to specific locations at Disneyland Park and answer Wishing Stars questions correctly. The GPS technology then kicks in and if you've given a correct answer, Wishing Stars lets you advance further into its wonderful world of trivia.

Some of Wishing Stars' questions are image-based; the game gives you a picture to look at and it's up to you to scour Disneyland in search of its actual location. The integration of the GPS technology makes it impossible for lazy gamers to cheat and simply input the correct answer - if the game says to go to a certain spot within Mickey's Toontown or on Tom Sawyer Island, you'd better lace up your boots and get moving, because that is where you will need to go in order to submit a correct answer to the application!

The way that Greg has designed Wishing Stars reminded me very much of the thought process that Blizzard Entertainment uses in designing quests for its World of Warcraft game - not every quest has to take up hours of your time; some can be handled in minutes, some a bit longer. This flexibility and variety of questing allows gamers to participate and play as they can - there is no pressure to spend an hour playing Wishing Stars at a time if you wish to make progress. Some of the game's quests can be completed in minutes; others take longer. Rather than be a burden on your time and schedule, Greg has created Wishing Stars to be a companion - an enhancement - to your Disneyland visit. And whether you're an Annual Passholder who's at Disneyland a few times a week or a visitor that makes it to Anaheim once every few years, Wishing Stars is the perfect application to take along, as it allows for a whole new dimension of fun to what's already a fun-filled trip for the whole family.

The range of questions and the difficulty levels make Wishing Stars a blast for the entire family to play as a team - young children may be able to answer easier questions or find more obvious landmarks along the way (although don't underestimate your kids - their level of observation sometimes trumps us "big kids") and older folks in your crew can handle the tougher trivia. Wishing Stars has something for everyone - it doesn't leave anyone out, which is one thing we really loved about this game.

Whenever you talk about a trivia game and think of people being left out, hard core fans will tell you that it's usually them left behind - in many cases, in order to appeal to a wider audience base, trivia games are watered-down and made too easy, leaving little more than a semi-amusing and half-rewarding experience for the vets. Fear not, Wishing Stars users! Greg has included many quests in the game that really stumped us as we searched the Mouse House high and low - we were really pleased that much of Wishing Stars is not dumbed-down; it is a perfect challenge for even the most extreme Disneyland fan out there!

For the purpose of getting  through Wishing Stars as quickly as possible to review the game for our readers, Theme Park Adventure blasted through the game as quickly as we could - and even though we went to Disneyland with the specific intention of completing Wishing Stars quickly, it still took two trips and hours to complete. Casual gamers not in such a hurry or on such a focused mission will find that it takes quite a while to successfully take on Wishing Stars; this isn't a one-time deal. It's a fantastic Disneyland trip companion that you can pick and poke at, however you' like. It's great and doesn't take over your life - unless you want it to!

Almost-Free Download

Since its debut in 2009, Wishing Stars has been through a couple price adjustments within the iTunes Store. Starting at $5.99 and then dropping to $4.99, Greg has now made Wishing Stars a free download, along with two complimentary quests. This new pricing structure allows gamers to try before they buy - and we're confident that once you do try, you will buy. Individual Quest Books at varying difficulty levels are available for purchase, making it easy for users to expand their Wishing Stars game at their own will, however they'd like.

Expansions Coming

Wishing Stars is currently only available as a Disneyland-based trivia game. Greg does however, assure us that a Walt Disney World version is on the way, as well as new Disneyland Quest Books! For the time being, Wishing Stars is a Disneyland-based game - which shouldn't be too much of a business roadblock for Greg, as the Anaheim resort now has more than one million Annual Passholders; some of them are sure to have iPhones!

As new Quest Books are made available and other Disney parks are added to the mix, Greg will keep users posted via the Wishing Stars Twitter feed, as well as on Facebook. Theme Park Adventure will also keep its readers updated as Greg rolls out future Wishing Stars expansions and upgrades.

This is a product that we feel is absolutely worth-while and worth the price. Wishing Stars is completely well thought-out and there was definitely a lot of love and effort that went in to making this game. Our honest suggestion is that all Disneyland fans try it out; we're sure you'll love it as much as we do!

Wishing Stars is available for download from the iTunes App Store and users wanting more information about the game itself are encouraged to check out the official Wishing Stars website.

Theme Park Adventure applauds Greg for bringing Wishing Stars to life - it's absolutely a must-have iPhone app for all Disneyland fans, casual or hard-core. The game is thoughtful, well-rounded and most of all, fun. There is no doubt in our minds that The Walt Disney Company has kicked themselves for not rolling out something like Wishing Stars. The quality of the game is high and gameplay itself is simple and very user-friendly. If you lose your signal (Disneyland has horrible GPS/cell reception in some areas) or you have to turn your iPhone off to take in a ride or have a meal, the game auto-saves your spot so that you're not stuck repeating quests. This is a smart, fun, very "Disney" application that brings Disneyland trivia and scavenger hunts to the next level.

Huge props and kudos to Greg - and to Wishing Stars. Give it a go - you won't be disappointed.

You will become obsessed!

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