This ox can get down. His deep synth rumbles in my stomach. From the sound of it, this cartoon animal, which mixes hot beats while sticking out his tongue in total confusion, just might be one of the elusive visages behind Daft Punk.
I’m playing Bandimal ($4), the latest irresistible iOS app from Yatatoy. The studio’s digital toys (because I’d be remiss to label what they create as “games”) are built around zany, hand-drawn animated animals. The team consists of a few creatives developing kids apps in their spare time, and it has already given us the virtual flipbook Miximal, along with the beat sequencer Loopimal. These apps are full of charm and whimsy, and devoid of the gem collecting and microtransactions that drive most iOS apps.
Bandimal is the studio’s most ambitious project yet, two years in the making. With Bandimal, you can assemble a crew of three animals, each which plays a different, digital instrument, to create original songs. The concept was relatively easy–the bigger the animal, the lower its range. The interface was challenging–how do you help kids, who might know nothing about notes, chords, and scales, create music?
Designer Lucas Zanotto found his answer in a real instrument, the African Kalimba. This thumb piano creates notes simply through its flickable buttons of different lengths. So to create melodies inside Bandimal, all you do is tap an animal, and then you drag several bars to different lengths. Within moments, you realize that each bar represents a beat, and its length determines the note played. Once you have that concept down, you can simply tap, drag, and jam.
The other bit of brilliance inside the app is that you can’t make anything that sounds bad. Ulrich Troyer designed the entire sonic experience around the sharps-and-flats-less key of C and the pentatonic scale (which features five notes rather than the typical seven you know from minor or major scales). As a result, creating dissonance is impossible. Such a framework takes rule-bending, jazz creations off the table, but then again, it lets you score a whale, panda, and a chicken together with ease. At the end of the day, what could be more fun than that?