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Petting Zoo (iOS) review: Charmingly entertaining for both kids and parents

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"The one that really broke my heart was the earlier version of a cat," said Niemann. "You put your finger on the iPad and leave it there. It hunts your finger, and you drag the cat along this line, and it could hang on your finger. It was so much fun, but no one could figure it out."

Though he said many of his toughest decisions involved weeding out fun but unintuitive actions from the app, it pays off.

Petting Zoo keeps user action consistently easy and natural -- even when it departs from the general horizontal, vertical, and side-to-side finger movements -- all without any written direction or tutorial.

There were two incidents, however, that I was unsure of. One chapter consisted of some sort of digging mole (a Diglett with arms and legs?), and I didn't know how or if it was supposed to interact with the spiders hanging above it. Another involved two monkeys and a floating soccer ball. At one point, I made the monkey on the left duck down, enabling the ball to hit the other monkey on the back of the head. I didn't know how to repeat this action again, and whenever it did, the occurrence seemed random.

A single creative entity
During my time with it, it became easy to see how the app could hold a child's attention, and with these hidden sequences, it could lead a kid to an unexpected and pleasant discovery. The app also comes with a few setting options including turning off transitions (I don't recommend this, since the segues between chapters are just as entertaining as the chapters themselves), music, and hints.

Petting Zoo (iOS)
The dainty butterfly shows the jumping cat exactly who's boss. Lynn La/CNET

According to some iTunes reviews, users have experienced some technical issues. However, I personally didn't experience any unexpected quits or stutters with the app, and it didn't freeze on any particular chapter.

The app requires iOS 4.3 or higher, and Niemann said it is just a few weeks away from launching on the Android platform.

If you're looking for additional chapters with future software updates, however, don't hold your breath. This lack of replay value for a $1.99 app may be disappointing (and pricey) for those who are used to 99-cent games that have a seemingly infinite amount of levels. But again, it's easier to think of Petting Zoo as a traditional picture book that just so happens to come alive whenever you interact with it.

"In an ideal world, I want people to forget that they're playing on an iPad," he said. "Maybe I'll make a game one day, but somehow I feel that this is an entity now, and I like it exactly the way it is."

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