From the makers of Koi Pond comes a new concept in iPhone applications: Distant Shore. The game – if you can call it a game – very much reminds me of chat rooms but with a huge twist. You find yourself alone on the beach somewhere (in a 3D graphical aerial view). You have a bungalow with a turtle mailbox outback. The idea is to send messages to and receive messages from others like yourself that are wandering distant beaches. To do this, you walk up and down the beach picking up shells by tapping them. Once you have collected 5 shells, you get an empty bottle to send a message in. Once sent, you have no control over who’s shore it lands on or who receives your bottle. Furthermore, all messages are completely anonymous. Your personal information is not sent to them unless you send it yourself. You may also come across bottles on the beach that have washed ashore containing messages from others. You can pick these up by tapping them and read the message inside.
The first little while of playing I found myself wondering what the point was. However, it does grow on you and soon I couldn’t put it down to come and write this review. It is kind of fun to see what kind of random tidbits people choose to send. Once you have read the message, you can reply to the sender, keep it in your inventory in your beach tote, or discard it on the beach. You can only hold eight messages at a time in your beach tote, though. So, remember to delete them once you are done reading them. Otherwise, you won’t be able to pick up bottles on the beach or retrieve mail from your mailbox until you do delete some. Your mailbox is where direct replies to your bottles come. (To delete a message, just drag it off the message panel and drop it on the beach). Each time you get a reply, a star appears on the bungalow button in the lower right hand corner of the screen. You can press this button at any time to return to your bungalow. The more messages and bottles you send the more you are likely to receive.
My biggest complaint with the app is that other than sending and receiving bottles, there really isn’t anything else to do. You are alone on the beach, although you are constantly passing beach towels, beach umbrellas, and chairs. In the background you hear the sound of the waves and the lighting on the screen changes slowly to indicate the passage of night and day. I think it would be great to have something else to do while you wait for messages (why can’t I kick one of the many beach balls?). Now, having said that, you don’t have to wait around for your messages, you can close the app and come back later and find replies in your mailbox.
I wouldn’t say that Distant Shore is the best or most entertaining app that I have played with, but it is somewhat amusing to send and receive random messages from people all over. While playing, I did ask several people what they thought of the app… to which most people replied “I love it.”
This app is a great for killing time when you need a little human interaction. However, a parting word of caution. Like any chat room or anonymous interaction with others there is bound to be someone attempting to exploit the situation. After about 2 hours of reading and writing messages in bottles, I did receive a message that I would consider inappropriate (asking my age, sex, location…). The app has a built-in safety measure for this. At the bottom of every message that you read there is a “report inappropriate message” button. We used it in this case and the message was immediately removed from my tote bag (inbox). We are uncertain though what happens on the other side…
Distant Shores is $0.99 in the iTunes App Store.
[Update: I recently emailed the developer and asked about what happens when you report a message as inappropriate. The following is the response that I received.
"...if someone gets enough messages flagged as inappropriate, we'll take a look and see if the messages actually did contain legitimately inappropriate or offensive content. Sometimes people flag messages for no reason, so we need to be sure before we take any further steps. Our first step, though, is to send out a warning message - at that point we haven't actually looked at anything that was sent. If the person continues to send inappropriate messages, we will ban them."]