[Article first published as App Ninja Sneaks one by Apple with Fake Ninja Turtles Game on Blogcritics.]
Apple prides itself on their strict guidelines and screening process for the apps that can be sold in their App Store. They have a number of rules that cover functionality, quality, content, payment, and of course trademarks and copyrights. Suffice it to say that there are a number of reasons that the iPhone app you’ve been working on can possibly be rejected at any given time. So given this strict attitude towards software written by third-party developers, what happens when an app submitted breaks almost all of Apple’s rules? Generally, the app is rejected and the developer can file an appeal with the review board. However, certain apps somehow still fall through the cracks.
Recently available on the App Store (August 18, to be precise) was a game that marketed itself as one based on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise. Now of course when one thinks of TMNT, there are a number of things that come to mind – turtles named after artists, heroes in a half shell trained in the art of ninjutsu, a healthy amount of pizza being crushed by said turtles, and an overuse of old surfer slang, i.e. “cowabunga” and/or “radical.” Sadly, much to the dismay and outrage of many Apple customers, this game included none of the above.
The game was made by Vietnamese developer Namphuong Star, who convinced customers with a $5 price tag that it was authentic and official, even going as far as to sport a licensed TMNT logo in its app description. Opening the app reveals a very different story. In addition to not having any turtles, there’s no functionality, and the game sprites and backgrounds are flat out stolen from other games. Look at the screenshot up there. Look familiar to anyone? Because it sure looks like Konami’s Contra to me. I remember a pop-out cannon in that blotched out region of the cliff there, and I don’t even know where to begin with those little army men (?) that must have taken all of 40 seconds to draw in MS Paint.
This game is horrible straight through to the core, not just on it’s ridiculous surface. You see, in addition to lying and tricking customers into purchasing it, the developer rewards their purchase with an app that simply does not function, as well as a support site shilling Apple accessories instead of fixing the issues. Reviews of the game reflected the plight of those who purchased it, but the following three seem to address all the problems present with this particular piece of software:
“I bought this game for my grandson, he loves the TMNT!! This game has no directions we can't figure out how to play, or even how to restart the game. There aren't any turtles in the game. A total waste of $5”
"The character immediately slides off the side of the screen. There seems to be no way to actually interact with the game. And there doesn't seem to be any way to start a new game. The use of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles characters on the splash screen are almost certainly infringement; the blob that slides off the
screen during the actual game isn't identifiable as a turtle. Or much of anything.”
“Visiting the developer website and the support site both go to the same spammy, Vietnamese-language website selling iPhone and iPod accessories. There doesn't appear to be any actual support. Deleted and requested refund.”
So let’s round up all of the problems and how they violated Apple’s guidelines. Just the description breaks Apple’s rules on name and description metadata. Using sprites and backgrounds from other games, as well as the fact that Nickelodeon owns the rights to the TMNT brand, violates the rule on use of material trademarked or copyrighted by a third party. The fact that it outright doesn’t work violates Apple’s rules on functionality. Granted, it may be rare that something like this falls through the cracks, but if any reviewer took any look at this app for more than half a second then this should have been caught right away. We all remember what happened with the I Am Rich app a little while ago, right?
More than anything else though, this is just plain silly. I hope the person who bought this for their grandson gets their $5 back.