Eye on iOS: Volume 2
Welcome to Adventure Gamers’ second installment of Eye on iOS, in which we brave the App Store’s so-called “adventure” category to identify the actual adventure games hidden in its depths (so you don’t have to). Today we bring you a few oldies-but-goodies that have recently made their way to iPhone / iPod touch, along with one “newie” that’s had an impressive debut.
Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars and Broken Sword: The Smoking Mirror
Initially released for PC in the late 1990s, the first two Broken Sword games, Shadow of the Templars and The Smoking Mirror, are 2D adventures starring amateur investigators and sometimes lovebirds George Stobbart and Nico Collard. Remembered for their colorful cartoon graphics, epic historical mysteries, and cheeky humor, these games have appeared on many a must-play list over the years. Updated versions of both are now available in the App Store, and they’re proving that these “golden age” gems are just as charming the second time around.
The Shadow of the Templars – Director’s Cut—which has also been released for PC, Wii, and Nintendo DS—features new scenes and puzzles to round out the original story, most notably a new opening sequence played as Nico that adds about an hour of playtime. Other changes include the simplification of some puzzles, removal of blood and death scenes, and a new ending. Having only played the original once, years ago, the changes didn’t jump out at me, but if you’re a Broken Sword purist they likely will. The Smoking Mirror – Remastered, on the other hand, doesn’t have any new content, just presentation and interface refinements and a few iPhone-friendly features.
Both games’ graphics, while obviously of a 1990s vintage, remain fun and well animated, and the controls have made the transition to “point and tap” fairly well. Simply tap the screen to make the character walk. To explore, drag your finger across the screen, and small dots will flash over nearby hotspots. Tapping on one of these reveals verb icons such as look, use, exit, and examine close-up, then you tap the icon that represents the action you want. Sometimes space is tight and it’s easy to accidentally tap the wrong hotspot or miss the icon you intended, but overall it’s a straightforward interface.
In Shadow of the Templars, I had some trouble using inventory items. When you drag an item out of the inventory, it appears slightly above your finger. You must then drag your finger (not the item itself) over the gear icon that’s hovering over a hotspot. If you miss, the item returns to the inventory and you have to start over. This works better in The Smoking Mirror, where text along the lines of “Key + Door” appears when your finger brushes the right spot, so you know it’s safe to release.
Conversation options are represented by graphics that are sometimes tough to identify, especially when a topic is labeled with the face of secondary character you haven’t spent much time with. In spite of this, conversation is easy enough to conduct and the close-up dialogue portraits that appear on-screen (a new addition in these versions) helped me feel connected to the protagonists. In Shadow of the Templars the dialogue portraits are mostly static, while in The Broken Mirror they have full animation and lip sync, which I preferred. Both games have voice acting, music, and sound effects. You can also choose the subtitle language (English, French, German, Italian, or Spanish) or turn them off entirely.
One of the updated features is an ability to tap a question mark on the screen to get help. In the first game, this yields progressive hints about how to approach the current objective. In the sequel, offered along with the hints are general interface tips. (I found this helpful when I initially had trouble dragging items out of the inventory—I was neglecting to hold down my finger for a few seconds to first select the item.) Other perks in The Smoking Mirror include Game Center support that allows users of the same device to set up profiles for unique saved game access, and Dropbox functionality to back up saved games. The sequel also has a better save / load interface, with saves named automatically rather than requiring a title to be typed in (a cumbersome process with the tiny iPhone / iPod Touch keyboard). Each game offers eight save slots and also saves automatically upon quitting, but sometimes resuming from the auto-save returns you to a point slightly before when you quit.
Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars – Director’s Cut and Broken Sword: The Smoking Mirror – Remastered sell for $4.99 and $6.99 respectively; there are no lite versions to sample for free. If you enjoy these, you may also want to check out developer Revolution’s Beneath a Steel Sky, which has also been remastered.
Riven: The Sequel to Myst
When Riven released in 1997, it gained a reputation for being even harder, more immersive, and more expansive than its groundbreaking predecessor. (Check out Adventure Gamers’ review of Cyan’s classic to learn why.) In fact, it was so expansive that it was one of the first adventures large enough to ship on a DVD-ROM. So it’s not much of a surprise that when Riven came to iPhone and iPod Touch recently, it earned the distinction of being the App Store’s largest entry, weighing in at a whopping 1 GB. Also not surprising: It’s just as pretty and as challenging as ever.
Riven uses hundreds of slideshow-style graphics to give the impression that you’re moving around a series of interconnected islands. To navigate, you tap the screen in the direction you want to go (top to move forward, left to turn left, etc.). Tapping on some areas provides a close-up, and occasionally there are items, levers, and buttons that you can fiddle with, also by tapping. Though the visuals are incredibly detailed, most screens don’t have interactive elements, making Riven feel like a very lonely place. This isolation is heightened by the existence of a “hotspot finder” that can be turned on and off in the game options; turn it on and you’ll realize how few hotspots there really are. The hotspot finder can be set to automatically display hotspots, with green circles appearing around the interactive areas after a few seconds, or you can shake the device to make the circles show up sooner (but since so many scenes don’t have any, you may be shaking for a long time). Players who prefer an experience more like the original can turn off the hotspot finder completely.
Brief movies are integrated with the static graphics to bring Riven to life. Though these played well on my iPod Touch, their brightness level is often different than the backgrounds, so it’s fairly obvious when one has kicked in. During some, a green arrow appears that allows you to skip the cinematic. This is welcome during longer animations, particularly the repetitive transitions that occur as you move back and forth across Riven’s islands on mechanical trams. But many smaller animations can’t be skipped, and it sometimes takes a second longer than you’d expect to regain control after a movie ends—both issues that made me increasingly impatient while I tried to get the lay of the land. These are fairly small complaints, because the game is gorgeous overall. The graphics are detailed, lush, and sharp; overlaid with atmospheric sound effects, they present a strong feeling of truly being in another world.
At the beginning of Riven, you obtain a book that provides background on the story. While it’s not impossibly tiny, I found the book’s cursive text difficult to read. It is possible to zoom in by double-tapping the screen, but the magnified image is fuzzy, so that doesn’t help much. I also had some trouble getting my bearings as I traveled around the environments, but I’ve always had this problem with Myst games, so I can’t blame that on the iOS port specifically. Fortunately, the game comes with a help section that provides general tips locally and links to more extensive online hints, complete with maps. But you can’t view the help file and the game at the same time, so it’s difficult to make use of the information while playing. A better option might be to print maps from online walkthroughs and keep these by your side, along with a notebook for jotting down notes—not particularly convenient for handheld gaming, but then again, this is Riven. It’s kind of what you signed up for. There are only four save slots, which doesn’t seem like enough in a game so massive, but the game helpfully auto saves, so it always loads your most recent progress when you launch, without using up a slot.
Riven sells for $5.99 in the App Store. There’s currently no lite version, but Myst is also out for iPhone / iPod Touch and it does have a demo, so you can check that out first to get a feel for how these big worlds translate to such a small screen. If you decide to buy Riven, its large file size can make it difficult to download directly onto your device. Instead, it’s recommended to download it to your computer via iTunes, then do a sync to transfer the game onto your iPhone or iPod Touch.
iColossal Cave Adventure and ADVENT
You may not be familiar with the name Colossal Cave, but you’ve been enjoying its legacy in virtually every adventure game you’ve ever played. That’s because Colossal Cave Adventure, created in 1976, was the very first “adventure game” from which the genre was subsequently named. If you haven’t played it (and let’s be honest, how many of us have?), now’s your chance thanks to iColossal Cave Adventure and ADVENT, two apps that bring this classic text adventure to the iPhone / iPod Touch.
Originated by spelunking enthusiast Will Crowther, the game injects fantasy elements like hidden treasure, magic words, and evil dwarfs into the real-life geography of the Mammoth Caves in Kentucky. The goal of the game is to explore the cave system and rack up points while avoiding death and dead-end situations. Like an old oral legend passed down from storyteller to storyteller, Colossal Cave has had many iterations in the 35 years since its inception, with versions differentiated by the total number of points that can be scored.
iColossal Cave is a 430-point version, ported to iPhone / iPod Touch by Conexion Games. It currently sells for $1.99 and includes both the original English and a Spanish translation. This app tells the story via white text on a black background, with a command line and keyboard at the bottom of the screen. The text is fairly small and you can’t zoom in, which may be a problem for some players. To play, you type in two-word commands such as “take lamp” or “climb tree.” The device’s built-in spell check helps you avoid typos, and the parser only pays attention to a word’s first five characters, which allows for some cutting of corners. As you would expect, though, feeding the parser two-word commands can be cumbersome and frustrating, especially when the game leads you in circles. (“Kill dwarf.” With what? “Axe.” What do you want to do with the axe?) Navigation can be simplified by typing just the first letter of a cardinal direction, but the app doesn’t recognize certain shorthand such as “take all” to pick up all loose items in a room.
If the game senses that you’re floundering with an interaction, it will offer a hint in exchange for points. Of course, there are plenty of walkthroughs online, so instead you could switch back and forth between the app and your browser without quitting the game. It’s possible to save your game, but this also comes at the expense of points; upon restarting, you can type “resume” to load it. But there’s only one save slot and plenty of dead-end situations, so you can never be sure if you’re saving over a good game with a bad one.
Ported by Pi-Soft Consulting, ADVENT is a 1000-point version that’s free in the App Store. The interface is easier on the eyes, with larger text that’s dark on a light background, but since spell check is not enabled and ADVENT requires you to type full words, I had more trouble with typos in this version. The app does provide a convenient list of directions and common verbs that you can select from, however. It also recognizes longer commands, so you can type something like, “take apple and eat it” and the game will follow both steps.
Although ADVENT’s text is more descriptive and there are more treasures to collect and puzzles to solve, in many situations the required commands are more obtuse. For example, in iColossal Cave, upon encountering a locked grate blocking the cave opening, you can “unlock grate” and, on your next turn, enter the cave. In ADVENT, after unlocking the grate all further attempts to enter (“go hole,” “enter cave,” “down,” etc.) return generic “You can’t do that” messages. It took me several minutes to realize the game required the extra step of opening the grate after unlocking it. Likewise, commands that work in the other game, such as “go downstream” to reach a riverbed that has been described in the text as being downstream, don’t work in ADVENT. I don’t know whether these issues are related to the different game versions or to choices made during the porting process, but they make ADVENT the more frustrating of the two. Like in iColossal Cave, the game sometimes offers up hints, but annoyingly the “save” and “save game” commands don’t work. In some situations the game saves automatically, with a “resume” button option available upon the next launch, but I couldn’t figure out why it sometimes saved and sometimes didn’t.
Both apps have pros and cons, so the decision to spend two bucks on iColossal Cave comes down to what you’re looking for. If you just want to sample the nostalgia and history of the world’s first text adventure, ADVENT will probably give you what you’re looking for. If you actually want to play and complete the game without feeling compelled to smash your iPhone against the wall, iColossal Cave might provide a more forgiving experience. (Maybe. It is a 35-year-old text adventure, after all!) Either way, you’ll finally know the meaning of the word “xyzzy.”
The Secret of Grisly Manor
Developer Fire Maple Games boasts that over 70,000 copies of The Secret of Grisly Manor have been sold. That’s a pretty big number for the App Store, let alone for an adventure game. So what is it about Grisly Manor that appeals to so many? It’s certainly an addictive little puzzle game, one you won’t want to put down. Unfortunately you won’t be addicted for long, as it’s also extremely short.
In this first-person game, you assume the role of an eccentric inventor’s grandchild. Grandpa has recently gone missing, and in a letter he invites you to visit his house, where he has left clues revealing his whereabouts. It sounds like a scary set-up, but don’t let the title fool you; there’s nothing grisly about Grisly Manor. On the contrary, the house is modern and impeccably neat, depicted with sleek, nicely rendered graphics. The looping background music that accompanies your discoveries is more kooky than spooky—a soundtrack you’d expect during an animated Addams Family episode as opposed to a horror movie.
Most interactions are done with a simple tap, with one or two puzzles requiring you to drag items. The interface consists of an inventory bag in the lower left corner and a Menu button in the lower right. Using inventory items is as easy as tapping the bag to open the inventory, tapping the item you want, and tapping the area where you want to use it. The menu’s only options are volume controls, as the game saves automatically when you quit. The playable character’s occasional observations appear as text at the top of the screen, but there is no character interaction or conversation, only solitary puzzle solving.
Grisly Manor has been likened to Myst in reviews, but the games have little in common. In Grisly Manor, you explore the empty house and mess around with Grandpa’s silly gadgets to work your way through a chain of events that ultimately leads to his hiding place. The puzzles, while unique, are extremely basic and (unlike in Myst) usually have single step solutions. For example, in one room you acquire a peculiar-shaped object that fits into a hole elsewhere in the house. Once you’ve placed this in the hole, a secret compartment opens to reveal a knob. This can be used on a drawer in another room, and opening the drawer reveals a key, and the key can be used to unlock a door… and so on. Grisly Manor does have a couple of touch-specific puzzles (i.e. rotate tiles to complete a design; rotate knobs to the marked positions) and a few others that require a tiny bit more thought, but the vast majority of its gameplay is “use A on B to reveal C which can be used on D.”
The house has about ten rooms, each with two or three small puzzles to solve, and the game will be completed in less than an hour for most players. An entertaining hour, sure, but it feels more like a prologue or demo than a full game, especially in light of the non sequitur ending that implies it’s just getting started (and the developer has confirmed plans to work on a sequel). At the moment The Secret of Grisly Manor costs $0.99, and for that price it is worth checking out.
And that’s a wrap on our (mostly) oldies-but-goodies edition of Eye on iPhone! Join us next time for… well… more oldies-but-goodies, as well as some of the games we said we’d be covering next time, last time.