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.Continued on the next page...