It’s time again to cast another Eye on iOS, where we tip you off to the App Store’s hidden adventure gems so you can spend more time playing games, and less time trying to find them! This time I looked at a barrage of PC ports and Evan Dickens cozied up with two episodic iOS exclusives. Enjoy!
Several games from French developer Kheops Studio have found their way onto iOS platforms thanks to partnerships with publishers Chillingo and Coladia. These are a bit unusual among iPhone adventures in that they’re neither remastered oldies nor new games created specifically for the platform, but fairly recent PC adventures that have been ported and reworked. I checked out five Kheops games on my iPod Touch: Dracula: The Path of the Dragon, Egypt: The Prophecy, Secret of the Lost Cavern, Return to Mysterious Island and its sequel, Secrets of the Mysterious Island.
Though each game has a unique scenario, the look and feel of Kheops’ titles are fairly consistent across PC releases and this is true of the iOS ports as well. These games are all presented in first-person perspective. Node-based navigation allows you to pan 360 degrees around each environment by dragging your finger, and to move to the next area by tapping an exit. In general, the graphics and voice acting translate well to the small screen. The games balance stories inspired by history and literature with environmental and inventory-based puzzles; there’s some character interaction, but dialogue is secondary to puzzles.
If this sounds like your kind of adventure, Kheops’ App Store offerings are well worth a look. However, each of these has been changed to some degree from its PC counterpart, so be aware that the iOS versions may give you a scaled-down experience—and not just in the literal sense. Most of the Kheops games lack demos, but because they have a lot in common, playing one will give you a good idea of whether you’ll like the others. (Note: as these ports are Anuman Interactive/Tetraedge Games productions, Kheops is not listed as the games’ developer in the App Store. The easiest way to find these is to search for each by name.)
Dracula: The Path of the Dragon
Playing as Father Arno Moriani, you arrive in a small Transylvanian town to learn about the life and death of Martha Calugarul, a philanthropic doctor who is now a candidate for sainthood. As you might have guessed from the game’s title, there’s more to the doctor’s sudden death than meets the eye.
Dracula is broken up into three $1.99 episodes in the App Store; my impressions are based on the first episode. Though it looks like the PC version and the general premise is the same, a glance at a PC walkthrough makes it clear that some gameplay in the iOS version has been streamlined or removed altogether. While this may not be glaring to players who haven’t experienced the original, I did feel like I’d been dropped into a large world where there wasn’t much to do. It doesn’t help that traveling from Point A to Point B requires moving through numerous dark, similar-looking and seemingly extraneous screens. In the first episode, at least, the puzzle-to-location ratio is pretty low.
In a new addition, a “permanent help” feature can be turned on or off from the game’s main menu. When this is on, arrows display at every exit, gear icons appear over characters or items you can interact with, and a hand icon appears on items you can pick up. When permanent help is turned off, you can still call up these icons by tapping a question mark on the screen. This sort of help is well suited to the handheld platform, since it can be hard to know what’s worth interacting with in detailed backgrounds on a small screen. The game saves automatically at certain checkpoints and also saves when you quit, giving you the ability to easily continue your game from the most recent point upon restarting.
Dracula has the production values you’d expect in a recent commercial release, with realistic background graphics and prerendered cutscenes. The cinematics appear a bit fuzzy, which surprised me since they’ve presumably been scaled down from the originals, but they’re still impressive by iOS standards. The game has both voice acting and subtitles, and you can easily skip dialogue lines by double tapping. But don’t get too tap-happy: when you engage in conversation, Father Moriani doesn’t speak his lines, so you need to read each option thoroughly before selecting it or you’ll lose the thread. In an odd quirk, characters’ lips don’t move when they talk.
With its plodding pace, I had a hard time getting into Dracula at the start, but I did start to see the story going in an interesting direction, and fans of gothic horror will probably get sucked in. For a better sense of the overall game, take a look at Adventure Gamers’ review of the PC version.
Egypt: The Prophecy
Despite the vastly different setting, Egypt: The Prophecy has a lot in common with Dracula. It, too, begins with the protagonist arriving in a new place to conduct an investigation. This time you play as Maya, a magician sent by the Pharaoh to investigate a series of accidents occurring at the site where an obelisk is being constructed as a gift to the gods.
Also like Dracula, Egypt is broken up into three $1.99 episodes, the first of which I played. The interface, permanent help, and production values are very similar, but a few differences make Egypt the more refined of the two. Maya speaks her dialogue lines, for example, and supporting characters are lip-synched. There’s also a compass option in the menu, which I expected to display an actual compass to help with navigation, but turning it on or off didn’t have any noticeable effect in the episode I played.
Unfortunately, Eygpt also shares some of the same pitfalls as Dracula, such as fuzzy cutscenes and a huge number of visually indistinct, seemingly unimportant screens with little payoff in the puzzle department. The save system is the same as well, with the game saving automatically at certain checkpoints and when you quit.
Given all the similarities between games, it’s not surprising that Egypt also gets off to a rather slow start, but once I started finding my way around it began to pick up. Read our PC review to get a better feel for the full version’s story and gameplay.
Secret of the Lost Cavern
Taking place in 15,000 BC, Secret of the Lost Cavern (also known as Echo on PC) is set in and around Lascaux, the site of famous prehistoric cave paintings. The protagonist, a young man named Arok, is on a quest to become a cave painter, and much of the gameplay involves creating paints and tools out of items such as branches, rocks, bones, and pigments. When this first launched for iOS it was divided into episodes, but it has since been re-released as one big game that currently sells for $2.99. I downloaded it before this transition, so my impressions are based on the first episode, which is the first of the full game’s four chapters.
Secret of the Lost Cavern gets moving more quickly than Dracula and Egypt, with early scenes that take place in a self-contained environment, and more items to use and puzzles to solve from the get-go. The cutscenes seem crisper than in the other games and the outdoor environments look great, but the cave interiors are rather dark, which makes some of the fine details (such as a map etched into a rock) difficult to decipher.
This game has a more robust help system than the others, with three levels that can be instantly adjusted by tapping a light bulb icon on-screen. When the light bulb is unlit, help icons are turned off but still display if you hover your finger over a hotspot, so you can easily sweep across the screen looking for interactive areas. Tap the light bulb once to turn on moderate help, which identifies hotspots but doesn’t indicate what you can do with them; tap it again to turn on full help that displays exactly where you can go and how you can interact. Other user-friendly features include an optional tutorial and an in-game journal that records Arok’s progress and offers hints for what else to try.
Voice acting is again present, although you can’t tap to skip through Arok’s lines. The portion I played didn’t include any interaction with other characters, so I’m not sure about lip sync or how the dialogue system works. The game auto-saves upon exit and you can also save manually.
I liked this game on PC (read the review to see why) and enjoyed what I played of the iOS version as well. If the premise intrigues you and you don’t mind squinting at a few of the darker screens, I recommend giving it a try.Continued on the next page...