Eye on iOS: Volume 5
You might not know it by looking at the App Store’s “adventure” category, but Apple’s iOS marketplace continues to be a popular landing point for adventure ports and new releases. Developers are also getting creative with pricing, with many games now boasting in-app purchase (iAP) pricing models. In this Eye on iOS, we take a look at several ports of fairly recent adventure games, along with a couple iOS exclusives.
Law & Order: Legacies
With Law & Order: Legacies, developer Telltale Games broke with their usual release pattern by putting episodes out on iOS first, with PC and Mac versions following shortly after. Adventure Gamers will have full coverage of the PC games coming soon, but for now here are my impressions based on the first episode, entitled “Revenge.”
Legacies follows the Law & Order TV format faithfully by starting with a murder investigation where you control the police, followed by a courtroom sequence where you play as a lawyer. Before its 2010 cancellation, the show had a two decade run with a revolving-door cast, and rather than sticking to any one particular time period, Telltale has chosen several fan favorites as characters in this series. In “Revenge,” detectives Rey Curtis and Olivia Benson (crossing over from Law & Order: SVU) investigate the “ripped from the headlines” case of a maid at an upscale hotel who was murdered after a sexual assault. Once their work is done, it’s up to attorneys Abbie Carmichael and Mike Cutter to bring the suspect to justice. The game’s voices are not provided by the original actors and some of the likenesses fall short—Lt. Van Buren is the biggest casualty, on both counts—but the writing, storyline, theme song, and dun dun sound effect do a decent job of conveying an authentic L&O experience nonetheless.
With the exception of one crime scene investigation, all of the gameplay in the first episode is dialogue-based. You question witnesses and suspects by selecting topics from dialogue trees, and try to catch them in contradictions like in a Phoenix Wright game. In the courtroom scenes, you’re taught some basic objections such as “speculation” and “hearsay,” and must use these appropriately to sway the jury’s opinion of a witness’s testimony. The trial gameplay is somewhat more realistic than in Phoenix Wright, but it’s still streamlined to the point that it’s probably laughable to real lawyers. (Then again, this may also be true of a Law & Order TV episode!) Even so, it’s an enjoyable if simplistic mechanic that’s unique to this game and true to the source material. In general, the interface that accompanies the various dialogue puzzles works well on the touch screen, making these portions of the game perfectly iOS-friendly.
I found the one investigation sequence less so. It’s set at the murder scene, and you need to find four items that Detective Benson has helpfully, if somewhat unbelievably, listed as items that are typically present at a crime scene. You’re not combing the scene for forensic clues, like in a CSI game, but instead looking for personal items like the victim’s cell phone, day planner, and purse. The presentation is reminiscent of Telltale’s CSI games, however, with a first-person view and a horizontally fixed camera that glides back and forth when you touch arrows on the sides of the screen to direct it, occasionally springing into a close-up. Identifying objects of interest is supposed to be a simple matter of drawing a circle around the item with your finger, but many of my attempts weren’t recognized as circles. Moving the camera was somewhat finicky on my device (a 3rd generation 32GB iPod touch), and if the camera wasn’t positioned precisely, even a proper circle didn’t succeed in bagging the evidence. The game also doesn’t give any feedback if you’ve circled an incorrect item or provide hints if you can’t find what you’re looking for, which could potentially get you stuck very early in the game.
This early crime scene is the only potential pitfall, though, because the rest of the episode is very much on rails. Three “strikes” (failed attempts to point out a contradiction) during an interview cause the scene to restart from the beginning, but otherwise the responses from both detectives and witnesses are the same regardless of your input—it’s more like you’re shouting at the TV while an episode unfolds than driving the action yourself. As a Law & Order diehard who looks to iOS for casual gaming experiences, this works for me, but others (non-L&O fans in particular) may find it too casual.
No demo is available, so a glimpse of Law & Order: Legacies is going to cost you $2.99 for the first episode for either the iPad or iPhone/iPod Touch, with a playtime of about an hour. If this one hooks you, additional episodes are available as in-app purchases for $2.99 each, or you can grab the “multi-pack” to get episodes 2 through 7 for $12.99 altogether. So far the first four episodes are available, with Telltale touting monthly releases for the remaining three.
One of the first adventure games to release on the Nintendo DS, Touch Detective is now one of a growing number of adventures to make the jump to iOS. Touch Detective is a cartoon game that stars Mackenzie, a child sleuth whose very strange group of friends and neighbors have even stranger mysteries they need solved. Her sidekick is a mushroom, her legal guardian sleeps in a coffin, and the opening case involves figuring out who’s breaking into and stealing the dreams of her friend Penelope, an odd girl with a particular fondness for bananas. It’s an unapologetically bizarre world conjured up by Japanese developer Beeworks, and if you can get over the often-befuddling humor, it’s a charming game that feels right at home on the iPhone/iPod touch.
Of course, it helps that Touch Detective was originally developed for a touch platform. You navigate this third-person game by tapping where Mackenzie should walk and tapping the items you want her to interact with; all in all, this works quite well. The layout has been altered somewhat from its original dual-screen format, but the interface is easy to navigate and nothing substantial is lost with the omission of an upper screen. If anything, the graphics in the iOS version are crisper, with larger sprites whose facial expressions and animations are easier to read. Gameplay involves dialogue and inventory-based puzzles, plus a “touch list” of fifty unique items that Mackenzie can find around town, providing a small amount of replay value for those who like to be thorough. There’s no voice acting and the music annoyed me at times, but these are small gripes for a game that plays very well on iOS.
Although Touch Detective is free to download from the App Store, it has a rather complex pricing scheme if you want to play the whole game. The first case and half of the second case are playable in the free app. Once you’ve completed them, you can pay $3.99 to download the remainder of chapter 2 and the first half of chapter 3, followed by another $3.99 to finish out chapter 3 and embark on chapter 4, and finally $3.99 more to complete chapter 4 and access “Funghi Breaks Out,” a brand new escape-the-room scenario starring Mackenzie’s mushroom pal. (As a point of reference, each standalone case took me between 1 and 3 hours my first time through.) Or you can pay $8.99 for all of the content—much less than the original retail price on DS, but pretty steep by App Store standards. Luckily, the free portion serves as a very generous demo, giving players access to more than enough content to make an informed purchase decision.
Kaptain Brawe: A Brawe New World
Kaptain Brawe: A Brawe New World, from Croatian developer Cateia Games, first released for PC in 2010. This humorous third-person adventure game follows the spelling-challenged space police officer Kaptain Brawe as he explores strange, new worlds, seeks out new life and civilizations, and boldly goes—eh, you know the rest. Check out Adventure Gamers’ review of the original for more details on the story and gameplay.
Now available on iOS, this is a solid port that strongly reminds me of playing Monkey Island 2 on my iPod touch. Like the PC version, the game starts by giving you a choice between casual and hardcore adventure modes. The colorful cartoon art looks great on a small screen, and for the most part the touch interface is well implemented—tap an area of the screen to move or an object to interact with it. If you’re playing the hardcore mode, tapping an object brings up look, use, or talk icons (depending on what it is), and you have to choose one to proceed. These icons weren’t always responsive for me, sometimes resulting in repeated attempts, but this was a small issue as it usually worked fine on the second try. (If you’re playing in casual mode, tapping the object causes Brawe to take the appropriate action without further player input, so this issue is avoided.)
There is also a problem of hotspots being very close together, which can result in selecting the wrong thing or, even more annoyingly, accidentally exiting a room when you meant to select an item near the exit. Luckily there is a hotspot finder that clearly identifies all of the available hotspots, so you can refer to this if you’re having trouble nailing down an item. You can also hold and drag your finger across the room and interactive objects will be identified by a label at the top of the screen when your finger moves over them, just like sweeping across the computer screen with a cursor. You can pinch the screen to zoom in, which is helpful for seeing detail in crowded areas, but the screen doesn’t then automatically zoom out or recenter itself as Brawe moves around, so it’s really only useful to zoom in briefly, look what you’re trying to see, then zoom out again and resume playing. Another iOS-specific feature is that you can press three fingers on the screen to make Brawe walk faster.
Kaptain Brawe’s original release didn’t include voice acting, and while that’s true of the iOS version as well, the lack of voices is less disappointing on the handheld platform. Though they use a fancy font that could have spelled trouble on the small screen, I found the subtitles easy enough to read, especially thanks to the different colors representing different speaking characters.
Kaptain Brawe is recommended for fans of old-school comedy adventures like Space Quest and Monkey Island, and this handheld version is a fine alternative for those who missed it on PC. Two versions of Kaptain Brawe are up on the App Store: a $4.99 full version, and a free version that lets you play the opening segment on Brawe’s spaceship before prompting you to buy the rest via in-app purchase. For a pure adventure game with high production values, this seems like a fair price. For iPad users, there’s also an HD iPad version for $6.99, or free with iAP.
The Spell Breaker Quest
by Stuart Young
Both cheap and cheerful, The Spell Breaker Quest: A Prince Ivan Adventure has a certain innocuous charm, but unfortunately it falls foul to glitchiness and a very thin game world. Playing as the titular Prince Ivan, you embark on a meandering quest to break a spell and save your three sisters from a curse, though you’ll only stumble on the main objective after some random puzzle-solving in Ivan’s castle and befriending a talking raven in a most unfriendly way. Of course, it’s never plain sailing in such quests, and Ivan will encounter a cast of storybook characters—a dragon wizard, obstreperous old hags, and many more.
It’s hard to feel badly disposed towards the game’s fairy tale setting, cartoony backgrounds, pleasant-but-cheesy synthesized music or the vaguely animé character designs, though player actions are only ever represented with a couple of frames of animation. At the same time, it’s a game that’s difficult to get excited about. While the puzzles are plentiful and normally stay within the bounds of ‘adventure game logic,’ there’s not much to rave about in the fairly standard gameplay consisting mainly of basic inventory puzzles and the occasional requirement to work out an order of actions or combination from clues.
The Spell Breaker Quest does have some interesting features, such as a spell book. By gathering certain ingredients you can mint coins and brew potions that have magical effects. There is also a comprehensive hint system, which includes a full walkthrough if you’re completely stuck. Unfortunately, the walkthrough directions can still be vague, and won’t be much help if you’re faced with a puzzle where only one of several valid solutions is accepted, or you have the wrong inventory items thanks to a glitch. The fact that only one auto-saving slot is provided compounds the occasional technical failing. As well as quit-and-restart bugs, the game is very sluggish in responding to prompts, in a way that makes even the most basic interaction with the adventure more of a chore than it should be. A simple tap-to-interact interface shouldn’t be this problematic, but at least the layout is simple. Clicking Ivan’s portrait brings up your extensive inventory, while commonly-used items like the hint raven are dealt with separately, always shown in a bar at the bottom of the screen.
Overall, The Spell-Breaker Quest is a lengthy title with so-so presentation and ropey technical aspects. While the forgiving player might be willing to plough through its busywork puzzles to progress in a game with a more interesting story, Ivan’s tale is unlikely to appeal to all but the very young, for whom the gameplay is likely to prove too complicated. There is surely some adventuring enjoyment to be found here, but I wasn’t engrossed enough to recommend it, though it is one of the rare original adventures found on iOS. There’s no demo to try, unfortunately, but at $1.99 for a Universal App, at least it’s affordably priced if you’re looking for something light to play on the go.
Last King of Africa
Last King of Africa is a “reimagining” of White Birds’ 2006 PC game, Paradise. It had a limited Nintendo DS release in 2009 and is now appearing episodically on iOS, with two episodes available and one more to come. You can learn a bit about the premise in Adventure Gamers’ Paradise review, but don’t let the pedigree fool you—except for the graphics, Last King of Africa is a complete departure from the Benoit Sokal adventures PC gamers are used to. The characters, settings, and basic storyline have been shared, but the reimagined gameplay is strictly casual.
The story involves Ann Smith, a woman whose plane has just crashed in the (fictional) African country of Maurania. To get home to Switzerland, she must travel across the politically volatile country, in the company of a massive black leopard, to seek the king’s permission to cross Maurania’s border. The setting may be exotic, but the gameplay accompanying this journey is extremely derivative, with abundant sliders and simple puzzles you’ll feel like you’ve solved a hundred times before. The game may still be enjoyable if you like this sort of thing, but set your expectations accordingly. There is also a strong “hidden object” influence, as Ann is repeatedly tasked with finding objects that have been scattered across the landscape, such as the fragments of a broken medallion, or a specific number of branches so she can start a fire. Tiny green emeralds are also hidden in every scene, and collecting these unlocks bonus content. (In the first episode, the unlockables were simply variations on slider and tile puzzles I’d encountered earlier in the game—not my idea of a bonus, but your mileage may vary.)
The game does have some scaled-down inventory and mechanical puzzles, but these are extremely simplified and solving them is usually a matter of tapping the one or two interactive hotspots on a screen. A lighter Ann picks up early on is used repeatedly to light lamps and start fires; a broken machine is made to work by pressing the one visible button. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this approach, especially on a handheld device popular among casual gamers, but it’s a far cry from the traditional adventuring of games like Syberia or even Paradise, and fans of Sokal’s work will surely notice the difference.
Last King of Africa does have Sokal’s trademark visuals—detailed, skillfully rendered backgrounds with a neutral color palette appropriate for the dusty town and lush greenery in the dense jungle. Unlike the original Paradise, it’s played in first-person view, with static renderings of Ann and other characters appearing at the edges of the screen during dialogue exchanges. Exits and areas where you can tap for a close-up view are clearly marked with icons that can’t be turned off. Aside from these, each screen has a few interactive hotspots, with icons that display only when you tap or drag your finger over the correct spot. This is standard behavior in an iOS game, but in Last King of Africa I had a very hard time identifying hotspots, for a couple of reasons: first, nothing prominently stands out from the muted backgrounds as being worth investigating, and second, the icon that displayed when I did stumble over a hotspot was usually completely hidden under my finger, so I kept missing it. Several times I found myself temporarily stuck because I couldn’t figure out anything to do on a screen. Unfortunately, no hotspot finder or other hint system is available to help with this.
In general, Last King of Africa’s production values are good. The episodes open with high-quality cinematic cutscenes, and other clips are sprinkled throughout the experience. The graphics are gorgeous, the character models are detailed, and the music suits the settings. Dialogue and Ann’s interior monologue are presented with only subtitles, no voices, and the speed with which these display can helpfully be sped up by pressing a finger on the screen. Oddly, the first episode’s opening and closing cinematics have voices only, without any way to turn on subtitles. I only sampled a bit of the second episode, so I can’t say if this issue persists (the handful of cinematics I did see had no dialogue at all).
Though no demo is available, Episode 1 and Episode 2 are in the App Store for $2.99 each for the iPhone and iPod Touch—an acceptable price for a few hours of casual gameplay, provided you know what you’re getting into.
Ellie – Help Me Out… Please
Ellie – Help Me Out… Please is an incredibly creepy little game, exclusive to the iPhone and iPod touch. An escape-the-room scenario from Japanese developer Ateam, it’s set just after an earthquake that has sent you, an anonymous first-person protagonist, into an abandoned building looking for help. You find a television monitor featuring a live feed of a girl with short black hair and a black dress trapped in a cell-like room elsewhere in the building. Judging from the torture equipment attached to the walls, the fate that awaits her is grim. She explains that her name is Ellie Foster and the man who kidnapped her was knocked out during the earthquake (he’s under the camera, out of view). Now she needs your help to escape before he wakes up.
The room has only two views, which you can switch between by tapping a camera icon, and a handful of hotspots you can direct Ellie to interact with in search of an escape route. The entire game is played with you looking in on Ellie’s room via the monitor, but it controls as if you were playing as Ellie herself. When you tap an object, Ellie walks over to it and tells you what she sees. You can open her inventory and select an item she’s carrying to make it the active cursor, then tap her to glean further details about the item, or another hotspot to make her use the item there. For the most part, she’s an obedient puppet, not a problem-solver—she stands by and waits for your instructions. The entire scenario is quite short (you can finish it in less than ten minutes if you know what to do), but the puzzles that lead to Ellie’s escape are incredibly challenging, with several relying on code-breaking logic to interpret number patterns and ciphers around the room.
The game’s dreary setting and suspenseful music help set the stage for this disconcerting tableau, as do Ellie’s voice lines, which are spoken in Japanese alongside English subtitles. In the options menu you can turn off her voice, but for me this contributed to the surreality of it all. It’s possible to get a “bad” ending if you do things in the wrong order and you probably won’t realize in time that you’re headed in that direction, so a replay or two may be needed. Unfortunately, because the game autosaves throughout, there’s no way to backtrack; if you get the bad ending you need to replay from the beginning.
In a unique twist on App Store pricing, the game itself is free, with in-game hints available for $0.99 each. When I got stuck, I looked online for a walkthrough rather than spending my money, but I could see shelling out for one or two as a matter of convenience or to support the developer. A second room can also be unlocked for $0.99.