Eye on iOS: Volume 6
Ports, ports, and more ports! That’s mainly what we have for you in today’s installment of Eye on iOS, as several notable PC and console adventures have recently made their way on to the App Store. Plus: an entry-level adventure game for kids, and a Dragon’s Lair-style iOS exclusive. Read on!
Telltale Episodes: Tales of Monkey Island, Sam & Max Beyond Time and Space, and The Walking Dead
Two of Telltale’s classic series are now on the App Store, along with the first episode of their most recent endeavor. Below are my impressions after checking out the first episode of each series.
Before you take the plunge, be aware that these games won’t work with older hardware (at least, not well). The App Store specifies that Tales of Monkey Island and Sam & Max are recommended for 3rd generation or newer iPhones and iPod touches running iOS 4.2 or later. (iPad isn’t mentioned, which presumably means even the ancient first-gen model is fine.) The Walking Dead, Telltale claims, will not work on anything but a 4th gen iPhone / iPod touch, or an iPad 2 or 3. Throwing caution to the wind, I checked out all of these series on my 3rd gen iPod touch without any significant problems, although I did experience some lag and sluggishness in all three. This is definitely a caveat emptor situation: if you decide to ignore the hardware recommendations, you might still be able to play, but don’t be miffed if you encounter choppy performance. And remember that Apple rarely issues refunds!
Also: these games are not listed by their individual episode names in the App Store, so don’t bother trying to look up Launch of the Screaming Narwhal or Ice Station Santa. Instead, search for the series name or simply for “Telltale,” which will pull up all of the studio’s iOS games.
Tales of Monkey Island
Winner of our 2009 Aggie award for Best Adventure, Tales of Monkey Island sent loveable swashbuckler Guybrush Threepwood on a quest to quench a pirate-infecting pox while again keeping his nemesis, the once-ghost pirate LeChuck, away from his wife Elaine. (See our review of the first episode for more details.) The full five-episode series is out for iOS, with each episode available separately on the App Store. Normally each episode costs $4.99, but as of this writing Episode 1 is free, with the rest discounted to $2.99 each.
The Tales episodes can be played in English or German (both voices and subtitles) and you can toggle between the two languages from the main menu, without having to quit the app or mess around with your device’s language settings. In Episode 1’s English version, diehard Monkey Island fans will be happy to hear Earl Boen as the voice of LeChuck, replacing the original actor from the game’s initial PC launch.
On PC, Tales of Monkey Island departed from Telltale’s familiar point-and-click interface to use a “click and drag” method for moving Guybrush around. This translates well to iOS: you simply drag your finger to make him walk. While your finger is down, a joystick-like icon appears to help you visualize which direction he’s moving. This isn’t really necessary, but I didn’t mind it. If you’re not a fan of the direct control movement, you’ll be glad to know that tapping on a hotspot sends Guybrush over to it, which feels more like point-and-click. Since there are usually at least a few hotspots per screen, it’s possible to play much of the game this way, only resorting to the direct control dragging on occasion.
A ship’s wheel in the bottom right corner of the screen can be turned to scroll through highlighted hotspots that are accessible in Guybrush’s current position. I didn’t find this particularly useful, but I did appreciate the ability to view all nearby hotspots by pressing two fingers onto the screen. A few game options can be tweaked in the main menu, such as adjusting the frequency with which nearby NPCs blurt out hints. You can supposedly turn the pop-up text associated with hotspots on or off, but this seems not to have an effect; hotspots are marked with an X icon and a text description appears regardless of this setting.
The colorful 3D graphics looked pretty good on my aging iPod touch, and thanks to a recent update that optimized the graphics for retina displays, they should be sharp and crisp for those playing on newer devices. Subtitles are also clear, though perhaps a tad too small. Selecting dialogue choices from a list tends to be problematic in iOS ports of PC games, but Telltale has done a good job of optimizing this by clearly displaying a single dialogue choice at the bottom of the screen, with up and down arrows to scroll through the other options. This makes it easy to pick the line you intended, even on a small screen. Tapping a treasure chest icon brings up the full-screen inventory, which has also been rejiggered for easy touch navigation.
This mobile version of Tales of Monkey Island offers nothing new for people who have played the series before, but thanks to its relatively painless transition to the touch platform, it’s recommended for iOS gamers who haven’t yet experienced Guybrush’s latest adventure. iPhone and iPod touch users can get started with the series by downloading Episode 1. To find the other episodes, use the buttons provided within the app or search for “Monkey Island Tales” at the App Store. The Tales episodes are not Universal Apps, however a separate HD version is available for iPad users.
Sam & Max Beyond Time and Space
Also known by PC gamers as Sam & Max: Season Two, this series of Freelance Police exploits nabbed our Best Adventure Aggie award in 2008. A sprawling episodic game that takes the canine shamus and his rabbity-thing sidekick around the globe, into space, back to the 1960s, and finally into the depths of hell, Beyond Time and Space has five episodes that tie together in the end but also stand up fairly well as standalone adventures. (See our 4.5-star review of the first episode for more info.) Like Tales of Monkey Island, the normal $4.99 price for each episode is currently discounted to $2.99, with Episode 1 available for free. No season bundle has been released.
The Beyond Time and Space episodes are Universal Apps, meaning the games are optimized for iPad as well as iPhone and iPod touch. In general, the controls are the same as in Tales. The on-screen joystick appears as you drag to move Sam around, holding down two fingers reveals all hotspots, and you can turn a car tire icon to scroll through nearby hotspots. But the transition to the small screen hasn’t been as favorable to the Freelance Police as it was to Guybrush. Dialogue choices display in a list, just like in the PC original, and it’s easy to tap the wrong line by mistake. The subtitles are pretty small and certain letters and colors are hard to read. They’re legible, but be prepared to squint. The menu and inventory are also exactly as in the PC version, making them a bit too small for comfort here. None of this is horrendous, but it’s disappointing compared to the more proficiently ported Monkey Island adventure.
To somewhat make up for this, the Sam & Max episodes come with a couple of iOS exclusives: a Whack-da-Ratz arcade game and a soundboard that lets you string together voice clips from the episode. You can select these from icons in Sam & Max’s office on the game’s initial launch screen. Whack-da-Ratz is like Whack-a-Mole: as yellow and orange rat pictures pop up out of holes, you have to shoot the orange ones and avoid shooting the yellow ones. (If you played Season One, you may remember this minigame from The Mole, The Mob, and The Meatball.) High scores display on a global Freelance Police Hall of Fame leaderboard. It’s fun to play for a round or two, but this one-note minigame won’t offer enough challenge to keep most people coming back.
The soundboard is a clever addition to a game with so much comedic dialogue. About 50 lines each from five different characters are listed, and you can select any five lines to play in sequence to come up with your own funny exchange. Unfortunately, the interface leaves much to be desired on the small screen. The available lines are listed in a handwriting font that’s very hard to read at its small size, and the “More” button that reveals new voice lines is dangerously close to the “Back” button that dumps you back to the menu screen. iPhone and iPod touch users can struggle through it, but the soundboard is probably best enjoyed by iPad users who don’t have to fight against the cramped interface.
Knowing that the interface issues will potentially mar an otherwise great game, it’s difficult to recommend this iOS port on small-screen devices. Unless an iPhone or iPod touch is truly your only way to enjoy this Sam & Max season, you might be better served to check out a different platform. (With its larger screen, the iPad probably skirts many of the issues I encountered, plus there are plenty of other options: PC, Mac, Xbox 360, PlayStation, and Wii.) There’s no lite version, but since the first episode is currently free, I strongly suggest seeing what you’re in for before committing to the rest of the series on iOS.
The Walking Dead
Only one episode of this psychological drama has been released on the App Store so far, but even on other platforms The Walking Dead is only up to Episode 2, so the mobile version isn’t too far behind. Inspired by the popular comics by Robert Kirkman, The Walking Dead sees convicted murderer Lee Everett, eight-year-old orphan Clementine, and a band of other survivors struggling to stay alive in the wake of a zombie apocalypse. Check out our 4.5-star review for a rundown of the story and somewhat unusual gameplay.
The Walking Dead’s format of making heavy moral decisions and living with the consequences has survived the transition to iOS, with a few user interface tweaks to tailor the experience to the touch screen. As in Telltale’s other iOS ports, walking is done by touching and dragging (this time without the questionably useful on-screen joystick cluttering up the screen). At certain points you can pan the camera to look around, also by dragging your finger—an icon appears on-screen to indicate when this is possible. In these instances, I found the camera movement laggy, sometimes not “kicking in” until I’d dragged for a few seconds and other times continuing to pan even when I’d lifted my finger. But due to my older-than-recommended device, that’s not entirely surprising.
Many actions are a simple matter of tapping the hotspot you wish to interact with. There’s no need for a hotspot finder, as the white dots that represent useable hotspots are always visible. In situations where more than one action is available, “verb icons” show up at the bottom of the screen so you can pick what you want to do with a hotspot. (For example: to make Lee interact with a broken car window, you tap the window, then select either an eye to look at it or a hand to climb out of it.) The Quick Time Events, which generally occur during fast-paced encounters with the undead, have been intuitively adapted to the touch interface: “button mashes” are replaced by rapid tapping, followed by a finger-swipe in the direction of an on-screen arrow. I prefer this presentation to the console version. Jabbing and swiping at a zombie is literally more “hands-on” than pushing buttons on a controller, ten feet away from the TV.
The graphics are less detailed than on PC or console, but due to the simplicity of the game’s graphic novel style, this isn’t a huge hardship. Since dialogue choices sometimes have a time limit, they’re understandably all displayed at the same time, but they’re large and clear enough that it’s simple to select the right one. Subtitles are on the small side, but they’re not too hard to read. The only element truly lacking in this handheld port is the option to turn off the alert messages that tip you off when a choice you’ve made impacts the storyline.
The first Walking Dead episode (a Universal App) is currently priced at $4.99, and you can preorder episodes 2-5 for $14.99 as an in-app purchase. This pricing is a bit hefty for the App Store, considering the episodes' two-hours-or-less playing time, but it’s right in line with The Walking Dead’s price on other platforms. So if your (newer generation) iDevice is your gaming platform of choice and you haven’t yet delved into this series, consider picking it up from the App Store.
Nintendo DS Ports—Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective and James Noir’s Hollywood Crimes
For almost a decade, the Nintendo DS has been the “go to” handheld platform for adventure gamers thanks to gems like Phoenix Wright, Hotel Dusk, and Professor Layton. As this dual-screened device begins to show its age, the App Store is quickly becoming a resource not only for new adventures and PC ports, but for DS ports as well. Already touch-enabled and optimized for small screens, these games would be no-brainers for iOS if not for the vast discrepancy between a DS cartridge’s premium pricetag and the App Store’s bargain bin mentality. Attempting to bridge this gap, two recent DS ports, Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective and James Noir’s Hollywood Crimes, use in-app purchases (iAPs) to offer the low barrier to entry iOS gamers are used to—with varied results.
Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective
Designed by Shu Takumi of Phoenix Wright fame, Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective follows an amnesiac ghost, Sissel, as he tries to recover his identity and figure out why somebody just killed him—a tall order that must be fulfilled before sunrise. As this newly-minted ghost soon discovers, he has a few tricks up his ethereal sleeve: he can possess nearby inanimate objects, travel through telephone lines, and most importantly, turn back the minutes before another person’s death to try to alter the fatal chain of events. (Our 4.5-star review provides more details.) With standout artwork and animation, imaginative Rube Goldberg-style puzzles, and an unexpectedly poignant storyline, Ghost Trick is one of the best adventure games to grace the Nintendo DS; it even snagged the Best Handheld Console/Adventure honor in last year’s Aggie Awards. The high praise carries over to this capable iOS port.
In Ghost Trick, much time is spent leaping from one object to another by drawing a line between them with your finger. This simple mechanic works just as well on iOS as it did on Nintendo's handheld. In the original, the top screen displayed a close-up view of the currently-possessed item and a brief description of what “trick” you could do with it (for example, “dial” for a phone or “open” for an umbrella). Manipulating objects is a big part of the gameplay and knowing what to expect when performing a trick is necessary to avoid trial and error, so not having that obvious visual cue in the iOS version is something of a letdown. But this feature isn’t totally lost: though it’s easy to miss, the trick description does show up in small print on the far right of the screen. The only other real difference between the two versions is that the dossier of information Sissel collects is more cramped, since it’s all contained on one screen rather than being spread out over two, but all of the information is retained. Plus the iOS port has Twitter functionality, and you can choose among five language options from within the app: English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish. (These are text-only, as the game has no voice acting.)
The free portion of Ghost Trick includes 2 of its 18 chapters, which are more than enough to introduce the gameplay and hook you with the story. If you like what you see, you can purchase up to 3 additional chapter bundles for $4.99 a piece, or the full game for $9.99. This may seem pricey compared to other App Store offerings, but considering the high production values and the approximately 12-hour playing length, in this case you absolutely get what you pay for.
James Noir’s Hollywood Crimes
Sadly the same can be said for James Noir’s Hollywood Crimes: you get what you pay for. Released last fall for Nintendo 3DS, this Layton-like puzzle game was fairly mundane to begin with (our review explains why) and its iOS port doesn’t do it any favors. With three chapters available for $0.99 individually or $1.99 in a bundle, it’s pretty cheap, but even so you don’t get much for your money.
You play a character who ends up on a puzzle game show just before a murder takes place behind the scenes. Your dual objective: solve as many puzzles as you can, while also figuring out whodunit in a mystery that “puts you back in the best of the 1960s.” At first glance, the iOS version of James Noir seems to be the same game as on 3DS with scaled-back production values. The FMV sequences and voice acting have been replaced with still shots and on-screen text (some of which scrolls by almost too quickly to read). But the game does start out the same way, with your first-person character earning entry onto The Incredible Puzzle Master Show. Two very simple puzzles are presented before you’re encouraged to cough up money to unlock the rest. One of these requires you to rotate an object to find a hidden image; the other’s a slider.
Without paying (which I didn’t), it’s tough to tell where James Noir goes from here. The demo is so short, with virtually no story teased within it, that I’m not sure if the murder mystery from the original Nintendo 3DS version is lurking within the locked iAPs or if it has been stripped out, leaving only the game show puzzle sequences. Either way, this is not a compelling trial sampler. And if you’re thinking that $1.99 doesn’t sound bad for three chapters, be warned that your purchase might not include a satisfying conclusion: the original 3DS game boasted five chapters with a complete story arc, and App Store reviews suggest that the three-chapter iOS version ends abruptly. If you’re thinking of giving James Noir a go, grab the free portion from the App Store and let this underwhelming demo speak for itself.
An atypical adventure game from indie developer Brawsome, MacGuffin’s Curse is the curious tale of Lucas MacGuffin, a magician who attempts to cover his overdue rent by swiping an enchanted amulet from a museum and ends up a werewolf. With his newfound ability to switch between human and lupine form when standing in pools of moonlight (and only able to perform certain actions in each form), MacGuffin must solve a number of block-pushing puzzles in order to dodge others who are after the amulet and ultimately break the werewolf curse. (See our PC review to learn more.) Released for iOS along with PC and Mac in April, this Universal App currently sells for $4.99 on the App Store.
Inspired by the early Zelda games, MacGuffin’s Curse employs a top-down view and MacGuffin moves along a grid, making his way around obstacles to find exits. Most puzzles involve coordinating his werewolf and human abilities to move crate-like objects from points A to B. This simple mechanic translates relatively well to iOS, but the touch screen imbues the game with a different sort of challenge than its desktop counterparts. On PC or Mac, MacGuffin’s sprite is easy to navigate with the arrow or WASD keys. In the iOS version, however, you move him by dragging your finger. Because he moves square-by-square along a grid, a simple swipe won’t do; you need to hold down your finger or he’ll only advance by one tile. Because of this, navigation sometimes takes more thought, especially when moving a heavy object which requires a two-finger drag. It’s a more tactile experience but also a less casual one, because figuring out how to move the character becomes part of the puzzle on top of figuring out the room’s logic.
In spite of its simple visual aesthetic, MacGuffin’s Curse has quite a few items to interact with per room, and these have obviously been shrunk down significantly for the small screen. I sometimes had a hard time knowing where to focus and overlooked elements that were much more obvious in the PC version, such as the sparkles associated with caches of gold and access to hidden passages. Certain animations, like the jig MacGuffin dances upon reaching a room’s exit, are harder to appreciate, as are the cutscenes, which are presented in a series of graphic novel-style panels that progress automatically to carry you through the action. On the iPod touch’s small screen, this movement has a claustrophobic feel that makes it difficult to follow the story points being presented. (Luckily, you can re-view these comic panels at your leisure by selecting them from an in-game menu.) I’m sure that playing on a larger iPad would make many of these issues moot, but my own experience on the iPod touch was that many visuals were just a tad too small. Thankfully this complaint does not carry over to the subtitle text, which shows up large and crisp at the bottom of the screen. And that’s important, since this dialogue-heavy game has no voice acting.
With its room-by-room crate puzzles doled out in bite-sized chunks, MacGuffin’s Curse makes good sense to play on a mobile device; on the smallest iOS platforms the game is simply a bit more taxing than the desktop versions. If you’re on the fence about which version to pick, check out the free lite version to give the iOS controls a test drive.
Adventure Time – Legends of Ooo: Big Hollow Princess
Adventure Time is a Cartoon Network TV show that chronicles the escapades of 14-year-old Finn and his best friend, a talking dog named Jake. The pair’s first iOS outing, Adventure Time – Legends of Ooo: Big Hollow Princess, started out as a free browser-based game playable on the Cartoon Network website, which Adventure Gamers covered last fall in a Following Freeware article. The iOS version is a Universal App that costs $0.99.
It’s entirely possible to enjoy a licensed game even if you’re unfamiliar with the source material (Sam & Max and The Walking Dead are good examples). But to appreciate the story in Legends of Ooo, you’re more or less required to have seen the cartoon. That makes perfect sense for a game embedded on the network’s website, but familiarity with the TV show is less likely for those browsing the App Store for adventure games (especially since the game description doesn’t even mention the tie-in). The basic storyline is easy enough to pick up: Finn and Jake must infiltrate the Ice King’s castle by building a Trojan horse-like princess. Once inside, they learn that some other princesses have been cursed by the king and set out to save them. But the world itself follows its own logic, and the game doesn’t offer much handholding for newbies. Odd characters pop in with no introduction, Jake makes use of shape-shifting abilities there’s no reason to believe a dog would have, and the entire premise (who the Ice King is, Finn and Jake’s relationship to him, why he’s imprisoning princesses, etc.) is never really explained. This makes Legends of Ooo’s story tough to enjoy unless you’re already a fan.
The entire adventure takes only about 20 minutes, and the gameplay is comprised of simple inventory puzzles and fetch quests—nothing that’ll have you scratching your head. For kids, that’s great. For adults, not so much. The interface is smooth and intuitive: tap where you want the characters to go, tap items to observe or take them, and drag items out of your inventory (a bar at the bottom of the screen) onto hotspots to use them. Hints are available: you start with four and can collect more as the game goes on. Dialogue is clearly subtitled, but only Jake, Finn, and the Ice King are voiced, with other characters’ lines appearing as text. It’s a strange choice that proves awkward when Jake and Finn carry on one-sided conversations with NPCs, especially since “voiceover performed by your favorite characters” is touted as a feature on the App Store. (The free browser version has no voices.) Overall, performance is good and the app is stable. I consistently received a cryptic error message at start-up, related to not being signed in to GameCenter, but beyond being an annoyance this didn’t seem to impact the game at all.
For kids, especially those familiar with the Adventure Time TV show, Legends of Ooo is a fine little adventure that provides a short but solid introduction to the point-and-click style we know and love. But for adults, unless you’re a mega-fan of the cartoon yourself, there are better ways to spend your dollar.
by Evan Dickens
React Entertainment’s interactive cartoon game The Act has made its way to iOS platforms after two years of development. The game tells the story of Edgar, a well-meaning hospital window washer and his misadventures pursuing the woman of his dreams, while saving his brother/partner from a very unpleasant elective surgery. Utilizing very appealing visuals in the classic style of 1960s cartoons, the story takes place over a series of eight interactive sequences bookended by various cutscenes, and at first glance will surely bring back thoughts of the classic interactive cartoon coin-ops such as Dragon’s Lair, complete with a soundtrack full of whimsy to complement the cartoon goofiness.
You should not be under the impression that The Act is a relaxed, branching-path non-linear adventure. Quite the opposite; each of the interactive sequences is intensively reflex-driven, controlled by slow and precise left/right sliding. As an example, the first such sequence requires you to, in real-time, control Edgar’s shyness (slide left) against his audacity (slide right) as he attempts to introduce himself to the beautiful Sylvia. You must instantly and carefully react to her mood changes—which are entirely visual, as there is no written or spoken dialogue at any point in the game—by moving in (not too fast), and then withdrawing (not too fast), etc. Impressively, Edgar's acts are not binary; there is a wide range to his reactions based on your sliding speed. Eventually, you will either “win” or fail and retry each sequence; there is only one path through The Act.
The game looks beautiful, with outstanding character facial detail (often a key to discerning how you should be sliding) and seamless animation within sequences. However, load times coming into and out of the interactive sequences and mid-cutscene can be very disruptive. You will likely need some patience as well, as even once you understand the mechanics of each sequence, your sliding finger must move with absolute precision or you will find yourself replaying the sequences many times (continues are unlimited though). Fortunately, as you figure out what you're supposed to be doing, you'll likely find yourself delighted by the visual humor and the genial nature of the entire package. With patience and proper expectations, this $0.99 game is a worthwhile 30-minute diversion.