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.Continued on the next page...