It's been a long time since our last iOS round-up, but we haven't forgotten about the point-and-tap crowd. Rather, with so many ports and exclusive new adventure-like releases every month, it's simply hard to keep up with them all! But at long last we've sifted through the App Store quagmire and pulled out a new batch of mobile games for your consideration.
If you haven’t played Botanicula and you have an iPad, this newly released port of the charmingly surreal nature adventure is a strong investment. As with most Amanita Design ports, Botanicula seems as if it was made for touch devices, its minimalistic point-and-click mechanics transitioning seamlessly to touching, tapping and dragging with a finger. Furthermore, if you own a retina display device, Botanicula’s vibrant art style, spectacular environments, and fluid animations shine through crystal clear and flawlessly at a beautiful framerate, making great use of all of your iPad’s display. The game also sounds as good as it looks, with quality reproductions of the lifelike natural sounds and engaging musical score, though of course you’ll need decent headphones to get the best audio impact.
For the most part the game is entirely unchanged, but then why mess with such a good thing? The interactivity feels a bit more involved in certain places, but this is likely just the sensation of actually using your finger instead of relying on a detached cursor on a screen. Either way, this is definitely a must-play for those who have yet to experience Botanicula. In fact, with its more tangible interactive experience, it is arguably the definitive version of this wonderful game across any platform. Even if you’ve already played Botanicula, this iPad exclusive port doesn’t offer any new content, but it is still a thoroughly rewarding mobile adventure if you’re looking to replay a memorable classic.
Doggins is a delightful lite adventure about a conflict between a dog and a monomaniacal squirrel. It contains colorful stylized graphics, lively music, and a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor that is appropriate for all ages. It’s also quite short, clocking in at only about an hour’s worth of gameplay.
Having just settled down for a good night’s sleep, the canine Doggins awakens to find his house morphed into a rocket ship that has blasted off from Earth and landed on the Moon. A squirrel with a monocle – Fitzwilliam Sciuridae – then invites him to a celebration to be held at the “diabolical party tree.” The only problem: the invitation specifically excludes any guests who resemble Doggins. Naturally, this provokes intense curiosity about the party, and our hero sets out to gate crash if he can, with no thought for the possibility that this contradictory summons might be part of a trap.
The Moon is unexpectedly occupied by a small forest, a new American flag, and a tree elevator. Access to the party is blocked by a security guard in formal attire. You’ll soon realize that the dis-invitation was perfectly serious, and that you’ll need to find a way to slip Doggins past this guard and gain entrance to the party. Tapping to navigate and swiping to access and use inventory items, you must maneuver him through rooms in his rocket/house and across the Moon’s surface, searching for items to create a sufficiently convincing disguise.
The game environments are minimalist 2D with simple lines, solid shapes, and contrasting colors. The locations and characters are reminiscent of stencil art or paper cutouts, with blocks of sheer color and repeated shapes, such as the closet’s identical boxes and scarves. The house interior consists of white walls framing modernist furniture – for example, an angular sofa, a sleek record player, and a beige and brown bureau. Outside the house, the Moon’s surface is light grey, the sky is intense blue, and trees are made of green circles attached to skinny white poles. I admired these whimsical, uncluttered locales, which set the right tone for what was to follow.
Doggins himself is a charmingly animated, perky-looking, orange-gold pooch (no spots) with a tiny nose. He is poised and neat, and clearly considers himself master of his universe. Always alert, he takes everything in stride – even the downright astonishing developments that soon occur. Disappointment may cause his tail to briefly droop, but otherwise he remains imperturbable. Fitzwilliam Sciuridae is solid grey except for his large white teeth. His mouth is wide and his tail is about as fat as his head. His monocle completely covers his eye, giving him a slightly sinister appearance.
Although played from a third-person perspective, this game contains no dialog. The plot unfolds strictly through gameplay as Doggins sneaks into the party to uncover the secret goings-on. The backstory is glimpsed in a film reel presentation and also via a set of instructions in the illustrated Squirrel Guide. The Guide is a delicate send-up of official-speak manuals, emphasizing inspirational mottos that, upon close consideration, are nonsensical or even dangerous. Beware the inspirational motto!
As the quest unfolds, classical orchestral music plays in the background, ranging in type from sprightly, to meditative, to flamboyant. Sound effects include footsteps when Doggins walks and crickets chirping outside his window while he sleeps. Certain noises accentuate the game’s waggish tone – pages in the Guide emit a blooping noise, and a slurpy, sneezy sound occurs when Doggins noses an item.
Most puzzles are inventory-based, logical, and suited to the story. Some involve creative uses of the debris left by astronauts – for instance, toilet paper employed as a construction material (it makes perfect sense in context). Generally, inventory items are combined or used by swiping, and occasionally you’ll have to swipe in a specific pattern to get a device to work. Overall, puzzle difficulty is easy-to-medium until the final confrontation after about 45 minutes of gameplay, when Doggins and Fitzwilliam meet head-to-head (so to speak) in a tricky timed challenge that is potentially time-consuming if you don’t pay close attention to the clues provided.
Even with its protracted build-up, the ending seemed precipitous to me. It felt like the game was still in its early stages, and that I was just beginning to know Doggins and his adversaries. Then the lights went out in Doggins’ house and – except for a brief post-credit scene – it was lights out for the game too.
I hope this is an opening chapter in a series of Doggins adventures, as there is much to like about this game – especially the offbeat celestial setting, droll puzzle combinations, and appealing characters. Available exclusively for iPad, the game’s chief drawback is its extremely short play time. Dog lovers in particular will enjoy its jaunty protagonist, and the story and difficulty level make it perfect for playing with a young child as your gaming partner.Continued on the next page...