From the mid 1980s to the late 1990s, point-and-click adventure games, or just adventure games in most vernaculars, were mainstays on Macs and PCs. Publishers like Sierra On-Line and LucasArts made their bones on artistically sophisticated, often voice-acted games that used a task bar UI to investigate and interact with a fantasy world.
Examples included Gabriel Knight, Space Quest, and Leisure Suit Larry, all from Sierra, and Sam and Max Hit the Road and Full Throttle from LucasArts. After peaking with the blockbuster King Quest’s V: Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder (which sold a then-astonishing 500,000 copies), the genre entered a gentle decline perhaps attributable to its slower pace and low action quotient. Sierra’s main development office closed in 1999.
Since reaching that nadir, adventure games have made a befittingly (for the genre) low-key and incremental comeback. Kickstarter has helped. French developer Quantic Dream unleashed progressively bigger hits like Farenheit (Indigo Prophecy) and Heavy Rain, while the Nintendo (3)DS became a sanctuary for visual novels like Cing’s Hotel Dusk and its scarce, brilliant sequel, Last Window. More specifically, the (3)DS’s stylus made the old school UI logic of point-and-click feasible on a mobile device, albeit a dedicated gaming machine. So how have they fared on consumer smartphones and tablets (some of them with their own styli, of course)?
Increasingly well, it appears. I’ll focus on three Android games that have elevated and updated the genre: Yesterday by BulkyPix, Broken Sword: The Smoking Mirror (BSII from hereon; its predecessor is subtitled Shadows of the Templars) by Revolution Software, and The Silent Age by House on Fire. Yesterday is a mobile-first game of atypically high quality, while BSII is a remastered version of a 1997 game originally released for Windows (on 2 CD-ROMs: a sign of the times, during an era of growing ambition on the cusp of mainstream DVD usage. The second Gabriel Knight installment came on 6 CDs) and the original PlayStation. The Silent Age is new episodic adventure game. Despite the differences in their origins, they all achieve a unique high point on Android (they’re available on iOS, too) perhaps do the larger screen real estate, sharp displays, and the availability of a dedicated stylus for the popular Galaxy Note series, too.
BSII successfully migrates its classic desktop UI onto mobile. With your Galaxy S4 or Nexus 4 in landscape mode, you have easy access to your frequently-used inventory and journal in the lower corners, and you can get to settings or (gasp!) hints in the less-easily used upper corners. It works because it was simple and intuitive in the first place and didn’t need any heavy modification.
The widescreen aspect is perfect: the game has never looked better, with real pop in its comic book art and characters portraits. In terms of story, you control American tourist George Stobbart as he investigates a mystery related to Mayan archaeology (however, the term “smoking mirror” is a reference to the Aztec god, Tezcatlipoca). Unlike the other installments in the Broken Sword series, BSII is mercifully free of Knights Templar story lines, which are almost required at the door in the realm of dark, self-serious games (Deus Ex and Assassin’s Creed 3 are but two of many possible examples here).
Yesterday is an original mobile game. It shares with BSII an affinity for comics: its cut-scenes have comic frames and labels. Despite its novelty, its interface is old school, with an item tray at the top and interface options at the bottom.
Its learning curve is steeper than BSII, likely because of its more complicated UI. But its animations are smooth, and you can see its latter-day innovations in terms of the different options and sub-menus it offers for interacting with small objects and touch-points, which can sometimes be a problem with the vintage BSII.
The Silent Age is an adventure game set predominantly in the 1970s. It has a minimalist interface that has no sign of the legacy point and click UIs of Yesterday and especially BSII. Its muted graphics are a great fit for its straightforward (though hardly unchallenging) gameplay, and to top it all off, it’s free (although the developer allows for donations, too).
Yesterday has been featured on Google Play and BSII is an Editor’s Choice there. Both are worth your time for a few dollars. The Silent Age is worth a try, too.
Game: Pudding Monsters HD
Platforms: iOS, Android
ZeptoLab has become one of the most recognizable names in mobile app development, thanks to the ubiquitous Cut the Rope, which has become a gaming staple alongside the Angry Birds franchise, Words with Friends, and Draw Something. Now they’re back with another blockbluster, the oxymoronic Pudding Monsters HD (because, after all, what kind of pudding isn’t cute and non-monstrous?). Whereas Cut the Rope focused on slicing cords, ropes, and strings to get a piece of candy into a reptile’s mouth, Pudding Monsters HD is about googly-eyed pieces of red, blue, purple and green pudding who are trying to unite with each other and gobble up stars.
Pudding Monsters HD has simple controls – simply slide the puddings around to try and and smash them into each other. A level is considered complete when all the puddings are united into one giant, monstrous pudding. The star squares indicated in the shot above are likely familiar to anyone who has played Cut the Rope – your performance in each level is measured by how many stars you attain. An interesting wrinkle to Pudding Monsters HD’s gameplay, however, is how it only considers you have to “mastered” a level when you have completed it by getting 0, 1, 2, and 3 stars in separate playthrus. For me, this meant playing it thru again and getting 0 or 1 stars on many levels, since I had tried hard to get at least two stars on each level the first time thru.
In the style of Angry Birds (but perhaps with better variety and flexibility in terms of the gameplay options it opens up), Pudding Monsters HD gradually grants you access to new puddings with new powers, and to machines/props that can be manipulated in each level.
Red pudding – this is the standard pudding. It has no powers.
Green pudding – these puddings leave behind a slimy trail when slid. Other puddings can be slid onto the trail and have their momentum halted by the slime, meaning that they’ll stick in the location.
Purple puddings – these come in groups. Moving any one of them in a given direction moves all the others in the same direction.
Blue puddings – these puddings are asleep and have to be “woken up” by having puddings of other colors smashed into them.
In addition to the houses, TVs, and coffee cups which create natural barriers to the puddings’ progress, there are also springs which bounce a pudding’s progress back, ice blocks which block progress one time only, and cloning machines which replicate any pudding which passes thru them. The springs and blocks are particularly useful – you must restart any level in which any of your puddings slides off the table, since that sliding makes the creation of the merged pudding monster impossible.
As fun as Pudding Monsters HD is, it’s also perhaps too short and easy. This is perhaps excusable since it’s a new game. ZeptoLab has also promised new levels soon. I’m hoping that they can inflect Pudding Monsters HD with some of the difficulty found in the later stages of Cut the Rope, when trying to even complete a level becomes maddening (but in a good/can’t-wait-to-try-it-again later way).
The game is $0.99 USD. Like Cut the Rope, it offers the option of paid upgrades in the form of purchasable “mushrooms” or items that let you create a gigantic pudding monster with no effort, allowing you to capture all the star blocks on the board.
While it can be completed in just an hour or two, this seems like a game with a solid future and plenty of room for expansion and diversification.
-The ScreenGrab Team