I've always loved adventure games and the 90s were a good time for people like me, with classics like Broken Sword, the Monkey Island series and Day of the Tentacle all flying the flag for the point n click genre. The obsession with 3D saw them fall out of favour, but with titles like City of Secrets on the iPhone, there are promising signs that the genre is making a comeback.
The story is suitably daft in the finest tradition of the best point and click adventures. It revolves around Moles (a mole) and Dog (erm, a Dog) who discover a vast underground complex beneath the place where they live. Needless to say, they go exploring and find all sorts of interesting puzzles that they need to solve before they can get out.
The graphics in this game are simply sublime - by far the best I have seen on an iPhone to date. They really capture the spirit of 2D adventures like Monkey Island and look stunning on the iPhone's small screen. Each location is like a painting, beautifully detailed and full of colour and texture. Almost certainly, the first thing you will do whenever you enter a new location is sit and admire the quality of the artwork.
These excellent static screens are broken up by cut-scenes of equally high quality. In keeping with the rest of the presentation, these are of cartoon-like quality and help to take the game's plot forward in a fun way. There's no doubt that a lot of effort has been put into the visual style of this and it makes it one of the best looking games on the iPhone.
Sure, some of the screens can be a little bit on the dark side, making them tricky to view in bright conditions or difficult to spot items of interest or use. However, they look so utterly lovely that you can forgive the odd little problem like this. In any case, the game partially gets around this through the Help icon, which will automatically highlight any items on the screen that you can interact with.
Sound is equally superb. Various tunes accompany each screen and match the fun nature of the game's atmosphere. The game is also littered with some excellent sound effects (such as Dog's whimpering). All the dialogue used throughout the game is spoken (as well as appearing as subtitles) and for the most part, the voice acting is very good with each character sounding suitably different and with a voice to match the character. Moles, for example, has a gruff gravelly voice that seems ideal for a creature that spends most of his time underground. True, the narrator's voice can become a bit monotonous at times, but this is mainly because this is at least partly because it's the voice you hear most.
This presentational loveliness does come at a price. The download for City of Secrets is a whopping 263 Megabytes so it will take quite a long time to download and install and hog quite a bit of your phone's available disk space.
It's the characters and the sense of humour that really make this game, though. If the look and feel is inspired by the Monkey Island games, then so is the humour. Daft, off-beat and at times completely surreal comments, absurd tasks, the stupid voice over dialogue and the conversations between characters make this a game to savour. I've not laughed out loud at a game so much since the glory days of LucasArts. Virtually every interaction with an item or character will bring up some gem of dialogue. This is one of those games where you make sure you click on every single item just to hear the surreal observations the game has to make. Having said that, the lengthy dialogue can be frustrating. Speeches and conversations can often be quite lengthy, meaning the points at which you can stop and save the game are sometimes few and far between as you have to wait for conversations to finish.
The characters are fantastic and their interaction with both the narrator and the player highly amusing. Dog, although limited to making little more than whimpers or grunts is full of character and highly endearing, whilst the sarcastic Moles is more verbose (sometimes a little too verbose!) and his withering comments will have you rolling around with laughter. Together, they make for an endearing pair.
In terms of the gameplay, it's pretty standard adventure game stuff. The game is split into single screen locations, with a number of puzzles to solve on each screen before you can move onto the next. Puzzles are usually based on discovering useful objects and combining with other objects or putting them to unusual uses to solve a tricky puzzle. Puzzles are usually logical in a twisted sort of way and can be resolved with a bit of thought, although that's not to say that they can't really test your powers of lateral thinking! After a while, you do find yourself getting into the mind-set of the creators, which helps somewhat, but this is still a challenging game.
What lets the game down a little is its linearity. You have to solve puzzles in a particular order and, until you do, you can't progress to the next. Unlike standard adventure games, you can't even wander to a new location to try a different puzzle because you are stuck on that screen. This makes it a frustrating experience when you find yourself stuck on a particular puzzle unable to make any progress and does mean that you are more tempted to use the Help system to get you through, which inevitably shortens the game's life span.
Controls have been very well implemented for the iPhone's touch screen. Touching an item will reveal whether you can interact with it, whilst touching one object, then selecting another allows you to see what happens if you combine them. The opening screens act as a tutorial, taking you through the main controls, although they are so straightforward and intuitive that anyone who has played an adventure game before will immediately feel at home.
There are obviously questions marks over the game's long-term appeal. As with all adventure games, once you have completed it, there is little real incentive to go back and do it all again. Having said that, City of Secrets offers hours and hours of fun gameplay. The low cost of £1.49 provides tremendous value for money, so that issues of replayability are perhaps not as crucial as they would be in a full priced release.
It's not Monkey Island or Broken Sword, but for those of us who love point and click adventures and own an iPhone, this is a great little alternative that offers plenty of laughs and hours of fun.
© Copyright SWSt 2012
Adventure style puzzle game for the iPhone