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80 Days

"I'm pretty sure that 80 Days is the first game that I've played four times before reviewing it."

In my time with RPGFan, I've finished most of the games I've reviewed just once. A few, I've had to give up on, either because they were unfinishably broken or because they were too terrible to continue playing. Only a few I've finished twice. But I'm pretty sure that 80 Days is the first game that I've played four times before reviewing it. It was just too fun not to play that many times, and I'll probably play it again at least once after I write this.

80 Days, as you might guess, is a retelling of the classic Jules Verne novel, Around the World in 80 Days. In both novel and game, British aristocrat Phileas Fogg makes a bet with his friends that a man can travel around the world in 80 days and sets off to win that bet, accompanied by his newly-hired French valet, Passepartout. The novel restricts itself to actual technology available at the time, but the game is definitely more of a steampunk affair, with mechanical elephants and airships galore. Significantly, you play the game as Passepartout, which opens up a lot of potential for adventure and varied choices that might not have been available if you were playing an aristocrat who needed to maintain his image.

Playing 80 Days is strongly reminiscent of the Choose Your Own Adventure books I read as a kid (albeit without the ability to stick my finger in a page if I made a bad choice). You always begin in London, but 80 Days' story varies wildly depending on the choices you make after that, and I have enjoyed every minute of the story in all of the paths I have taken. As you play, you not only choose your destinations, but participate in discussions and story events that may new grant you knowledge of travel routes, give you items, or even change the course of your current mode of transport, landing you in a different port than you intended to reach. As you visit cities, you can buy and sell items to help finance your journey, as well as gain bonuses toward keeping Fogg's health up on his difficult voyage or convince your next transportation to leave a day or two early.

And it is that wild variation that has brought me back to the game four times thus far. In my first attempt, I made it around the world in 63 days after accidentally disembarking the Orient Express several stops too early, getting roped into a rebellion, participating in a mutiny, and many other adventures. The third time, I stumbled across two teleporters in a row, and managed to circumnavigate the globe in a mere four stops (not counting London) and 8 days. (It would have been faster if I hadn't had to wait over the weekend for the bank containing one of the teleporters to open on Monday). You can fail to complete the journey in time, but it is hard. I very nearly managed it on my fourth attempt, but only by attempting deliberately to avoid any cities I had previously visited, and then waiting an entire week in Lisbon for no reason other than to delay. Unfortunately for my aims at failure, I chose to depart Lisbon for London one day too early, and managed to get back home just in the nick of time.

80 Days does have its flaws, though they did not greatly hamper my experience with it. The biggest issue is that it drains battery power like few other iOS games. It constantly shows you what other players are doing/have done on their journeys, and I suspect that this is the cause for the power usage. As far as I can tell, you can't turn this feature off, which is a shame. On the flip side, the fact that trips are recorded allows for a nifty feature: when you've returned Fogg and Passepartout to London, you can share your journey on Facebook and allow even people who haven't got the game to see what you did. I don't usually go in for that stuff, but this is a familiar enough story that I think even non-players can enjoy seeing your personal version of the tale.

The other issue worth commenting on is the controls. They're not horrifyingly bad, but I wasn't really comfortable with them until well into my second playthrough, which is odd when you consider how simple they are. When text is presented, you generally swipe up in order to see more of it, but when you can see almost all of the text and the last bit is a choice you must make, you tap the screen instead. When you're on the world map, you can pinch to zoom out, but it doesn't zoom very quickly. This doesn't play well with the game's clock, which is constantly moving unless you're reading text, so I missed my train a time or two because I couldn't get the screen where I wanted it. It's possible that some of my issues were caused by the fact that I played on an iPhone rather than an iPad — more screen real estate might have eliminated scrolling completely, for example.

The graphics and sound are both minimalist &mdash almost the equivalent of the "we're traveling on a plane" maps featured in movie transitions. The map is a globe with cities you could potentially visit marked, and lines showing all of the travel routes you know. As you travel, sounds are played that correspond to your mode of transport, such as the engine of a car or the propellers of a plane, and when you're in a city, you hear the sounds of people and music that goes with that location. The devs did a nice job of joining form and function, so although there's not too much to see and hear, the experience feels perfectly suited to the game.

It's worth noting that Passepartout can wind up in a few romantic situations, and they are exclusively homosexual. (So yes, as one of my RPGFan compatriots noted, in this game, you are playing gay Jackie Chan, which is pretty awesome.) You have enough warning that you can keep Passepartout chaste if you so desire, but the text doesn't get graphic no matter what you do. If you don't take the paths that get him into those situations, you'll never know his preference either way, and you probably won't care, because dating isn't really central to the story. So kudos to Inkle for writing a realistic person who is perhaps more notable because his sexuality is irrelevant than he would have been if it had mattered.

In fact, kudos almost all around on this game. The "less is more" presentation really works, the game is fun, and the story is exciting and well written. Sure, on my iPhone, there are control issues, and it uses more power than I would have expected, but I've got a backup battery, and if I miss one train, there is always another route to take and another adventure waiting to be had.


© 2014 Inkle Studios. All rights reserved.




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