Back in the summer of 2014, Inkle Studios released their take on Jules Verne’s classic novel, Around the World in Eighty Days, to near critical acclaim — including from our very own John Tucker! After a year of aspiring travelers circumnavigating the globe with their phones, Inkle have ported their game to Mac and PC, much to my delight; yet, after my time with the game I was left with one regret — why did I miss this gem on its first release? Through gorgeous, immersive prose, thoughtful game mechanics, and a dash of humor, you’re engaged in a world that creates a truly brilliant experience.
Verne’s basic premise remains: Monsieur Fogg bets he can travel around the world in 80 days, with the help of you, his valet Passepartout. Once the underwater train pulls in at Paris, you are given complete control of your journey, and the narrative prospects are a wonder to behold — think murder mystery, rebel wars, and a touch of gambling, and you’re barely warm. There’s only one goal to keep in mind — make it back to London within 80 days: you must explore cities filled with steampunk goodness and hunt down transport; manage your finances, barter for goods, and maintain your master’s health. Whether you trust a suspicious mechanic or whether you sleep rough, every step along the road is in your hands. The challenge maintained through time management and smooth upkeep never feels frustrating. The game balances your tasks perfectly so nothing feels overwhelming. Frequent tips on where items are valuable, what cities to avoid, and where to not overstay your welcome are shared by those you interact with, so as long as you read carefully, you’ll get home in time.
So I follow this by sharing my failure to make it back to London within the timeframe. Curious as the automata cat, I got caught up in my adventure; after a peaceful 50 days, a stumble into a Hong Kong opium den resulted into a further arduous 50 days of kidnap, cholera, midwifery, and a floating island. Yet, I’ve never been more overjoyed to be late for anything, because with every airship cruise and automata camel ride, I was kept guessing. This mesmeric quality comes from the game’s stellar writing. When words make you believe and long for more, a quality tale has been woven, and 80 Days is an excellent example of this. No single moment stands out in any single journey, because each one is so varied, and every moment is worth sharing.
This charm is further enhanced by the minimalist artwork: visuals have been sharpened for the wider screen without spoiling the quality present beforehand; you can now see more than one suitcase at a time, and much more of the world map can be viewed at once. Each screen presents a bright, colourful world that will bring a smile to your face. Steampunk creativity is in abundance through the game’s conglomeration of vehicles combined with their exuberant yet minimalist designs; my particular favourites are the Garuda airships, resembling majestic birds that glide through the clouds of Asia. The presentation beckons you along your travels, and with every new destination, you learn something about the world you’re in. Earth has never seemed so fantastic yet so uncanny because of 80 Days’ style; you feel like you’re playing on an entirely new planet, one waiting to be discovered. This virtual representation of Earth becomes an exercise in fascination and worth every second.
There are even more rewards for those who played the game on its initial release, although they are not exclusive to the PC version, so they provide little incentive to re-purchase on your computer. These rewards consist of new cities ripe for exploration and tales to knit: North and South America, Canada, alongside extra destinations in Europe are now available; unique people come into the fray, and through these people, thrilling opportunities surface. These involve world-renowned thieves, the chance to discover Atlantis, and even an out-of-this-world prospect. With 3 new cities and over 150,000 words, the game totals 169 cities and around 750,000 words! Some new content takes multiple adventures to unlock, but this isn’t a chore — because each paythrough is different, you’ll await the next departure of the Trans-Siberian Express, and live through another trip. However, I believe the heavy text-based nature of 80 Days presents itself best on a handheld or portable device, because you can stay constantly connected to the world of 80 Days, and constantly keep in touch.
These negligible problems combined do not harm 80 Days calibre; Inkle Studios created a timeless classic in branching narrative gaming, and this port delivers the experience to a new audience. Where most video game narratives slip up by implementation of over-complicated plots and convoluted writing, 80 Days triumphs because it prides simplicity, hands you the map, and rewards you with a story that compels you to return time and time again. My time with Inkle’s creation has been a fantastic experience — in years to come, I will return to my master, pack our trunks, and board that Paris-bound train again. If, like me, you lack decent mobile gaming facilities, this is the time to pick up a beacon in video game storytelling.