Seriously, what do you want for three dollars? A sandwich? A comic book? A pack of gum? Perhaps you’d like a fun, independently developed graphical adventure for iOS devices? Luckily, then, Launching Pad Games, a new development team, has developed a quality first offering in the graphical adventure genre: Scarlett and the Spark of Life, the first episode of the Scarlett Adventures series.
It is obvious that the developers of this title were heavily influenced by the humor and inventory-based gameplay of the classic LucasArts SCUMM games, such as The Secret of Monkey Island and (the criminally underrated) Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders. Though, to be fair, this game isn’t quite as wacky as some of the LucasArts titles. Scarlett and the Spark of life manages maintain a delicate balance of eliciting chuckles here and there, while not being too over-the-top.
The protagonist of the story is red-haired princess Scarlett, and the plot starts in the midst of her abduction at the hands of a knight and his dim-witted henchman. While it would be a shame to give away too much of the plot in the review, I can say that the game centers on Scarlett’s escape from her captors and her attempt to return home. As you might imagine, hijinks ensue.
Scarlett is a revelation as a main character, being likable and fun to play as without being overtly sexualized as too many female characters are. Wearing goggles and carrying a trusty crowbar, she is not the prototypical princess in any way, using a sharp tongue in addition to her tools to solve puzzles and get herself out of trouble (rather than waiting for a prince or knight to save her). There’s no doubt that Scarlett can carry a series of episodic adventures herself, even if the other characters can’t quite measure up. Gherkin, introduced a bit later on in the episode, is the only other character that really stands out.
Control is simple; you, the player, are thrown into the action, but brief tutorials give you a primer on the point-and-click gameplay. Those familiar with graphic adventures will find themselves right at home, but newcomers to the genre will have absolutely no trouble picking up and playing. In fact, the game may be too heavily designed for new players; the puzzles in this game are not terribly difficult, and there’s little in the way of red herring inventory items. Typically, items are easy to find, and their purpose is immediately understood. Nevertheless, the range of puzzles is suitable given the length of the game.
Building off of that, length is certainly a bit of an issue for this game. Naturally, being an episodic offering, you can’t expect the game to be very long, but even with the price and episodic nature in mind, you may feel like the game is short. The game runs perhaps two to three hours worth of gameplay. Between the low difficulty and the short running time, Scarlett and the Spark of Life may hold up better as the first part of a more robust collection of episodes, but as a standalone, there’s a bit to be desired.
It’s called a graphical adventure for a reason: because graphics in these games matter. Simple-by-design gameplay means that the story has to be told through sharp visual cues even more than usual. Launching Pad Games has infused The Spark of Life with a clean, clear graphical style. At times, it’s almost reminiscent of the Nickelodeon cartoons from the early 90’s. No doubt, the strong color and defined lines make for a strong, cartoony feel.
The audio in Scarlett and the Spark of Life is pleasant and upbeat. There was obviously some care taken in developing music that matches the tone of the game, going from airy and clean notes during Scarlett’s wandering, to fast-paced and appropriately dramatic during action-heavy parts of the narrative. Sound effects are serviceable, but they are few and far between and neither add nor detract from the experience.
In conclusion, Scarlett and the Spark of Life is a worthwhile investment for the low price. If you haven’t played a graphic adventure and want to get started in the genre, pick it up. If you want something that will gently kill a few hours of time, pick it up. And if you want the latest apiology jokes, pick it up. But if you are looking for something to spend long hours playing, or the kind of transcendent, irreverent humor found in the best graphic adventures, well, you should hold out hope for the rest of the episodes of the Scarlett Adventures. To be fair, the developer is off to a good start.
Seriously, though, if you are a fan of bee jokes (you know, jokes about bees), buy this game immediately. Trust me.
This review was based on version 1.01 of the game, and was played on an iPhone 4.