Hello everyone, and welcome to Musgravian Musings, a little space of my own where I can do some non-review reflections on whatever games strike my fancy. Usually, I use this feature to talk about recent game releases that I didn't review for whatever reason, but I'm doing something a little different this time. I tend to review the bulk of the many gamebooks, visual novels, interactive fiction, and other similar narrative-based games here at TouchArcade. Many readers have asked me about where they should start with the genre, or what my favorites are, so I thought that I might as well oblige. I don't want to bury you with choices, so I'm just going to keep this list to five (plus two) games.

For want of a better broad term, we usually call games like these 'interactive fiction' here at TouchArcade. Strictly speaking, 'interactive fiction' usually applies solely to text adventures along the lines of Zork and its ilk. Think 'GET HAMSTER' and 'GO NORTH'. If you want to keep things to their traditional definitions, I'm not going to tell you you're wrong. At the same time, I think 'text adventure' does a good job of referring to that particular type of game, and we really do need a term for games that share common themes of putting the story ahead of everything else, making the player do a lot of reading, and shaping the arc of the game by making choices. I've opted to use 'interactive fiction' for that, with deep apologies to Infocom. With that said, let's go over the games of this sort that I think everyone should try.

Edit: From when I started writing this to when I finished, two of my original picks were removed from the App Store. I've left their descriptions here and hastily replaced them. You can find Photopia online at the author's website. Ryan North's To Be or Not To Be will likely return to the App Store at some point, but if you want to play it in the meantime, you can get it on Steam or in physical book form at Amazon.

80 Days, $4.99 This is an incredibly imaginative take on the classic Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne. The basic premise is the same. Phileas Fogg takes on a wager that he can circumnavigate the globe in just 80 days. He and his assistant Passepartout must travel by any means available, dealing with the various unexpected trials that pop up along the way. This telling of the story from developer inkle casts Fogg as a generally useless fellow that depends heavily on Passepartout to actually back up his bravado. You play as Passepartout, and you'll need to not only plan the route and make all kinds of arrangements, but also manage the money very carefully. This game is drop-dead gorgeous and the many different ways of solving it make it one of the more replayable examples of this sort.

Ace Attorney: Phoenix Wright Trilogy HD, Free Part visual novel, part adventure game, and part logic puzzle, Capcom's Ace Attorney series combines goofy humor with supernatural happenings and courtroom drama to create an unlikely but powerful experience. The best bang for your buck with the series is this app, which contains the first three games that originally released on the Game Boy Advance in Japan before spreading overseas on the Nintendo DS. Together, they tell a surprisingly interesting story that arcs across all three games while still providing each game with their own satisfying themes. If you enjoy these three, you're probably safe to explore the other available Ace Attorney games.

Choices That Matter, Free Tin Man Games is one of the two main gamebook publishers on the App Store, covering a wide variety of themes like fantasy, horror, comedy, and sci-fi. And yet, their most innovative work is probably Choices That Matter, a subscription-based gamebook platform that updates weekly with new story content. So far, the app contains two complete adventures, with a third in progress as you read this. If the idea of subscribing doesn't grab you, story passes for the complete adventures are available as IAP. Both of the finished stories are great, but the unique delivery system is what earns it a spot on this list.

A Study in Steampunk: Choice by Gaslight, $3.99 Between Choice of Games and Hosted Games, mobile gamers have dozens upon dozens of options for ChoiceScript games on the App Store. Think a less-juvenile take on Choose Your Own Adventure, but with a variety of gameplay twists, depending on the game. I can't get enough of these, so I've played an awful lot of them. In my opinion, A Study in Steampunk is the best of the bunch. It's a riff on Sherlock Holmes through a steampunk lens, but it's different enough to feel like its own thing most of the time. It does a great job of crafting its setting, but the real strength here is in the steady, dense character development. It's fairly long, but more than worth the time investment.

STEINS;GATE EN, $24.99 And hey, speaking of Japan, here's Steins;Gate. It's a twisty, mind-bending story about time travel and the unintended consequences of pulling at the threads of the past. Steins;Gate's story is better than you might expect it to be at the beginning, and its characters are charming and well-realized. It's a little expensive, especially with it not being a universal app, but it's also quite lengthy and features a variety of endings to hunt down. It would be nice if we saw more of the wide selection of visual novels available on the Japanese App Store localized for overseas fans, but if nothing else, this is one of the better ones.

Photopia is, by now, one of the classics in the interactive fiction genre. A brief text adventure that has you jumping into the shoes of a variety of characters, Photopia will take you everywhere from alien planets to a school gymnasium. Don't worry if you don't have much experience with this kind of game. There aren't any puzzles here that require you to read the mind of the developer or anything like that. This is a short yet powerful story that will have you starting the game again as soon as you finish it.

If it's lighter fare you're after, it's hard to think of anything better than Tin Man's wonderful adaptation of Ryan North's To Be Or Not To Be. It takes Shakespeare's Hamlet and turns it into a full-on gamebook, following alternate characters and storylines to their often tragic and almost always hilarious conclusions. You can follow the classic story if you want, but where's the fun in that? While gamebooks aren't always known for their art, this one is chock-full of hilarious illustrations from a wide variety of artists, too. I enjoyed this one so much that I paid the stiff costs to import the physical edition to Japan just to keep it on my shelf.

Of course, games like these tend to rely heavily on their stories connecting with the player. Since that kind of thing is almost as subjective as it gets, your mileage may vary on these recommendations. I will say that most people should find something to like in this list, and it's a nice starter pack for anyone who wants to give this kind of game a try for the first time. If you've got suggestions of your own, don't be shy! Leave them in the comments below so that people can get a wider variety to choose from.

That's all for this edition of Musgravian Musings. Thanks for reading, and be excellent to each other!

  • Dankrio

    Awesome post! Thanks, Shaun!

    I wasn't grabbed by Choice model and it is great to know that I can buy the complete story as IAP now and play it from start to finish.

  • Dailon Huskey

    Great choices and I have them all! Good job Shaun but i must ask where is Hatoful Boyfriend hahaha

    • lezrock

      It's in the upcoming post: weirdest games ever!

      • Dailon Huskey

        Shaun's take on that game is always a fun read ha

  • shaneorourke

    I love articles like this, there should be more "# of the best [Insert Category]..." articles. Posts like this nudge me towards delving into games that I would have otherwise ignored (perhaps).

    Is Steins Gate worth the price tag?

  • jmmelko

    Ryan North's To Be... is a masterpiece. Not only it is very funny, but also instructive on how twisted Shakespeare was.

    • Bootsy

      This is the one I was going to comment about, too. Maybe my most used iPad app!

    • Milotorou

      Didnt try it yet... i guess ill put it on my wishlist 🙂

  • dancingcrane

    C'mon, Shaun, bury me! Even if you don't have time for a review, a list, please! Thank you in any case, for an article long hoped for.

  • chfuji

    Great choices! I'd also recommend Ghost Trip (if it's still available) and Layton Brothers for anyone that enjoys Phoenix Wright

  • meponder

    Since the "text adventure" can of worms was opened toward the end, don't forget Frotz, with it's library of classics, and (a few of) the works of Andrew Plotkins, such as Shade, which are also available in the App Store. Frotz let's you play dozens of text adventures, from the classics like the Zork family to more modern takes that can be added in through iTunes file sharing. Andrew Plotkins is a more modern text adventure/IF writer who wrote the stunning "Spider and Web", perhaps the greatest example since the mid-80s Infocom days of how simple mechanics can lead to a great story.

    Having said that, this list is great and I really support all your choices! The original Phoenix Wright trilogy is fatastic, as it 80 Days. To Be... is hilarious by any way of approaching it.

    • Dankrio

      I would love to know more about those text adventures. I could never understand Frotz properly.

  • Milotorou

    Steins Gate is an absolute masterpiece. Seriously.

    And Ace Attorney is my favorite series ever... good picks Shaun.

  • http://felicitybanks.wordpress.com Felicity Banks

    It's extremely gratifying to see "Choices" by Tin Man Games on this list (since I was one of the writers on the first story, the writer on the second story, and editor of #3) but although the app store also lists it as free, only the beginning is actually free. After that it's a subscription/ad-based service. Unfortunately it's hard to spell that out within the iOS system.

  • http://felicitybanks.wordpress.com Felicity Banks

    PS "Choices: And The Sun Went Out" (the app was names after the first story) is now called "Choices That Matter". As of a few days ago.

  • Dankrio

    Thank you very much! Gonna try it.

  • reghz

    i dont see Fallen London on your list

    • Shaun Musgrave

      Had the list included ten games, it would have been on there, I promise.