Ah, the spin-off. A truly noble creature, brought into creation typically by a secondary character becoming so popular that it’s believed by the powers that be that they can anchor a story of their own. Sometimes, it works out well, as in Frasier, The Jeffersons, and Wario Land. But for each success, there are a handful of failures like Joey, The Ropers, and Shadow The Hedgehog. Deep Silver’s attempt to spin out a character iOS gamers have yet to meet leans more towards the latter group than the former, but point and click adventure fans are still likely to find some merit in the whole exercise. Secret Files: Sam Peters ($2.99) is a much shorter, simpler game than Secret Files: Tunguska ($4.99), and its protagonist is considerably more abrasive than that game’s duo. That said, there are a couple of good puzzles and, along with occasionally clever bits of dialogue, it just barely manages keep its head above water.
So, what makes this game kind of weird right off the hop is that it’s meant to fill in a untold story from Secret Files 2: Puritas Cordis. Several months back, iOS gamers were treated to a fine port of Secret Files: Tunguska, but we have yet to see a release of the sequel, which introduces both this character and her situation. I assume we’ll be getting a port of Puritas Cordis at some point, so it feels a bit odd to do them out of order. The story in Sam Peters is mostly self-contained, but the opening situation, along with some references, is a bit confusing out of context. The other problem with releasing this first is that we don’t get to meet Sam Peters the way we were meant to. She’s kind of a fun character in Secret Files 2, cracking a few good jokes during her brief portion of the game, while providing a potential romantic foil to Nina for Max’s affections. Well, not every side character holds up with the spotlight on them, and Sam Peters might be the poster-woman for that. She’s a bit obnoxious in this game, and without the soft padding of her entertaining turn in the second game, I think a lot of people are going to struggle to put up with her attitude.
Basically, what you need to know is that Sam, a young reporter/archeologist, got mixed up in a big plot that is told in Secret Files 2. She was doing research in Indonesia and got captured by some bad guys. Generic 3D model hero Max Gruber had to rescue her, and after a bucketload of clumsy double-entendres, they parted ways, with Sam heading to the mainland to alert the authorities while Max stayed behind and, you know, did the rest of the game. Well, in case you were wondering what happened to Sam Peters after that, you’re in luck, because that’s the tale presented here. Her escape from the island is slightly more complicated than you may have imagined. It’s set up as kind of a tutorial puzzle that sets the tone for the rest of the game. After that, she sets off on her own adventure, though with a brief three-hour running time, it’s a fairly short and and less-than-satisfying story.
The game is presented in a similar style to Tunguska, windowed with useful icons in the borders. You can tap the hourglass icon on the right to bring up all the potential points of interest, saving you from pixel hunting, but tapping on said points to interact with them is a problem in a few cases due to how small they are. There are, broadly speaking, two kinds of puzzles in the game. One type is the usual inventory puzzle, where you have to use this on that and use the combined thing to do another thing. As in Tunguska, the game is very friendly about these puzzles. When you drag an item out of your inventory around the screen, a green circle will appear if you can use it, and a red one if you can’t. This is especially helpful for combining items in your inventory, just in case it wasn’t logically clear to you that you need to attach that crab claw to the animal bone to patch a deflated dinghy. The other type of puzzle is something like an actual jigsaw puzzle, where you have to drag around and rotate pieces to complete an object or picture. This puzzle type appears several times through the course of the adventure, and while almost all of them are trivially easy, they are at least a nice change of pace.
On the whole, the game is pretty easy. You’re always confined to a relatively small area with only one or two immediate problems to solve at most. It’s also a fraction of the length of other Secret Files games, with less than 20 different screens to the entire game, only one playable character, and a mere handful of other characters to interact with. Interestingly, it does have a couple of endings, but they hinge entirely on your final choice in the game, so you can just load up your last save and choose differently to see the other one. Neither ending is terribly satisfying, with one clubbing you over the head about how bad you were to choose it, and the other doing little more than guiding you towards the next installment in the Secret Files series. It’s barely more than a snack for veterans of the genre, but I think its size and relative ease make it a nice choice for people who want to sample the genre without going all-in.
The game is fully voice-acted, though that again is really just a single character monologuing most of the time. She’s got a flat tone, but the quality is overall better than the iffy voice acting in Tunguska. The graphics are quite nice, and objects of interest stand out fairly well even without hitting the button to display highlights. The user interface has its share of issues, such as objects being too small to pick out and tap on, but it generally works quite well considering its mouse-driven roots. It’s pretty clear the budget on this one was a lot lower than the other installments, given the scant number of locations and characters, but what’s here is done quite well.
Secret Files: Sam Peters just ends up in a weird place. It’s clearly meant for fans of the Secret Files series, but it’s so short, toothless, and narratively meaningless, I can’t imagine it being much of a crowd-pleaser in those circles. Those who are new to the franchise are likely to find the lead to be surprisingly irritating and will probably be a bit lost about the set-up and ending. I mean, for a few bucks, it’s decent enough, but those same few bucks will get you a lot of other point and click adventures on the App Store that are quite a bit better. Hopefully, Deep Silver will release the other two Secret Files games on iOS so that mobile gamers can experience the series the way it was meant to roll out. In the meantime, this one, like many spin-offs, is for the die-hards only.