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 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, $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 (ENGLISH), $17.99 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!