The game of the week for this week's Retro Weekly is one that is very close to my heart: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.
80 Days Review: Around the World in 80 Ways
You know what I like? A good homage. Partly because it’s a fantastic word to say (homage, hom-aaage) but mostly because it can be great in so many ways. An homage – a true homage – is capable of drawing from a source material without detracting from. A good homage can enhance your experience of both. By my book, that makes 80 Days a damn good homage.
Okay, I promise I’ll stop using the ‘h’ word now, but I stand by my point. In the past I’ve been critical of mobile games that draw from and ultimately tear apart classic fiction. My experience of The Great Martian War was dire to say the least. But where the Martian War was a game that shoe-horned an approximation of a beloved story into a tried and tested mobile money earner, the ‘dash’ game, 80 days is sculpted to fit the nature of the Jules Verne story, Around the World in 80 Days. You play the role of Jean Passepartout, the put-upon man-servant of the famous Phileas Fogg. Out of nowhere your Master informs you that you and he are to embark on a journey around the world, a journey that could take no more than 80 days. For a bet. As time goes on, it becomes only too apparent that, whilst this is technically Mr Fogg’s adventure, he expects you to be the one organising it. The game has you hop from city to city, managing your finances and discovering new ways to travel around the world. You can purchase items along the way that can help you survive severe conditions, such as extreme cold or deep heat, as well as other items that fetch a high price further along the way. This becomes essential, because the act of withdrawing large sums of money from the bank takes increasingly longer periods of time (they need to contact London to verify your credentials, of course) and this journey is all about managing your time efficiently.
The world in which the game is set is not entirely true to the Jules Verne novel- though the changes it makes only add to the theme of invention and the dawning of a new era, prevalent throughout the story. A steampunk twist changes the world and the political stability of it. In Russia, mechanical soldiers are controlled by a corps of pipers. In Mongolia, an experimental new type of airship can sweep you through the sky, though the Chinese might have something to say about it. Furthermore, a new, multi-nation and supposedly impartial Guild of Artificers is making it’s weight known in the world. You engage a multitude of different characters in conversation during your travels, from every race, religion and creed, who can both help and hinder you along the way. The way you treat these characters is up to you. You can choose to act the utter gentleman, bartering your journey with a firm handshake and a stiff upper lip, or else opt to connive your way to victory- organising a mutiny, for example, or bribing your pilot to go to a different city. Your relationship with Phileas Fogg is also vital, and you will be expected to provide for him whenever the situation requires it.
The game does a wonderful job of conveying a sense of scale. Through different types of transportation, the varied events that take place and the huge cast of characters you encounter, the size of your journey feels truly global. In my first circumnavigation of the globe, I visited 15 cities out of a possible 144; and it still felt like an epic journey. The amount of choice you have when planning your adventure is truly phenomenal. Furthermore, the games’ deliberate lack of borders on its world map makes for a nice touch. Although your current whereabouts can be obvious (there’s no hiding what countries Moscow or New Orleans are in, for example), many cities around the borders of countries bleed into each other. Despite tensions between different nations and factions, it can often hard to pinpoint your exact location. It’s a small touch that neatly illustrates the reasons behind Fogg’s mission; through the advancement of technology the world has become smaller. The world map, which also shows the locations and transportation means of other players currently playing, only cements this idea.
The presentation of 80 Days is beautiful but sometimes disconnecting. The musical score is an arrangement reminiscent of the works of Hitoshi Sakimoto, famous for creating the music for Final Fantasy Tactics and Final Fantasy XII. The music is at times pretty, at times rousing and indicative of adventure, but is always a mixture of different sounds and tones, lending to the multi-cultured theme of the game. However, the harsh and sometimes badly mixed ambient sounds detract from this for a jarring audio experience. The visuals alternate between clean cut and pleasing half-silhouettes of people and places, and dark, gritty artwork usually depicting modes of transport. While each is fine individually, they don’t work all that well together. Furthermore, the colourful images feel more reminiscent of an art-deco, 1920’s style, which feels out of place when you consider the late Victorian setting of the story. These are fairly minor complaints, and by no means ruin the experience of the game, but are sticking points none-the-less.
It’s refreshing, as always, to find a game that treats the mobile platform as a real platform. This is a game that aims to tell a story- and it does so fantastically. Of course, because of the nature of choice in the game this story is actually a combination of several smaller adventures. However, Inkle Studios and Profile Books have sealed the seams between those individual tales to create the sense of a singular and complete journey. This game offers a compelling narrative and an exciting blend of time-management and decision-making. And, I might add, there’s not a micro-transaction in sight. 80 Days is a worthy homage (there’s that word again!) to a fantastic novel, and is well worth your time. Time which unfortunately runs short- the 8.03 to Paris leaves within the hour! Quickly, Passepartout! The bags!