Retro gaming is one of the buzzes for the iThings. Retro? It’s not for me, not conversions of games on the iPhone at least. I like to remember those games from my past as they were, not squeezed into my phone. At a push I’ll fire up an emulator on my PC, or even break out the Amiga. But not the phone, no.
One genre from the “old days” that does seem well suited and adaptable for the touchscreen phone format is the point-and-click genre. I caught the start of the point-and-click adventures (once the genre had moved on from Sierra’s Leisure Suit Larry) playing the Lucasarts efforts: Maniac Mansion, Loom, Zak McKraken, and then the Monkey Islands. The latters are available for the iPhone. I have neglected to download the full games. I tried the demo of one and decided I spent enough time engrossed in them the first time, that is enough of a memory for me. But I was impressed with the way these games were suited to the device.
But, to rewind back a little again, back in those days of the 16-bit machines’ point-and-clicks, we, the British were starting to stir a fightback against the Americans, who controlled this ‘intelligent’ gaming sector. We had Magnetic Scrolls’ excellent text based adventure games trumping the Ivy League fueled might of Infocom. With their intelligent parser, great writing, sneaky puzzles, and increasingly lush art (Guild of Theives? Corruption? Fish? Yes, please!), Anita Sinclair’s gang were making the UK gaming innovators.
Then came Revolution Software and their first previews of a point and click adventure, and with publishing backing from the increasingly supportive Virgin Software. Doubly exciting for me they were from Hull, just across the river (amazing how we put regional differences aside for things like this). That first release, Lure of the Temptress, looked to give Lucasarts a run for their money. Well, it showed promise, maybe not holding the depth of gameplay and story of the Lucasarts efforts, but it was a start.
But Revolution’s next release, Beneath a Steel Sky, showed a real British take on the point-and-click genre, bringing more sobriety and bleakness in the art and story, a contrast to Lucasarts’ more brightly comic approach. It engrossed me for hours, whole weekend afternoons, with its graphic novel influences: its visual approach (a break from the more vectoresque and fluidly animated style emerging in games like Flashback, Another World, and the more arcadey Prince of Persia) and the storyline. Grand stuff, especially if you were loving George Orwell’s works at the same time.
A year later was the start of my university and the end of that very brief flirtation with Revolution. The company’s third release, Broken Sword, was something the PC owners at uni played. Me, I still clung to my Amiga, lost myself in the uni’s Sun machines, and then lost myself further in cheap booze and films. This was also the end of my hardcore gaming days, as Wolfenstein et al came along and changed the face of modern day gaming.
Back to the now, and with the furore over the Broken Sword conversion for the iPhone (although it was presented more as an update), I was initially not tempted. I had seen the Beneath conversion in the app store and resisted. Been there, done that, no matter how they spruce it up. I feared I would have another Star Wars Special Edition experience, leaving me cursing Revolution chief Charles Cecil: Why the extra special effects, Charles, why?!
But the fact I hadn’t actually played it originally was a draw. A big draw. I downloaded it. And then I left it. For three months. Three whole months.
And then on a wet day on holiday I loaded it up. I wish I hadn’t been so stubborn, so foolish. It was gaming gold. Fantastic art, fantastic Dave Gibbons art at that. Lovely animation. A rich soundtrack, with wonderful music and full recorded dialogue, perfect for earphones. And above else there is a compelling storyline, that in itself made you want to keep going, like an elongated interactive movie.
The game control interface is incredibly suited to the device, making movement and interaction swift. And to avoid those moments when you will quit the app in frustration and never go back, there is a very handy hint system, offering a tiered level of clues to either nudge you or provide the complete solution to whatever puzzle is halting your progress.
It took me 12 hours over three days to play it. Three days of the time I had booked off work to camp in the Lake District, to spend time with my family. How rewarding! This is what holidays were also for. Time to immerse yourself in something so joyous. It doesn’t happen often, and neither does finding such a long-tail game for the iPhone, requiring you to save and return later, not firing up for a blast. It’s great to see Revolution go back and reinvigorate something from their back catalogue, and with a game that will reward players. Whether they will continue forwards, looking at the Broken Sword sequels or even trying their Playstation effort In Cold Blood, time will tell. I will be watching out though.
Now, if anyone is listening, what about Renegade Software’s Flight of the Amazon Queen? That surely should be next, yeah?