This is for all of you who have been looking for that mobile game that will give you something to do while you are waiting for a doctor’s appointment, or looking to take a discreet 10 minutes off work. Games like “Clash of Clans” and others look great, but some of us want a more casual gaming experience.
Normally, I dismiss casual games and casual gamers as, well, casual; but there is an art, I admit, to the great casual game. It can’t be a challenge, but it has to give you a reason to keep playing it. Sometimes this comes from spectacular results of in-game actions (I’m looking at you, GTA).
The sheer size and vast number of different paths in “80 Days” makes it quite addicting. The premise is simple. You play Jesse Passepartout, an assistant to the fabulously wealthy Phileas Fogg, a cynical Londoner who is forced into an 80 day journey around the world in order to satisfy a bet with fellow upper-class Englishman.
You drag the creature-comfort obsessed Fogg on this journey while keeping him safe, timely and preferably wealthy. In order to do this, you have to plan passages on a bewildering variety of vehicles while arbitraging goods across the cities you travel to keep funds sufficiently high. It plays a lot like those old Oregon Trail games so many people who grew up playing PC games used to be so fond of.
The most interesting feature of this game is the running clock. This puts a great deal of pressure on poor Passepartout. As the Frenchman, you must not only stay aware of the titular goal, but you must play ball with the mess of timetables, schedules and unexpected events that make up the journey.
Money is also an important resource, but less critical than time. The market part of the game is pretty easy to deal with, and once you score a big sale you can basically be set for the game. This makes the many, many tips that are given by people you encounter about prices of goods in different cities pretty irrelevant after a while.
Speaking of dialogue and characters, the personalities in this game make it stand out from others. In any game with a lot of text, characterization and solid dialogue are going to pretty much determine how playable the game is.
At times the 80 Days interactions with AI are extremely predictable and formulaic. Although at first this is off-putting, the game is quite conscious of it and often takes jabs at you for being manipulative and apathetic towards the fates of other characters. This makes it a little better.
There are a few shining moments where serendipity becomes king and you lose track of the rest of the game. Two examples of this are a disaster that occur in a Southeast Asian airship, and a boxing match that you are forced into on the train from New Orleans to Washington DC. The character interactions that occur here make the rest of the forced conversations bearable.
Lastly, although I have not read the Jules Verne book from which this game originates, the sympathetic distaste that Fogg has for any civilization outside of Europe, and his generally miserable personality adds a lot of pathos to the game.
To me, that pathos is needed because the world-building and setting of the game falls so short. Maybe it’s because I dislike steampunk, but the brand of it that is offered in this game is offensive to my sensibilities.
A lot of the difficulty of travel that would make an interesting challenge in the game is eliminated by the variety of steampunk creations that exist across the world. The game designers try to force this narrative of mechanization versus humanity on the player, but the truth is that since we are so quickly skipping through conversations to get what we need out of the character, we are not paying attention to the various melodramas.
Perhaps this robotic interaction, combined with the degree to which fiduciary concerns guide the path of the trip, are elements of some sort of extremely artistic meta-criticism of the lack of freedom in video games. Since I am not going to assume that is the case, I will content myself and the reader with giving credit to the designers for putting a lot of thought and effort into making hundreds of characters, situations and items and their various interrelations.
It doesn’t say a lot of good about the genre of mobile gaming as a whole, when the best, most engaging game for the platform I have ever experienced would stand up as average on any other platform, excluding the old virtual boy. Perhaps that is mostly because of the limitations of mobile hardware; but I have to think it is because of the cynical economic approach that most companies have to mobile games.
80 Days is a good start, however, because the designers of this game had a vision and the willingness to make a very detailed game, unlike most other mobile games. I highly recommend this game for anyone using an iPhone, iPad, or other iOS device. It’s the best overall mobile game I have played in years.