If there’s one thing we’re learning this holiday season, it’s that what’s old is new again. From ports of adventure game classics like The 7th Guest to Genesis back-catalogue titles such as Altered Beast and Sonic Spinball, the App Store is overflowing with old-school games. Joining the retro cavalcade this week is Revolution Software’s Broken Sword – The Smoking Mirror: Remastered. It’s a competent, if unimaginative, reworking of the 1997 PC game and sequel to last year’s hit iOS release, Broken Sword: Director’s Cut.
From the game’s earliest moments, you are thrown into the role of George Stobbart, intrepid globetrotting adventurer. Your girlfriend Nico Collard has been kidnapped by a shadowy figure, and it’s up to you to rescue her and solve a mystery that includes Mayan artifact smuggling, corrupt government officials, and shamanic rituals surrounding an impending eclipse. Along the way, you’ll travel from the sunny streets of Paris to the forbidding ruins of a South American jungle, encountering a cast of cartoonish supporting characters.
With regard to the story itself, The Smoking Mirror largely succeeds. Taking a cue from its predecessor, this iteration feels less like a game and more like an interactive movie. The narrative swept us along breathlessly, and we tapped along eagerly, curious about what twists the story would take next.
Go for the crotch!
We completed the title in a fairly relaxed 7 hours, so don’t expect the sequel to have quite the same scope as last year’s release. Even though the story doesn’t require a massive time commitment, and it’s not as grand as the last game’s, we still enjoyed the ride.
The Smoking Mirror also contains a colorful cast of supporting allies and rogues, from a loutish art critic to a smarmy state police general. Across the board, the voice acting is solid and appropriate for each character. Plus, the actors can inject a degree of personality, whimsy, and humor into the background players that we felt was largely missing from the game’s stars.
Sometimes the humor feels strained, and we often found ourselves impatiently clicking through side conversations in the hopes of getting back to the main story. Other running gags wear out their welcome just as quickly. Seeing each character’s reaction to the pair of panties you’re inexplicably lugging around gets old fast, for example.
Another way in which the sequel borrows from the original is its excellent user interface. You can move George around the screen with a single tap, pan across a location with a two-finger swipe, and move a single finger across the screen to highlight all of the objects and people with whom you can interact. There are some minor difficulties when interactive items are packed closely together, but, in general, navigating the game world is a breeze.
Pics or it didn’t happen.
Unfortunately, it is not uniformly smooth sailing through the world of The Smoking Mirror. For starters, the game is too easy, and never presents the kind of mindbending puzzles and outside-the-box thinking required by old standards like the King’s Quest series. Narrative obstacles, such as a guard who refuses to leave a room while you pilfer some vital information, can usually be solved simply by talking to non-playable characters until they get fatigued and wander off.
What challenge there is generally takes the form of trial and error inventory matching. While some of the necessary item combinations are esoteric to the point of being laughable, most can be resolved with only cursory logic. For example, we bet you can figure out which of the following items would be best put to use getting the wheels of a press to spin: a vine, a dart, or a box of dog biscuits.
To make the game even more streamlined (or unnecessarily elementary), the minigame puzzles from the original are noticeably absent in the sequel. We think this omission makes the game feel more dumbed-down.
Sometimes, you’ll still get stuck, and for those moments the developers have provided a great in-game hint system. By tapping the question mark at the top-right, you can uncover a series of hints to help you with any of the game’s puzzles. These clues become increasingly more overt as you tap down the list, and they range from the subtle (‘Perhaps a distraction would be a good idea’) to the blatant (‘Use object X on interactive location Y’). While we love that we no longer have to flip back and forth between the game and a walkthrough, we can’t help but feel like the hint system only serves to simplify what is already a fairly easy game.
Please refrain from hitting on the clergy.
In addition to in-game clues, Revolution Software also boasts about the game’s enhanced graphics and visual polish. When the first game hit the App Store, much was made about the modernization of the title’s decidedly 1990s PC feel. We appreciated the crisp, cartoonish facial portrait animations and the generally smooth, reworked cut scenes.
Apart from these new additions, though, The Smoking Mirror shows its age when being played on an iPad. The backgrounds and character animations look like pixelated, VGA-quality graphics. We should mention here that the visuals looked much more at home on our iPhone’s screen. On the iPad, though, they were a real distraction.
In-game movement is also as slow as molasses in the Antarctic. Characters amble across the screen at a snail’s pace, often appearing drugged or stupefied as a result. And if you accidentally tell George to walk down an alley when you actually meant for him to go up a flight of stairs, you’ll be waiting for some time.
Still, the developers have provided some welcome new features to the game that both add to its value and make it an attractive buy. To begin with, a semi-interactive comic drawn by Watchmen’s Dave Gibbons is included with the game. Also, the title is a universal app, and Revolution Software has included Dropbox connectivity, so you can share your save files between multiple iDevices. In our experience, exporting and importing save files from an iPad to an iPhone 4 and back worked flawlessly and as expected. We wish more developers would include this feature, as it makes the game truly portable.
Broken Sword – The Smoking Mirror: Remastered is not a bad game, and retro gamers are likely to enjoy being lost in its world of continent-hopping intrigue. It’s simply a title that doesn’t always seem to keep pace with the times, or live up to the excellence of its predecessor.