The iPhone and iPad are ideal platforms for classic point-and-click adventure games, so it’s a wonder we don’t see more of them. Though it’s a brand new game, City of Secrets is a classic adventure experience in almost every way. It also features a stellar presentation with crisp visuals and fully-voiced dialog, but it’s let down quite a bit when it comes to the writing and characters.
Things start out simply enough. A mole named Moles and a dog named Rex need to find a hook. But when Rex goes to search for one, he stumbles into Moles’ cellar. And unfortunately for him, that cellar somehow is home to an underground city, one that’s currently in the midst of a potential political revolution. Inadvertently Rex and Moles find themselves stuck in the middle.
Please watch your step.
The game spans several chapters and locations, ranging from the least bustling market you’ve ever seen to another underground city beneath the first underground city. If you’ve ever played an adventure game, City of Secrets will feel very familiar. You can move your character around simply by touching where you want to go, and you can also collect items and speak with other characters with a simple touch. Tapping a lightbulb in the lower left corner puts an icon over anything you can interact with on screen, which reduces the need for pixel hunting, an especially helpful feature if you’re playing on a smaller screen.
Most of the puzzles in the game require finding the right item for the right job. Sometimes you’ll have to combine items in order to get the right one, and other times you’ll just have to search around. The answers are frequently strange and don’t always make a whole lot of sense, but there’s a built-in hint system (two of them, in fact) that can help you get past some of the less clear moments in the game.
There are also some minigame-style puzzles that break up the action nicely, though these are a bit hit and miss. The recycling game, in particular, is quite fun and uses your iDevice’s tilt function in a clever way. Meanwhile, examining photographs with a magnifying glass sounds like it could be a fun investigative feature, but instead is repetitive and without any real challenge.
Don’t look at the camera while we’re filming.
But if you’re an adventure game fan, you’re already well acquainted with these types of quirks, which are somewhat of a staple of the genre. What City of Secrets doesn’t have, though, is a distinct and interesting personality. Though it’s a lengthy adventure, the story isn’t particularly compelling. The game clearly wants to be funny, but mistakes strangeness for humor. It’s certainly quirky, with lots of oddball characters and situations, but it’s rarely all that interesting, and the jokes frequently fall flat.
Where the game does excel, though, is with its presentation. City of Secrets looks tremendous, with detailed 2D backgrounds full of well-animated 3-D characters. Despite the difference in dimensions, the characters and backgrounds work well together and never clash. And while the writing may be a little on the drab side, at least it’s fully voiced, and there’s even a narrator who the characters somehow seem to be aware of. Not every character is acted all that well, but most are, in particular Moles, who you’ll be hearing talk more than anybody.
City of Secrets has a classic sense of style, but it never reaches classic status. While it’s a solidly made adventure with plenty of puzzles and terrific visuals, the story and characters– two of the more important elements of the adventure genre– are definitely lacking. It’s still an enjoyable experience if you’re in the mood for some point-and-click action, but it’s not particularly memorable.