Even the most die-hard Mac fans have to admit that gaming has historically been the platform's Achilles heel. The one exception to that rule has consistently been adventure games. For a variety of reasons, small, independent studios have been able to produce high-quality adventure games. The best example of this is Myst, one of the bestselling computer games of all time, and the game that defined the adventure genre in the nineties.
The iPhone is Apple's first widely successful gaming platform since the IIe. Along with an avalanche of games from other genres, a number of high-quality adventure games have found their way into the App Store. Myst and some others are direct ports of their Mac cousins, but you'll also find titles created from scratch, specifically for mobile gaming. All of them offer hours of entertainment for those looking for a slower-paced and more thoughtful gaming experience.
Adventure games offer a noticeably different gaming experience from other App Store offerings. Whereas most mobile games are meant to provide a few moments of instant gratification, adventure titles draw the player into a long story that can span dozens of hours of game play. All of these titles offer experiences that are as fully-immersive and well-written as their cousins on full-sized computers.
If you are in the mood to play through a good book rather than curl up with one, these iPhone adventures will fit the bill beautifully.
Eighteen years after its initial release, Myst is confounding a new generation of players, challenging them to take on the role of the "Stranger" and explore the mechanical mysteries of an empty and very eerie island.
Familiar scenes like the clock puzzle (left) and tiny, garbled video messages (right) look just the way they did in the original version of Myst.
This version is very similar to Myst on other platforms, but moving it to the iPhone breathes new life into the game. Graphics that might seem dated on a 17-inch monitor actually look quite good on the iPhone's smaller screen. Myst includes audio puzzles, color puzzles, number puzzles, and wordplay challenges; and all of them look and sound great on the iPhone. Of course there's no mouse to control the game, but the point-and-click gameplay translates very naturally to the touch screen. Even those new to the game should have no trouble playing it.
Solving the puzzles can still be quite a challenge. Previous versions of Myst produced countless discussions on Usenet as would-be detectives tried to unravel its toughest challenges. Newcomers and those with short memories will be pleased to know that the iPhone version includes an elaborate help system that is supplemented by many Web sites focused on the game.
Whether you want a trip down memory lane or a new opportunity to stretch your brain, Myst offers dozens of hours of challenging game play.
- $4.99, free version also available
- Cyan Worlds
Another adventure title to resurface almost two decades after its initial publication is LucasArts' Secret of Monkey Island. The "special edition" of the 1990 title—released simultaneously for Xbox360, PC, and the iPhone—boasts updated graphics but no significant interface improvements. Users of the iPhone may become frustrated with the control method; you have to drag a cursor across the screen rather than simply tapping like you do with other iPhone games.
A double swipe across the screen allows nostalgic players to switch from the updated graphics (left) to those found in the original version of Secret of Monkey Island (right).
Those who are willing to bear with the inconvenience of the interface will be rewarded with a cleverly told story filled with eccentric Caribbean pirates and other scoundrels. Unlike the sterile, mechanical riddles of Myst, the Monkey Island series focuses on dialogue options and inventory puzzles. Players who find themselves stumped by those puzzles will be grateful for the multi-tiered help system built into the game. Overall, the story of Secret of Monkey Island holds up much better than the interface, and it offers hours of off-beat, wacky entertainment.
For those who want a classic adventure experience set in a futuristic, cyberpunk environment Beneath a Steel Sky ($2.99; revolution.co.uk) offers an equally well-written story with a similar interface.
Secret of Monkey Island – Special Edition
- Lucasfilm international
Despite the similar title, Return to Mysterious Island has more in common with Myst than Monkey Island. This one is a significantly updated port of a 2004 PC game which was in turn based on a Jules Verne novel of the same name. As with Myst, Return to Mysterious Island offers lushly illustrated, static environments. However, it has a more sophisticated interface that allows the player to pan 360 degrees around each image. Subtle animations add realism to these beautifully-rendered environments, and navigating them on the iPhone feels completely natural.
In Return to Mysterious Island, subtle animations (left) add realism to the lush environment, and gentle clues from the protagonist (right) help to move the story along.
As one might expect from an adventure game based on a novel, Return to Mysterious Island is driven by a rich story and a strong plot. Players guide the shipwrecked character of Mina as she attempts to uncover the history of the previous inhabitants of her island while simultaneously acquiring the resources she needs to survive. The depth of the game and the quantity of puzzles makes it a bargain at $2.99. The game offers a rewarding experience for both novice gamers and long-time fans of the genre.
The only downside of this game is that it encourages and rewards long sessions—most gamers will not be willing to settle for just a few minutes of play time.
Return to Mysterious Island
If you prefer more action and a lot more campiness in your adventure games, check out Pangea's Otto Matic. This port of a popular Mac title takes players into a 3D-rendered fifties America infested with beehive-wearing matrons and the brain-sucking aliens trying to abduct them.
Players must fight large-brained aliens (left) before they abduct innocent civilians (right).
Otto Matic has many of the weaknesses of other 3D adventure games, including clumsy controls and awkward camera angles. These are somewhat compounded by the iPhone's small form factor. As a consequence, Otto Matic's ten levels are much less complex than those in similar slower-paced, 2D titles. They go by very quickly. On the other hand, the levels are all cleverly designed, and the campy humor of the game is highly engaging. Those who are looking for fast-paced, light-hearted game play and are willing to adapt to the clumsy control scheme will find Otto Matic worth their time.
If Otto Matic leaves you craving more, take a look at Bugdom 2 ($3.99; pangeasoft.net/iphone/bug2). It offers a comparable gameplay experience using the same game engine.
- Pangea Software
Dexter offers a more sophisticated application of a 3D engine as well as a more mature and complex adventure game. Based on both the Showtime television series and the Jeff Lindsay novels of the same name, Dexter takes the player into the world of serial killer and murder investigator Dexter Morgan.
Designed from the ground up as an iPhone title, Dexter's interface is intuitive and natural. Players are expected to investigate crime scenes, compare blood splatter and DNA, and interrogate witnesses. This leads to a variety of mini-games that are interspersed throughout the traditional point-and-click inventory puzzles found in most adventure games. The difficulty level of these challenges can be adjusted, allowing additional depth to the game while still making it accessible to players of all skill levels. For those comfortable with the dark subject matter and adult language of the television series, Dexter offers many hours of blood-soaked puzzles along with thought-provoking moral dilemmas.