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As a kid, I grew up reading two things for fun: action / fantasy books like those by Jules Verne, and Choose Your Own Adventure books. I even diagrammed the structure of some of the latter for fun – whether it led to a good ending, a bad ending, or looped back around to another part of the book. Yeah, I was a weird kid.

I first heard about 80 Days ($4.99, iOS only) on the iTunes Featured / Front page – something I like to check out about once a week to see what’s new. The descriptions informs you of the half-million word script (!), the original artwork and music, and so on. The “1872, with a steampunk twist” part, however, combined with flashbacks of reading CYOA books, made it easy to push the ‘Buy’ button.

(As you might guess of a literary classic in the public domain, several other apps have taken to using the title and characters in their own games. At time of publication there is no Android version, and has nothing to do with any apps of similar names.)

You are Passepartout, Phileas Fogg’s newly hired French servant, and Mr. Fogg has just decided to set off in a round-the-world adventure. Fans of the book will discover a number of small touches and homages to the text, though how you came into Mr. Fogg’s service and the nature of the large bet Mr. Fogg made remains mostly unspoken. Instead, you’re thrown into what the author calls Victorian futurism – one where the Panama Canal is tightly controlled by Haitians, where gyrocopters and hydrofoils are the ways to get around in 1872, and the US is de-emphasized as the center of the world.

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Even with so many elements from fantasy, you’ll discover some of the same troubles and characters as found in the book – without giving too much away, you may decide to rescue Aouda (an Indian princess) or leave her captors be, and you’ll find a similar issue with the trains heading to Allahabad. Purists will find the exact trip as seen in the book is doable, though you’ll have more stops than mentioned in the book and may find a easier path elsewhere.

Emphasizing the breakneck speed of the book, the in-game clock ceaselessly ticks on at roughly 2 minutes per real-life second. Just like in real life, you can miss your train if you spend too much time adjusting what’s in your suitcases or thinking about whether to buy that Leather Brace. (The Brace can be sold for many times its price in a few European cities – buy low, sell high.) The game pauses only for dialogues and for readers of any speed to enjoy the story.

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And what a story it is! Full credit to the writer Meg Jayanth for an engaging, adjective-filled world that emulates the 1873 book perfectly. Befitting the times of our English gentlemen and his French servant, you’ll discover no profanity, though racial and political tensions from almost 150 years ago are around. Several of your choices will involve having to defend your French honor, your master’s gentlemanly sensibilities, or to bite your tongue and walk on.

The game’s mechanics are easy enough to pick up. During journeys you’ll have the choice to ‘Wait’ (pick up a newspaper and read a headline of some significance), ‘Converse’, which opens up a guided chat with the train conductor or balloon pilot (and sometimes Mr. Fogg), or simply ‘Fogg’. You play the role of a servant, after all, and looking after your master is a task to keep his health / spirit up. The only metric that seems to matter much is this: Fogg’s health starts at 100, goes down during more wearisome travel, and recovers thanks to your care and resting at hotels. Going too low will all but guarantee a stall in your travel while he recuperates.

Once you’re arrived, your options include ‘Hotel’ (if you have the money) or ‘Sleep’ (if you’re nearly broke). ‘Explore’ sets Passepartout on a walking quest around the city, and usually returns with a story and some new routes available. ‘Market’ and ‘Bank’ are intuitive enough, but ‘Plan’ and ‘Depart’ require a bit more attention. ‘Plan’ brings up the spectacular globe view and the potential routes available. While not every city is connected to each other, exploring (or owning one of the timetables sold in the markets) helps to connect the dots. Connecting to the internet (which is not required for any part of the main game) brings in crowdsourced journeys of other players seamlessly.

One common nightly choice is to tend to Mr. Fogg or to strike out on your own to explore the city. I get the sense there’s some inner workings possibly influencing the dialogue or outcome, but there’s no obvious signs on how that changes anything of substance. There’s also plenty of other mysteries on a daily basis – much like the encounters that travelers of the modern era have. Some of them are played out and wrapped up, while others (such as the full stories behind the mysterious machine makers) will likely take longer to be solved.

It’s worth noting that you’ll see a fair representation of women in the app – Meg herself is from India, a country rather unfairly regarded in the original book. In this story, however, Aouda takes on a far different role than in the book. I’ll leave you to find out what that is since it’s a great twist.

You’ll note that the items you own come in handy in a few different ways:

  • As protection from – or helpful for dealing with – the elements
  • As trinkets to offer your conversation partner to keep the advice flowing to discover more routes.
  • As ways to stay afloat – quite a few items offer clear hints they’ll sell for much more in onward cities.

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Getting from A to B becomes a question of ‘what sort of vehicle is that?’ From a “tram-sized mechanical bird” that looks like a steampunk Romulan Warbird to an iron mechanical chariot to a moving city that walks, getting there is more than half the fun. Each game ends up being completely different from the one before it – even consciously playing to follow the same journey as another would result in a different game for you.

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A red path signifies the journey can’t be made until at least tomorrow; a yellow path signifies a journey that can be embarked upon today. In some cases an earlier departure can be negotiated – usually for an additional sum of money. Your items will assist here – having a Railway Cap and Railway Whistle, for example, seems to endear you to those that control the trains.

A game of this size has a few faults, and naturally I hope future iterations remove these. When circling the globe, the names of the cities remain hidden until you tap on them. Were you traveling to well-known modern-day cities, this might be forgiven, but your destinations are of the world from 1873. No nation-state borders are shown, either, which does take the focus off of where a place is somewhat.

As I write this, I’ve played the game through several times, each full play-through requiring at least an hour to 1 1/2 hours. I have yet to figure what, if anything, changes when Passepartout’s relationship with Mr. Fogg goes down or up. The dialogue itself changes a bit, and he seems to have fewer points restored, but those seem minuscule changes. It’s the same issue within some dialogues, wherein Passepartout becomes more suave or dependable as a result. There’s no way of knowing how (or if) these personality traits are changing anything within the game – or which ones are worth having. It’s nice that they’re here to humanize the men, but I’m left wondering how it changes the game.

Even with these tiny faults, 80 Days has won the (possibly coveted) title of my favorite game of 2014. Between the necessary strategy, gorgeous graphics, and story that intermingles a classic tale with plenty of twists, there’s plenty going on to keep you entertained for a long time.

Highly recommended.

Learn more at http://www.inklestudios.com/80days/, or buy the game through iTunes.