Publisher: Launching Pad Games
Developer: Launching Pad Games
Compatibility: iOS 4.0 or later
iTunes Rating: 9+
Release date: Available now
Apparently, developers no longer want to take any risks; games mostly imitate what’s already been done. At least that’s what I thought before I played Scarlett and the Spark of Life by Launching Pad Games. Scarlett is a weird hybrid of choose-your-own-adventure books and games such as Myst. What really caught me off guard was its storytelling element; the dialogue is humorous, and at times, laugh-out-loud funny. Usually when I’m playing a game with the intent to review it, I look for its ability to make me miss the gameplay when I’m away from my phone. But with Scarlett, I found myself looking forward to uncovering the story.
You are Princess Scarlett, and you’ve been kidnapped. You find yourself slung over the hind quarters of a knight’s horse, trying to manipulate the knight’s dimwitted squire. Eventually you make a daring escape that involves falling down the side of a mountain, only to wind up in a town that worships crazy-eyed animals that look like llamas. In an attempt to return to your castle, you search for a horse, but there are no horses because the insane llama-esque animals eat them. You stumble upon an engineer’s plan to build a mechanical horse that is powered by some unknown life force. You find the horse’s head and the fairy-like life force, but the horse has no body. The rest of the game chronicles your attempt to jerry-rig a body for this mechanical horse. You meet several quirky townsfolk who aid you in your search, but only if you solve their problems or manipulate their circumstances.
Through the course of the story, Scarlett has to navigate in a somewhat limited world via your tapping finger. As you encounter the game’s characters, you are presented with dialogue threads. There are definitely wrong choices in how you can respond, but you always circle back around in a way that allows you to correct your poor selections. You collect items you need during your journey and store them in your knapsack. There aren’t really any hints for how to use the items, but that’s part of the game’s fun and charm. Not only are you trying to uncover the secrets of the townsfolk, but you also have to bribe them with items you find or unlock by solving riddles.
Scarlett and the Spark of Life doesn’t use the traditional attack/move/jump mechanics that most games exhibit. It’s better described an interactive comic, which I realize sounds sort of hokey; there’s definitely a huge opportunity for a developer to completely fail at this type of game. But Launching Pad Games has knocked it out of the park. The story is consistently funny, the graphics are high-quality and entertaining, and the puzzles/riddles add just enough engagement to keep story progression interesting and, at times, challenging. With regards to the sound, the effects are appropriate and the game wisely avoids using a soundtrack, which would have cheapened the environments.
There are a few downsides to the game. The first, and the one most likely to be an obstacle to buyers, is Scarlett’s laser-beam focus on the story. Scarlett is not something you would want to play during a 10-minute gaming session. It requires focus and patience, and unless you anticipate this going in, you might be turned off to the whole experience. The second shortcoming is its use of repetition to simulate a wrong choice. You can make wrong choices, but you are always given a chance to correct these choices by repeating almost the same exact steps (minus your initial wrong choice). While this does add to the length of gameplay, I found myself wishing that I could just fast-forward through parts that I had already experienced.
At this writing, Scarlett and the Spark of Life is selling for $2.99 on iTunes. To me, this is more than a fair price for a game that takes a risk and, as a result, gives iOS gamers something fresh and engaging. When I finished it I was instantly upset that Part 2 has not been developed. With most games, I’m satisfied if they allow me to simply kill some time; I’ll forgive a lot if they can entertain me for 10 minutes here and there. Scarlett isn’t perfect in any one area, but it’s successful in many ways. These are elements that lots of iOS games fail to provide (e.g. humor, charm, story progression) by either trying too hard or just being weak ideas at their inception. Buy this game and support an indie developer with great potential.