The winds of revival are blowing and Scarlett and the Spark of Life, Episode 1 is but a gust.
As adventure games find a comfortable new home on Apple devices, this original tale from independent studio Launching Pad Games is at the forefront of the genre's revival. Charming visuals, sharp writing, and interesting puzzles make for an entertaining adventure.
Better yet, it's custom built for iPhone and iPod touch and it shows - responsive controls and a clean interface ensure it's easy to play, even if it lacks a hint system and some scenarios border on the bizarre.The pen is mightier than the broken sword
This first episode in a planned series of four begins with the kidnapping of mouthy Princess Scarlett.
Thrown onto the back of a horse and trotted through the mountains, your first task is to break free using crafty words to distract your captors and cleverly devised tools to slice through the ropes that bind you.
From the first moment of this well-pitched prologue to the last, the game draws you in with its fresh dialogue and endearing graphics. Like all great adventure games, Scarlett and the Spark of Life straddles that ever-so-thin line between camp and clever. The writing is sharp, but not overdone; the characters are quirky, but not off-putting.
In a way, the writing is too good. Rather than supporting gameplay, it eclipses the rather formulaic puzzles. I found myself motivated to play out of a desire to meet new characters and see the story through - not because I took any particular pleasure in the puzzles.
New dog, old tricks
Much of the gameplay involves finding and combining objects. Discovering items is easy enough thanks to a handy virtual button in the lower-right corner that highlights every interactive hot spot on the screen. However, combining objects requires more effort.
Items are kept in a small inventory raised from the bottom of the screen. In a wise move to keep interactions from becoming complex, you're never asked to combine two objects within your inventory. Instead, all combinations are done in the surrounding environment.
The game provides ample direction - in one case the answer to a puzzle is outright given to you - and most scenarios are laid out in an obvious manner.
Still, there can be moments of confusion when it's unclear what you need to do to advance. Since you can't combine items in your inventory, you're left to throw objects at characters and the environment to see what sticks. A hint system would do away with this entirely, though to be fair this isn't a difficult game.
Short and sweet
Scarlett and the Spark of Life is short, which limits the number of possible solutions for any given puzzle. While you might get stuck, you can weasel your way out by simply guessing because there are so few possible combinations.
Compared with the far more obtuse adventures from which this game takes inspiration, this is a cakewalk. Nevertheless, the incorporation of a hint system and integration with a social gaming network such as Game Center or OpenFeint wouldn't hurt.Scarlett and the Spark of Life, Episode 1 sets the stage for the series nicely, providing future instalments with a rock-solid foundation on which to build. Continue the sharp writing, develop the main characters more fully, add a couple of features, and this charming series will be on the path to becoming a classic.