Hands on with Stranded: Mysteries of Time on iPhone

Blast from the past

Hands on with Stranded: Mysteries of Time on iPhone

Reading the hands of a clock and deciphering the dates on a calendar are all part of learning how to tell time. Scurrying away from a Tyrannosaurus Rex and collecting dinosaur eggs aren't exactly in the curriculum.

Stranded: Mysteries of Time nevertheless offers such temporal lessons, setting you off on epoch-spanning adventures involving research on long extinct creatures and the saving of humanity from a time-twisting catastrophe.

It's all in day's work for a body-builder scientist with arms wider than the state of Rhode Island.

Things get off to a quick start as the opening sequence has hero Dr Alex Howells fleeing from a salivating T-Rex. Using a circular D-pad in the lower-left corner, you're given control over Howells in order to manage an escape from the beast. The D-pad - a hollow circle allowing eight-way movement - is tricky to use, though the deliberate pace of the game leaves little need for speedy manoeuvres.

Time is of the essence

Much of your time will be spent scouting out precious artifacts from prehistory anyway - botanical specimens, dinosaur eggs, ancient fishes, etc. Acquiring these items moves the adventure forward in intriguing ways. For example, you can plant a seed in one era and travel to a point in time in the future to see how it's grown into a tree.

More exciting is the prospect of confronting dinos like deinonychus, utahraptor, and lesothosaurus. Living up to his ethical standards even when facing the threat of becoming dino-dinner, Howells relies on a tranquiliser gun to put attacking creatures to sleep. No dino fistfights or gun fights (sadly).

No, Stranded: Mysteries of Time is far more sedate in terms of action, playing out like an adventure game. It's all about completing simple objectives, chatting up characters, and tinkering with various items strewn across time.

Take fishing, for instance. Specimens can be sold to the aquarium in your base for cash, which is used to purchase new items like a shovel or even bait for catching more fish. If you opt for the shovel, you can dig up termite mounds that produce larvae perfect as fishing bait.

The lost world

The game's deliberate pace gives it a casual appeal, though I'm concerned that it won't be able to hold your attention for long. While I was able to work through the first two episodes - the game is partitioned into easily digested episodes - most of my time was spent on tedious errands and lame conversations. Getting to the best parts of the game will require patience.

Similarly, you have to tolerate some iffy graphics that have been scaled up from the original mobile release. Improvements have been undertaken with beautiful new character portraits and such, but some aspects of the presentation are homely. The animations are particularly bad - Howells runs as though he had an accident.

We'll see how it comes together when Stranded: Mysteries of Time becomes available for iPhone and iPod touch next month.