80 Days is an odd little thing to try to classify. It is, as it’s name would suggest, inspired by the Jules Verne novel, Around the World in 80 Days. It is also, very similar to Sorcery! and it’s sequel, the previous games by the game’s developers, Inkle. 80 Days, in less comparative terms, in a text-based adventure game that tasks you with circumnavigating the globe in 80 days or less in order to win the wager accepted by Phileas Fogg, the the employer of the player-character, Jean Passepartout. Though it is simple and largely text-based, 80 Days is managed exude style AND substance that few games can.
The setup of 80 Days is simple and identical to that of the novel. You and Monsieur Fogg endeavor to travel around the world in 80 days. But that, in many ways, is where their similarities stop. The path in which the two main characters of the book take is essentially the only path in which their journey is possible. 80 Days, being that it is a game and not a book, spreads those options out much further. Instead of forcing you traveling to and only to Egypt, Bombay, Calcutta, Hong Kong, Yokohama, San Francisco, New York and finally back London, 80 Days gives you 144 possible cities to visit. In order for this to make sense, 80 Days changes the world in which Fogg and Passepartout live. It is not the 1870s from the novel or history books. In the world of 80 Days, steam powers everything and every culture is growing and changing to adapt to the rapidly shrinking Earth. It’s actually one of the more unique visions of steampunk that I’ve experienced in a videogame. There are giant mechanical birds, a guild of technomancers, gyrocopters and rocket ships all sitting comfortably next to coal locomotives, camels and Jesse James.
While the grand narrative of 80 Days is quite simple, the smaller stories you experience while traveling from one city to another are what make the game. Being kidnapped by nuns, solving a murder mystery aboard a hovercraft and befriending a Mongolian princess are only some of the stories you experience on given a play-through. And considering the number of locales, the potential variations and combinations is something we don’t see in story-based games.
The surface gameplay of 80 Days, like it’s overarching narrative, is ridiculously simple. You read paragraphs of text and select your preferred response… much a like a Choose Your Own Adventure book. However, you don’t have to worry about choosing one option and finding out that your character dies of malaria or is crushed by an avalanche on page 93. There are no dead-ends in 80 Days. While there are choices that will see you thrown in prison, detoured into a jungle or crashed into the sea, nothing will actually stop you.
The gameplay is broken up into two segments. The first involves exploring cities. While in a city you have the option to visit the market and bank, explore and sleep. Markets give you the opportunity to buy and sell goods to either make money or make your trip easier. Items like shipment and train schedules will unlock new routes to take. This is important because at the start of the game, being the untraveled valet that you are, you only know how to get to Cambridge and Paris. All other routes must be discovered. In addition to that, items bought can make certain transportation cheaper or less taxing on Fogg. If selling is not an appealing way of making money, banks allow you to withdraw money at the price of time. Small amounts take a day or two while larger amounts take upwards of a week. Exploring is one of the other ways of discovering new routes. While exploring, Passepartout often finds new friends that will give advice, knickknacks to sell and even plot related items. Finally, you also have the option to sleep in order to pass the time while waiting for your transportation to set sail.
The second segment of gameplay is that which occurs while traveling between cities. Once a day everyday you have to option to read the news, attend to Fogg or converse with others. Unlike activities in cities, you can only do one a day. Reading news does very much what reading the news does, it informs you of events from around the world. This may open up new routes or it may reveal what cities to stay away from. Attending to Fogg does keeps his health up. While you nor your employer can die, if Fogg becomes too ill, you will have to wait until he recuperates in order to venture onward. Conversing with others is the final way that you can learn about new routes. It’s also a great way to learn what to buy and sell.
Despite the fact that the game is simple, it becomes intricate once all the pieces are moving. Planning to wait an extra day for funds from the bank, deciding where to take detours and chose to read the news instead of caring for Fogg all become quite the gamble because even the simplest choice can backfire. On top of this is the factor of time.You’re not merely dealing with the passage of 80 days. The clock ticks constantly, when you’re determining which train to take, when you're exploring, conversing, banking or heading to the market. Everything is delightfully tense because you never know when a trip to the market for a much needed time-table will cause you to miss a train by mere minutes. The only time the clock stops is when there is a story sequence occurring. The game, thankfully, does not require you to speed-read or frantically chose your dialogue options.
Given that virtually everything is conveyed through text, 80 Days has an impeccably sharp style about it. Always in the background is the Earth as it glows beautifully in the day and night alike. More beautiful are the illustrations that represent the vessels you travel on and cities you stop in. In addition to graphics, the music is deliciously infectious, especially the main theme, which greatly invokes the map sequences from the Indiana Jones movies.
With as wonderful of an experience as 80 Days is, there is at least one minor fault in my eyes as to how it handles conversion. There are two types of dialogue in 80 Days, that which is found in the paragraphic story sequences and that which can be done once a day while traveling. The issue I’m discussing involves that latter. When initiating these particular conversations you chose cities to discuss rather than specific dialogue, after which Passepartout asks about a city or if two cities might connect. The responses given range from fluid and informative to oddly screwball. What’s even more out-of-place is that some character will ask you questions about something that happened early, such are your belief in true love. It’s terribly disengaging when your only response is to ask about Omsk.
80 Days is a simple game about globe trotting. But in those travels are a number fantastic smaller narratives that make what could be a dull and straightforward journey incredibly engaging. More so than that is the game’s ability to make picking route both terrifying and rewarding. But most of all is the shear personality and replayability of 80 Days. I’ve circumnavigated the Earth fives times and every single trip has been different. Well written, fun, easy to pickup and difficult to put down, 80 Days is not only one of the best mobile games around, it's one of the best video games, mobile or not, to come out in 2014 so far.
Jonathan is the host of the DarkCast, DarkCast Interviews, and Gamers Read. He loves books, video games, and superheroes. If he had to pick favorites, they would be Welcome to the Monkey House, Mass Effect, and Superman respectively.