iPhone/iPad game of the day: City of Secrets – like a kid-friendly Monkey Island

On iPhone
City of Secrets
Price: $.99
Size: 263 MB
Get it now on iTunes: US (opens in new tab) / UK (opens in new tab)

On iPad
City of Secrets HD
Price: $4.99

Size: 341 MB
Get it now on iTunes: US (opens in new tab) / UK (opens in new tab)

City of Secrets is one of the finest adventure games available on iOS devices. It shares commonalities with classics like the original Monkey of Island and recent indie darlings like Gemini Rue, in that you alternately control two characters and are bombarded with writing that fancies itself as clever. The latter half of the equation doesn’t always pop, given the clumsy narrator’s obvious joy in reading every joke in the game, but the former half more than makes up for that.

The game kicks off with Rex the dog and Mr. Moles – a mole – needing to find a replacement hook to go fishing. In true adventure game fashion, finding the hook sets a whole sequence of events into motion which couldn’t have been foreseen. The duo gets separated, with Mr. Moles landing himself in Poco Pane, a hidden republic that somehow can be entered through Mr. Moles’ basement. Of course, Poco Pane is filled with people with problems that can only be solved by you wandering about to collect items, combine them, and use them in ways they obviously weren’t intended. A good example of this early on is constructing a makeshift elevator shaft that can only lurch skyward through a Rube Goldberg-esque mechanism involving chains, grains, and implements of torture.

If the puzzles ever seem too obtuse – and some will – City of Secrets’ best feature is a hint button. Actually, it isn’t so much a hint button as a button that’ll tell you where to go and what to do exactly. It can make for lazy play sessions, where you just keep hitting it as soon as you’re given another task to do, so it’s best to observe the honor system. But it is helpful for those times when you don’t think to use a carrot and a chicken to repair a broken down printing press – granted, we’re making that puzzle up, but if you’ve played adventure games before, you know what we mean.

City of Secrets occasionally borrows from adventure gaming’s uglier side by implementing confusing mazes and busywork fetch quests just to pad the run time. But that’s not all bad. If the thought of scampering around lush backgrounds and picking up paintings and giant bird cages and putting them in your pockets makes your heart swell with nostalgia, City of Secrets is a tremendous throwback.

Apr 19, 2011

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