Late last year I had the pleasure of reviewing Buddha Finger, a charming kung-fu themed game for the iPad and developed by Lady Shotgun Games. The writing and music for that title was handled by Katharine Neil who is about to release a game under her own label, Cheap Drunk Games. That game is Alone in the Park and I had a chance to get my hands on an iPad preview build. This text-based/graphical adventure game hybrid impressed me with how the game is structured and the casual feel of playing it. I’ll save a full review for when it’s released, so for now here are some relevant facts and impressions about what to expect.
The setup for Alone in the Park is that the player’s character discovers a mysterious letter indicating that there’s a treasure to be found in a nearby park. The location of that treasure is uncovered by finding map pieces through exploration and puzzle-solving. Along the way, the player encounters a variety of oddball characters most of whom will require some sort of favor to be completed in order to gain important information or a map piece from them. Naturally the process of completing that goal isn’t simple, and will often require backtracking to find other clues and achieve other goals in order to progress further.
Perhaps the most interesting element of Alone in the Park is how it is played. Half of the user interface is a text area used to describe what’s going on and display conversations between the characters. The other half of the GUI is the graphical portion of the game. By default it will display the park map while the player is exploring. The entire map isn’t visible at one time, and key locations in the park must be discovered by walking near them (think ‘fog of war’) at which point they are drawn on the map. The player enters those locations in order to find objects, animals, new characters and in general to help the story progress. Any objects, clues, or characters that are encountered receive an icon in a tray for use later.
Interaction with the characters is handled in a simple, straightforward approach from the player’s perspective. The developer intentionally focuses on not including complicated conversation trees. Instead, the player can drag an image of an object or creature they’ve encountered onto the picture of another character in order to potentially initiate a new conversational topic (only some topics are conversation-worthy to a particular character). It’s in this manner that the plot is developed and puzzles are solved. I couldn’t help but be reminded of my experiences playing the old LucasArts adventure games like Sam & Max Hit the Road. Like the characters in that game, Alone in the Park plays heavily on stereotypes. The characters are pretty one-note like the spiritual healer, the eco warrior, the businessman and so on. Cheap Drunk gets a lot of comedic mileage out of it thanks to text-based storytelling full of witty sarcasm and a heavy dose of puns and innuendo.
Aside from a bit of nostalgia, what I enjoyed most about the preview build was the leisurely way in which it can be played. There’s a log of all current tasks and the latest progress on them, so it’s really the kind of game that someone can play for brief bursts and come back to with little trouble. The final game will be a short experience (an estimated four hours or so), but that seems well-suited for a casual mystery. Alone in the Park is scheduled to release on June 15th for PC, Mac, Linux, and the iPad. Be sure to check back here at The Indie Mine for a full review. In the meantime, you can find the trailer below.
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