Of Mice and Moles
A routine day of garbage fishing goes swimmingly for Mr. Moles until his faithful friend Rex gets sucked into an underground cavern beneath the Moles residence. Rather than stand there wondering how this portal to an underworld exists in his very cellar, Mr. Moles does the dutiful thing and follows Rex into the City of Secrets (Out Now for $.99, Lite). This subterranean city quickly lives up to its name, as Mr. Moles’ rescue mission draws him into one sordid political intrigue after another. Will Mr. Moles’ and Rex’s puzzle solving skills be enough to thwart a dastardly plot that threatens all mole-kind?
Filled with as much thought provoking satire on historical revolutionary movements as it is with kid-friendly anthropomorphism, City of Secrets manages a rare breed of humor that truly appeals across age groups. Its script – almost completely voice acted, I might add – also delights in lampooning the current state of adventure games, featuring a narrator who frequently apologizes for the completely zany exercises Aidem Media dreamed up for this genre tour de force.
While the script’s text could still be nitpicked just a bit for grammar, City of Secrets sports a remarkably fun narrative that feels lighthearted and yet pertinent in its satire. Its twists and turns tend to be quite predictable, but the story’s greatest strengths lie in well defined characters and how much of it is delivered in Mr. Moles’ lovable Cockney accent.
City of Secrets still needs to be a game, of course, and here it succeeds just as well as an adventure game must if it is to maintain the interest of a wide audience. Mr. Moles’ quest is largely a laid-back affair, revolving around the tasks of pumping city inhabitants for info and stashing or constructing items useful to progression. Once it’s gotten into full swing, however – and this is something that may not be adequately reflected in the Lite version – City of Secrets stirs in a healthy number of minigames and puzzle solving segments that make it feel satisfyingly varied.
For the most part City of Secrets appeals to player convenience. Instantaneous travel among environments occurs on a ubiquitously available city map, for example, and the Hidden Object genre’s well-worn “Hint” button is also at the player’s beck and call. On the downside, the tasks Mr. Moles and Rex must perform can become so unintuitive that said “Hint” button serves more as a permanent crutch than something the player reaches for when occasionally stumped.
The script makes it clear this isn’t a design oversight on Aidem Media’s part at all, but rather an intentional gimmick that plays into their satire of the wider adventure genre. Nevertheless, all the frequent turning to the “Hint” button might dampen the game’s appeal for some players. At the price of a buck this practically feels like fair penance, but Aidem Media’s ultra-quirky approach is sure to be a more formidable consideration in higher-priced versions.
All aspects of City of Secrets‘ interface, ranging from tap-and-go character movement to slide-to-combine inventory management, have been executed perfectly on iOS. One or two times I encountered objects that seemed packed a little too closely for comfort when it came to reliable touchscreen interaction, but thankfully this didn’t affect anything critical to the player’s progress.
City of Secrets is drop dead gorgeous in every way an iOS gamer could ever ask for; the character models are simple but attractive, the soundtrack subtly atmospheric, the pre-rendered environments dripping with style and attention to detail. It’s worth noting that the game’s aesthetic beauty demands a load time of approximately five seconds during transitions from one environment to the next. This is no one-sitting morsel, either. City of Secrets is impressively long for the genre, certain to occupy two to three days’ worth of the player’s gaming time.
iFanzine Verdict: If you think you’ll purchase just one adventure game this year for your iPhone or iPod Touch, you won’t go wrong with City of Secrets. It would have been a highly enjoyable game on any platform, but the sheer weight of its presentation, added to the amount and quality of content to be found within, makes it impossible to pass up at the price it’s going for on these platforms.
While its minor flaws feel completely negligible at the price of $.99, subtract one half star for Aidem Media’s brazen approach to zany nonsensicality if you’re looking into the HD version for iPad. Being asked to fashion a working elevator out of a hamster and a bicycle could, understandably, turn a few players off at the HD version’s much higher price range.