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iPhone game: Scarlett and the Spark of Life

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Recently played an entertaining iPhone puzzle/adventure game: Scarlett and the Spark of Life.

In this game, you play Princess Scarlett, who, at the start of the game, has been kidnapped. Which doesn't seem like a promisingly feminist start to a game, but—well, the game opens with two lines of dialogue from Scarlett:

You bastards! How did you manage to drug me?

And what is this, a kidnapping? How original.

Then we get a title card:

Prologue: Tied Up and Angry

After which Scarlett continues:

Loosen these ropes so I can punch you in the kidneys!

Not, clearly, your average damsel in distress.

And after a little bickering, the first thing Scarlett does is escape from her fairly dimwitted captors, using a combination of brains, wisecracking, and willingness to leap into the unknown.

Oh, but first she has to retrieve her belongings from the bad guys. When you tap the bundle containing her stuff, she thinks:

My goggles! My tool belt! My crowbar! It better all be in there.

I was, of course, immediately hooked.

The rest of the game continues in much that vein. You move Scarlett around on the screen by tapping where you want her to go, and then she walks there, with fairly minimalist animation (and some ambient background sounds). You tap things to examine them or pick them up; you drag items out of Scarlett's backpack to use them; you tap people to talk with them.

And in fact, most of the game consists of navigating the conversation trees—that is, picking from a set of lines of dialogue with which to interact with the other characters. Which could be boring, except that the dialogue here is really fun and entertaining. After playing through the game myself, I watched over Kam's shoulder as she played it, and had almost as much fun the second time through, especially because Kam picked some different choices than I'd made in some of the dialogue trees.

There are a couple of big puzzles to solve, mostly by gathering information, and a few smaller ones, all toward the overarching goal: Scarlett needs to escape from the bad guys so she can go rescue her sister (who isn't as good at self-rescue) from other bad guys. And to escape, Scarlett first needs to build herself a horse.

An egotistical mechanical horse.

With a god complex.

The game does have some flaws. I found a couple of the puzzles a little annoying; for one of the last ones, in particular, I had failed to notice the relevant object at the beginning of the game and so after a lot of wandering around in the game, I resorted to a web search. And for another one, I figured out the answer well in advance but wasn't allowed to get to it until I happened to have the right conversation with the right person. And although I like the art quite a bit, the animation is a little weak in places. And several of the conversation trees exist only to give you a choice of four snappy comebacks; in those cases, it doesn't matter which one you pick.

Still, those flaws are minor. The game costs only 99¢, and it's fun and funny and short and relatively easy, and it's nice to see a video game heroine who solves problems via smarts, social interaction, sarcasm, and (off-screen) engineering talent. Oh, and incidentally, the game passes the Bechdel-Wallace test easily.

This is billed as “episode 1” of a series; there are several mysteries left unsolved at the end. I'll be interested to see episode 2.

Recommended.

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