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27 July, 2014

80 Days Review - Inkle Adapt Jules Verne's Around The World in 80 Days into a Digital Choose Your Own Adventure Classic

Note: We have just released episode 6 of our game discovery app, Grab It, and it features not only the Top 10 Gamebooks on iPad, but also an exclusive feature with genre legends Tin Man Games on how it’s reinvigorated the genre for the digital generation.

"I have entered into the service of a new gentleman. It would seem he is a gambling man. 'Passepartout,' said he. 'We are going around the world! Pack my evening jacket. There is not a moment to waste!'" It is with these incredulous words that intrepid traveller Phileas Fogg and his faithful French valet Passepartout set out to traverse the globe within 80 days, providing the backdrop for our titular adventure.

The idea behind 80 Days would seem quite odd if you weren't aware it is based on the classic 1873 novel from Jules Verne, Around The World In 80 Days. Similar to the novel, 80 Days follows the stories of Fogg and Passepartout as they race around the world to win a handsome wager made with some snooty English gentlemen. The novel has come to be regarded as one of the finest literary works from Verne, meaning inkle had a serious challenge on its hands in adapting it. Not only has inkle risen to the challenge, 80 Days is probably the greatest and most engaging way to experience what Verne had in mind when he first dreamt up the stories of Fogg and Passepartout.  
At its heart, 80 Days plays out in a similar fashion to classic choose-your-own adventures. But what sets 80 Days apart is that your choices have a massive impact on the overall story progression. There are almost 150 cities that you can visit in your global trek; which cities you visit is totally up to you. In this regard, 80 Days is quite different to many other choose-your-own adventures in that your choices aren't going to lead to an untimely death or game over screen. The end result is already known - to win the wager - it is the journey that is important. Experiencing the sights and the smells of the places you visit, whilst conversing with a variety of weird and wonderful characters, without the fear of a premature ending, provides for one of the best choose-your-own adventures I've ever experienced.

Let me tell you about my adventure. Setting out from London, my journey took me to the wonderful city of Paris. From there, the only limitations were my imagination. In my travels I visited the bustling city of New Orleans (USA), traversed the wintery Russian landscape and stopped to drink in the majesty of the Taj Mahal (India). My modes of transportation were plentiful, from steam carriages to airships to ocean liners. The characters that drifted in and out of my travels were colourful, adding splashes of frivolity and intrigue. A fleeting romance with a beautiful lady, a cut-throat pirate who stole my belongings and a ship captain smuggling opium were but a few of the wonderful characters that cut across my path.  My journey took 63 days, having travelled over 30,000 miles. Yet I but merely scratched the surface, visiting only 22 cities. To truly see what 80 Days has to offer, one playthrough simply isn't enough.

Upon reaching a city, you have a few options. You can slip off to the dusty marketplace where goods can be bought and sold. Some items will be very helpful to you in your travels; for example, you can purchase items of clothing that will reduce the harshness of travelling long distances. This becomes important as Passepartout has to manage Fogg's wellbeing throughout the trip. It's also worth noting that inkle does a wonderful job of developing the personalities of our protagonists, leading to some incredibly humorous interactions. Fogg is the silent, disapproving English type, while Passepartout comes across as a zesty, misunderstood Frenchman.

If you're not wandering around the marketplace, you can also spend time talking to the locals and drinking in the sights. On the surface, this is a critical aspect to 80 Days as this is how you find out information on new routes and transportation to travel around the world. But it is also where 80 Days smartest move. These conversations and experiences add depth and enrich the game, making it feel like you’re personally going on a trip around the world. You'll come across a huge variety of people with tall tales and fantastical stories to tell. It's hard not to be drawn in by these people. When you do finally come to the end of your trip, it is these people that stick out in your mind, providing the impetus to pack your suitcase once more and set off on another trip all over again.

If you haven't picked up already, 80 Days is quite unlike any choose-your-own adventure you've delved into before. That's not a problem per se - after all creativity is fantastic - but inkle takes a few too many liberties, leaving basic aspects of the game unexplained. One example is that after selecting certain dialogue options, Passepartout may find that his relationship with Fogg has strengthened or deteriorated, or Passepartout may become more "courageous" and "zestful." What inkle doesn't explain is how these attributes affect the game, if at all. Perhaps this was intentional, but it does leave a massive question mark hanging over the relevance of some of your decisions. 

Also, even by choose-your-own adventure standards, 80 Days is quite wordy, with a script running to 500,000 words. You won't experience all of this in one playthrough, but if reading blocks of text isn't your thing then you may want to reconsider your choice of game. In addition, 80 Days is quite a high brow experience, reflecting the era in which the original book was written. It's not every day that some of your dialogue options consist of "The countryside was the very definition of bucolic." It's a nice touch, adding an air of authenticity to the adventure, but some people may be turned off by the old school language.

Even in the relative infancy of the digital gamebook/choose-your-own adventure genre, 80 Days stands out as a pleasant oddity. I never would have imagined that a classic novel such as Around The World in 80 Days would be turned into an interactive experience. But I'm glad inkle did and the studio deserves high praise for creating an accessible and, ultimately, fun way for people to experience Verne’s classic work.

Grab the game here.

Stephen Mitchell

Don’t forget to read our exclusive feature on how Tin Man Games has reinvigorated the gamebook for a digital generation, and our Top 10 Gamebooks on iPad, in Episode 6 of Grab It.

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