Play a lot of smartphone games, and it's easy to fall into a rut. This game's like Angry Birds, that game's like Jetpack Joyride, these games are like a combination of the two. Sometimes it can feel like there's nothing new under your thumbs. Then you'll play something like Device 6, and remember just how cool touchscreen gaming can be.
Device 6 comes to us from Simogo, makers of Year Walk and the triumphant music/puzzle game Beat Sneak Bandit, the latter of which has secured and maintained a spot on Kotaku's list of the best games on iPhone. While Bandit was a straightforward game—players guided a cartoon thief through complex stealth puzzles by moving to a beat—Device 6 is a good deal more mysterious.
Broadly, I'd describe Device 6 as interactive fiction—it's a six-chapter mystery novella, and you'll pick up most of the story by reading descriptive sentences. It tells the story of a woman named Anna who finds herself in a mysterious castle with no memory of how she arrived or clue as to what she's doing there. What's going on? Where is everybody? How can she escape?
To get more specific, I'd describe Device 6 as "multimedia-enhanced interactive fiction," in that it includes stylishly embedded images, audio recordings and interactive puzzles, all strewn about the words on the page. Each of the game's chapters contains a few puzzles, which you'll have to solve by carefully observing Anna's surroundings, moving forward and backward through the chapter, deducing codes and cracking cyphers. It's never all that difficult, but the puzzles have an opacity that I very much appreciated.
While creative interactive fiction is nothing new—indeed, some of the most exciting and interesting game design currently happening is happening in IF—Device 6 sets itself apart on style points alone. The game has been designed with a clean, retro-cool look that recalls classic James Bond films and the cinematic iconography of the 1970s. The puzzles themselves conjure the elusive Dharma Initiative mystery boxes of LOST, right down to the eerie looping recordings and enigmatic, button-adorned cathode-ray tubes. In between chapters, Device 6 pulls out of itself to reveal a dryly humorous meta-layer, which—similar to last week's The Stanley Parable—will leave you wondering if you're reading about a test subject or whether you are the test subject.
While I've spent the bulk of my time with Device 6 reading, it feels entirely distinctive from an ordinary eBook. That's largely because the text in the game is regularly re-orienting to paint a picture of the geographic space through which Anna is navigating. It's the rare smartphone game that doesn't auto-orient itself depending on how you hold your phone—one paragraph the text will be reading down the vertical length of the phone, the next it'll flip to the side and flow in one long sentence, ever-shifting to the right. Then it'll slowly climb, as Anna climbs a flight of stairs, or hesitantly drop, word by word, as she descends a ladder. (To be clear, the text doesn't move while you read—it simply requires you to move your device to keep reading.)
As I flipped and rotated my phone, following along with the odd map of text, I started to conceptualize the three-dimensional space occupied by each chapter. Reading Device 6 is like unfolding an intricate origami puzzle. If I knew more about typography, I'd say that Device 6 is a spectacular example of its creative, interactive implementation, but I don't... so I'll just say that I think the fonts and text in the game are super cool-looking.
To go into greater detail would be to undercut a lot of the fun—if what you've read sounds like your bag, go and see for yourself. Device 6 isn't much like any other mobile game, and is well worth your time and attention. Just remember: Listen to what the three bears have to say.
Don't worry, it'll make sense when you need it to.
Genre: Interactive Fiction, Mystery