You join a prestigious academy with a curriculum centred around puzzles. That sounds freaking awesome if I may say so. And then you discover there’s some magical shenanigans happening, doubly awesome right? Well, it’s up to you to figure out what’s going on in The Academy: The First Riddle.
- Real Brainteasers: The Academy presents you with a variety of single/multiple choice type puzzles, where you’re given a premise and must deduce (or outright guess) the correct answer(s). Some of them are pretty straightforward but others, especially the “extra credit” puzzles, can get incredibly complex, which is wonderful for someone who likes a little bite in his videogame puzzles.
- Lots to Do: Every aspect of The Academy is governed by puzzles. Puzzles for the main story, puzzles from “daily” newspapers, puzzles for side-quests, optional objectives and more. There are so many things to do while playing The Academy, so many challenges to sink your teeth into. This game is overloaded with puzzles and I mean it in a good way.
- Cardboard Cast: While you can tell the effort that went into the puzzling, the plot and characters show how barebones the writing is. Characters are a set of stereotypes and tropes without depth. There’s the photography geek, the comics geek, the bully, the music geek and the overbearing teachers. Not to mention that the protagonist trio is a direct adaptation of the protagonist trio in the Harry Potter novels, only, again, without any of the depth. It’s almost impossible to care for the plot or the characters. There’s nothing about them that feels sincere and human.
- Uneven Puzzles: While there are indeed a great number of brainteasers, the quality of the puzzles is wildly uneven. Even by the end some incredibly hard puzzles would be followed by puzzles so simple they felt like tutorials. Worse still are the moment where the extra credit puzzles, the ones that are meant to truly test your brainpower, are easier than the main ones. So instead of a steady climb in difficulty that makes it so solving the final puzzles feels like overcoming a great challenge, you’re left slightly disappointed that the quality couldn’t hold out right up to the end.
- One-trick Pony: The Academy’s puzzle clearly draws its inspiration from the Professor Layton series with puzzles presented in a question and answer format, like a test in school. But there are many of these puzzles where I found myself thinking “I’d love to actually do this puzzle instead of answering the question.” From puzzles about interconnecting pipes, deducting cyphers and even packing suitcases with Tetris blocks, there are so different kinds of puzzles that could have been implemented for a much more impactful and entertaining experience. Not only that, but the single style of puzzles quickly wears out its welcome. Variety in puzzles is important and The Academy completely wastes this opportunity to present and showcase some amazing interactive challenges.
- Sequel Bait: It’s subtitled The First Riddle so it’s clearly built as part of a series. That’s not a bad thing, many other games have done so in the past. The problem is, to do that and still deliver an experience where you grip the player and keep them interested, the writing has to be on point to make the events intriguing and entertaining, and the relevant characters have to support that. And sadly, as I’ve said at length with the characters, that’s not the case with The Academy. Instead of feeling like an evolving situation, the plot feels like a disjointed set of events, each with a common theme, but nothing else. From one chapter to another, beyond the MacGuffin catalyst for the crisis, you don’t get much in the way of plot progressing or character development. So, when you get to the last chapter and the final confrontations, there’s little impact to the story and whatever tension they expected has already fizzled out. That’s not to say the plot doesn’t have the elements of a great mystery, it’s just that the pacing is terrible, the revelations are predictable and the payoff is nonexistent.