The Academy: The First Riddle had my attention when it touted itself as Harry Potter meets Professor Layton. A film and book franchise I love – despite the creator’s terrible decision on social media since – and a franchise I have enjoyed from time to time, it seemed like it could either be a glorious mess, or game of the year.
In reality, it’s serviceable.
When you think of Harry Potter, what is the first thing that comes to mind? A world of magic? There are mysterious things going on, but the school isn’t a school of wizardry like I was expecting, instead it is a private school for gifted kids. The game kicks off with the protagonist, Sam, walking into the campus and getting a brief introduction before going into his entrance exam.
Fortunately his entrance exam consists of one easy question and one optional obscure one. Hardly the challenge I was expecting for a school for gifted kids, but I suppose it is the first puzzle of the game. That initial question was a simple pattern recognition exercise, and the optional one quickly reminded me why I have put some Professor Layton games down in the past.
I sat at the numbers in sequence trying to figure out what it could equal. I crunched the numbers looking for any shred of a hidden pattern for a good 30 minutes. Using my chocolate bar to get a hint it told me to look at the shape of the numbers and I quickly realised that the pattern was more visual than mathematical (spoiler: it was the number of o’s in the equation, groan). It is one of those puzzles that are frustratingly easy once you know what you are looking for, but looking for them is a painful chore. All the puzzles in the game swing back and forth from super easy to super obscure and frustrating.
The story itself isn’t that exciting either. Sam’s main friends are a girl and red-headed boy (reminiscent of the Harry Potter franchise) who attend classes at the school before encountering their adventure. Not long after they discover all kinds of weirdness going on due to the founders magical inventions, and they solve the mysteries. The pacing is off with periods of either too much or too little information, stopping the story from being compelling.
The art style is OK. It has a minimalist view that I was somewhat expecting given I was playing on a phone, but at times I wanted something to wow me. Something that would make me feel like it was mind boggling being presented on a phone, but it felt passable, which does not remove some of the tediousness of moving around the world. This was also not helped by a few bugs like when I fell through the environment for example, and a couple of app crashes.
The Academy: The First Riddle is a serviceable game. If you are into obscure annoying puzzles, then this could be for you, or if you want to try something different on your phone. A bit more polish and some flair could have made this game much more engaging and entertaining, but in the end it was… fine.
You can download the game and play the first chapter free, so give it a crack and see if it is something you want to buy.
Or watch Harry Potter again and play Professor Layton.