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Things didn’t look good when, upon launch, 9 Elefants bumped us immediately to Facebook in order for it to nose about in our friends list and news feed. We quit and restarted, in case this was a mistake. It wasn’t. Suitably grumpy, we then entered the game proper: a reasonably stylish and cartoonish take on Paris, draped over a game that thinks it’s a cousin to Nintendo’s Professor Layton series — but has bafflingly omitted panache, imagination, and fun.
The plot involves meandering about unlocked locations, having drawn-out conversations with irritating characters who seem to be in on a massive practical joke. Your father, a professor, has vanished; but rather than help you, Paris’s inhabitants instead demand you solve puzzles, in return for them drip-feeding vital information. And, yes, we know — this is a video game! Lighten up! But it’s hard to get into a fun frame of mind, for two very good reasons: first, the aforementioned conversations require a maddening number of taps to plow through, and secondly, the puzzles just aren’t very good.
Layton’s fairly breezy and varied approach to puzzles isn’t really in evidence here. 9 Elefants instead appears to have wrenched half of its content from the kind of thing a 12-year-old would battle away at in an exam hall. You’re therefore quizzed about the heights of mountains and lengths of avenues (and in at least two cases, we questioned the game’s accuracy regarding the answers), or presented with math puzzles where the question is worded just badly enough for you to sometimes trip up and get things wrong. Occasionally, 9 Elefants almost redeems itself with puzzles that are more about untangling wordplay trickery, whereupon it smugly points out there weren’t calculations to do, but this is rare.
Some of the puzzles are, mercifully, more tactile in nature, but they’re no more imaginative. Instead, you get variations on tried, tested, and dusty combination-cracking and line-untangling tasks, as well as sliding puzzles and tetronimo boxes, repeating alongside the school-oriented fare until your brain goes numb. And because puzzles are fixed rather than dynamic, the game has to stop you from just retrying them over and over with different answers.
Its solution: "time films," which can be captured in a dull mini-game in which you watch some portals, see the film emerge from one, and tap the screen. A few captured films usually buys you another go at a puzzle, or a small pile can be used to skip a puzzle entirely. Surprisingly, there’s no in-app purchase for buying time films — which, if you’re feeling generous, could be considered a redeeming feature of the game.
Elsewhere, though, things remain decidedly unrosy — and the poor UI is the final nail in the coffin, seemingly cut and pasted from the PC with scant regard for the touchscreen. At the very least, you should be able to drag and drop answers on an iPad, but you’re instead left with awkward multiple taps, which alongside the banal dialog, twee music, and boring puzzles hardly make for the most enthralling gaming experience on iOS.
The bottom line. They say an elephant never forgets. We doubt we’ll forget our experience with 9 Elefants, although not for the right reasons.
iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch running iOS 4.3 or later
Graphics are quite nice. Plenty of mild-mannered puzzles if you happen to like them.
Clunky interface. Feels like a PC port. Inane dialogue. Dull and unimaginative puzzles. Poorly worded questions. Hateful retry system.