Review In Short
Ben says: "I really wanted to enjoy this as the art style is right up my street. In the end though I wished I'd just spent the 90 minutes playing the opening puzzles of Machinarium instead."
During the last 9 months I’ve become a complete convert to the Switch with its simple change between portable and docked mode. With a looming 10-hour flight, I thought I would while away the time playing Stardew Valley and Xenoblade Chronicles 2 before reality kicked in and I realised I’d get around 4 hours of battery life. For that reason, I loaded up my iPad with a couple of games to delve into but I actually ended up on my iPhone after a game caught my eye in the redesigned App Store. The game is Abi, a point and click style adventure about two robots trying to find a bird.
A beautiful art style - shame about that iPhone X home indicator
You play as Abi who resembles the imagined offspring of WALL·E and Eva but you can also freely switch to your companion, ‘DD’, a large blue block of a robot who can reach higher objects and lift troublesome debris in your path. Tapping on the screen will command your robot to move and action icons will appear when there is something that can be interacted with. You can only hold one object at a time with it being dropped if you pick something else up (or if you use the manual drop button).
The puzzles are relatively standard fare with objects that need to get to certain places with help from other objects or the environment. I had high hopes after the first puzzle (in which you have to get a key that is just out of reach) gave the enjoyable “solved it” reaction but later puzzles were far simpler. If you get stuck, there is a hint for the current puzzle available by tapping the star icon; there is no cost for that1 but it also doesn’t make you work for it in the way that Machinarium does with its asteroids style minigame.
<insert mandatory “I’m on a boat” quote>
In addition to your standard minimal point and click puzzles, there are a few other twists such as a partial boss fight in which you have to avoid objects being thrown at you and a “tap the screen as fast as you can” mini-game which only serves to annoy in my opinion. There is also a particularly egregious section in which you have 60 seconds to solve a certain movement based puzzle or you die at which point you respawn and the 60 seconds starts again. The issue I have with this is that it doesn’t reward contemplative puzzle solving but is instead rushing you to just try anything which I don’t enjoy. There were also several glitches in this area for me including the entire level loading 60% too high up the screen preventing me from moving until I died!
Unfortunately the issues didn’t stop there. On numerous occasions the touch target would be off by nearly half the screen2, sometimes animations wouldn’t load, and despite supporting the iPhone X screen the developers hadn’t set the correct flag to have the home indicator hide leading to a big white block at the bottom of the screen at all times. On a more picky note, the design is so beautiful that it was disappointing to come across textual notes that were designed to look like they were on paper (replete with fold marks) but had a standard font layered on top that scrolled independently.
I was beginning to think this as well
The story is slightly bizarre as well. You begin by trying to find a white bird for DD3 but then you get mixed up in transporting a human brain to a big city whilst little bits of story about the humans that used to live on the planet are drip fed to you by way of anime-style video and pictures. By the end I had no clue what was going on and the game ends abruptly with just under 1.5 hours played.
Abi isn’t without its charm; the design is beautiful, the first puzzle was fairly clever, the sound design and music are superb, and it has managed to wrap up a lot of emotion into its robot cast. That said, the setting, genre, and art style made me think this would be something akin to Machinarium but it is far lighter in content and a lot more confusing. In reality, I should have played on an iPad as even the screen of the iPhone X isn’t really big enough to play on and I spent 10 minutes thinking that a crucial puzzle component was a teddy bear rather than a web cam! As it is, I can’t recommend it for iPhone play, even if you are confined to an aircraft cabin with a dead Switch battery.