Puzzles and Disappearances
What happens when you mix elements of the supernatural with investigative puzzles? According to Pine Studios, developer of The Academy, you get a game they describe as a combination of Harry Potter and Professor Layton. Prepare for astral projections, standardized testing, and the quickest ways to fix a pencil. When you mix it all together, you get an experience that fails to live up to the Harry Potter/Professor Layton concept, which leaves one wondering why it was labeled as such to begin with. This isn’t to say that the game is bad and should be avoided – no; it simply suggests that one’s expectations should not be steered in the wrong direction.
In The Academy, you play as Sam, a freshman student at the prestigious Arbor Academy. This is a place dedicated to the brightest and best students and, apparently, puts students through rigorous tasks and challenges on a daily basis. But there’s a catch – a well known professor has gone missing just before school begins for the year, and his disappearance is shrouded in mystery and, perhaps, foul play. If this wasn’t bad enough, a hooded vandal has been spotted terrorizing and harassing faculty and students alike. Both situations are being investigated by seemingly incomopetent authorities, as they often ask Sam and his buddies for additional assistance.
The majority of The Academy plays like this: Sam runs around the school, attending class and getting to know his fellow classmates while simultaneously investigating the hooded vandal. All along the way, Sam is challenged with various puzzles with varying levels of difficulty. Each puzzle has a base question Sam needs to complete and a bonus question that is intended to be a bit more difficult than the first. For the most part, this setup works. The puzzles are enjoyable, if not interesting, but there were some issues here. The biggest issue was with the translations. Some puzzles made little sense – not because they were overly difficult but because the question simply didn’t make sense. You can eat chocolate bars to provide you with a hint, and those were often worthless, as the English within was often vague or filled with some poorly translated text. Finally, I finished some puzzles and, after reading the solution explanation, still had no idea what I was supposed to do or why the answer made sense. Still, the majority of puzzles were fine, but the hiccups were substantial enough to cause too much frustration.
While there isn’t much else to do outside of puzzles, the story was intriguing enough to keep me playing, and I did partake in every side quest and side activity that I could find (side quests were easy to find, but I was also given tasks like taking pictures of my classmates, which provided me with a camera I could whenever I pleased, for example). Overall, there isn’t much variation, but the game is also short enough to not really hamper the experience. I was genuinely interested in what was happening around me, even if the dialogue was stiff and, sometimes, cringe worthy.
The biggest issue I had with The Academy, and it’s one that delayed my review, is that there are numerous glitches, some of which prevented me from progressing. For example, right at the onset of the game, I was forced to close the application after the initial testing but before I toured the academy with Amy, the upperclassmen who tours Sam around Arbor Academy. The game had saved, and I was given the choice to tour the academy later, so I exited the game and took care of what I needed to. When I came back to The Academy, I was outside of the building (which was not where I saved). It was like the game didn’t remember that I completed the entrance exam because it suggested that I pick up a chocolate bar before going in, which is what the game makes Sam do before entering. All of this would be fine (I would have been okay with taking the exam again, too), but I could neither pick up a chocolate bar nor enter the academy – meaning I was stuck in the courtyard for eternity… or, well, until I erased my game data and began again. Sadly, this happened more than once.
With that said, I only encountered that significant issue twice and hadn’t experienced it since launch (perhaps it was patched up). Still, if I wasn’t reviewing this game, I would have given up on it after the second issue. Either way, I made sure to complete every task I was given and didn’t experience another issue. Fool me three times, right?
Here’s the deal: The Academy is a decent game. Its narrative is capable of holding one’s attention. The characters aren’t particularly memorable, but the scenario is. The puzzles can provide a bit of challenge (both organically and because of translation issues), but it can often feel like standardized testing. As a teacher, I can’t say the setup is the most conducive for student learning, but, alas, it’s a game – and it’s not particularly steeped in realism. If you’re looking for something more than a variety of puzzles, you’ll be disappointed; if you’re tired of an onslaught of violence, then The Academy is a pretty relaxing and enjoyable experience, despite its shortcomings. At $19.99, it’s not overpriced and offers approximately 9-12 hours of gameplay (the game is split into chapters). You could definitely do worse, but this is also definitely a game catered to a specific audience.