The iPad's lush screen and touch controls make it an alluring gateway to interactive fiction, including the exceptional 80 Days from inkle. Based on that mainstay of summer reading lists, Jules Verne's Around the World in 80 Days, 80 Days is a masterful example of the new generation of IF, blending dynamic presentations of text with gorgeous graphics and scene-setting music. It more or less follows the basic premise of the book, in which Phileas Fogg bets his buddies that he can circumnavigate the globe in the titular amount of time. You don't have to consider yourself a fan of literature or even reading, per se, to thoroughly enjoy the adventure, which beautifully intertwines strategy with the story's well-written narrative.
You play as Passepartout, valet extraordinaire to wager-loving Fogg who, it must be said, is kind of a tool. While Fogg sits back and reads the paper, it falls to you to arrange travel, manage the money, and generally keep the journey moving forward. It's an uneven division of labor, but it does give you the opportunity to explore the small hamlets, bustling towns and back alleys through which your extraordinary journey will take you. As you walk the streets, you'll meet artisans crafting marvelous steampunk creations, you'll hear whispers - and shouts - about war and revolution, and you'll meet more than one intriguing lady. Whether or not you complete your trip in the target 80 days, you'll find much to enjoy on the way. The story unfolds in choose-your-own-adventure style, offering you different ways to react or respond to conversation and events. Your Passepartout can be reserved or roguish, curious or discreet, or a little bit of all of the above. There are no dead ends for picking the "wrong" answer, just different opportunities, which makes replaying 80 Days not only enjoyable, but desirable. Your exploration does more than just provide you with local color and a chance to interact with the citizens, it also helps you learn new routes, which is vital to making timely progress. A vendor in the souk might mention a steamer that he's heard about, or a young girl might say that she's always wanted to see a hot-air balloon fly. Choosing the next leg of your journey isn't as simple a booking passage on the fastest mode of transport, though - there are plenty of other factors to consider. This gyrocopter might not be leaving for three days, a nearly unbearable delay, but it'll take you to a city where you could sell one of the items in your suitcase for a hefty sum. Bigger cities have markets where you can buy and sell the goods you've collected, and certain objects will fetch a handsome price in specific locations - assuming you can get there. Traveling by car might be quick, but it's also tiring, and Fogg can only put up with so much discomfort.
Then there's the small matter of paying for everything. With rapidly-diminishing funds, you'll have to weigh the benefits of paying for extra storage space on the train that doesn't have room for your luggage versus just dumping the case and traveling light. You can always hit the bank for a loan, unless you're in a town so small there's no bank to speak of. Perhaps the hotel owner will take pity on you and let you run some errands for cash. There are no clear right or wrong choices, and no matter which way you decide to go, 80 Days will offer something interesting. It's not about the destination, after all, but the journey. The fiddly bits of making the trip work wouldn't be nearly as much fun if the writing in 80 Days wasn't so good. 80 Days effortlessly strings together tiny vignettes to create a a world on the brink of change, bristling with the excitement of possibility and the fear of the coming unknown. Each stop on this world tour is intriguing by itself, and you don't quite realize how much has happened until you sit back and think about your journey as a whole. Wait - was that red-headed woman on the train a spy?
The iPad's touch controls are the perfect way to plan your trip, as you spin the globe and consider your route. I must confess to losing a lot of time by sticking doggedly to my plan to get to a city that I'd heard had a British outpost because I was hoping they might lend us some money. I never did find a good way to get there, though, and so I did my best to go with the flow and keep moving on toward the next hemisphere. My Passepartout grew more bold as he slogged his way around the world, getting robbed by pirates and nearly being blown to bits by a steampunk bomb in the process - all while Fogg napped. I keep hoping the option to leave Fogg in a gutter somewhere will pop up. Seriously, what do I need that guy for, anyway?
Players are sometimes wary of interactive fiction because it can seem old-fashioned or dull, but 80 Days smashes both of those notions to bits. This is modern storytelling that engages and delights, and the bold, stylish artwork gives 80 Days almost a graphic novel feel. Pack your case, armchair Passepartout - adventure awaits!