The most popular, and sometimes the most effective mobile games are the ones that know they’re on mobile devices. Oftentimes, successful mobile games have more in common with browser-based Flash games from 2004 than they do with console games, which can be disappointing for those looking for depth on mobile platforms. Trying to make an interesting game that plays like good games on a console or PC comes with a much higher cost and lower chance of success than just copying Flappy Bird, literally or philosophically. Enter Tales of the Adventure Company, a minimalist puzzle RPG developed by Slothwerks that uses its medium to great effect while still offering depth unmatched by the Fruit Ninjas of the world.
If Tales of the Adventure Company has a predecessor, it’s Desktop Dungeons, a PC roguelike that generates a ten-minute dungeon based around knowing how much damage everything can do, and trying to solve the dungeon like it’s a puzzle. Tales of the Adventure Company is deterministic in the exact same way. Each mission consists of a series of 5×5 grids that represent floors of a dungeon. When you first reach each grid, the squares are all hidden, and you have to tap the squares to reveal them. Monsters and recruitable allies are shuffled around each board, and one of the monsters holds the key that opens up the next level. You only have a set amount of taps before you lose the mission, so you have to strike a balance between finding the key as quickly as possible and tapping unrevealed squares to improve and heal your party so you’re good enough to face the boss at the end. Each unit in your party has a special ability that helps them in combat, and most enemies also have some kind of gimmick that makes you approach them in a special way. The end result is a satisfying fusion of a deterministic puzzle game and a roguelike with a dose of luck.
Even though pixelated chibi-versions of RPG stock characters are beyond overused by now, Tales of the Adventure Company still feels original and fresh. Chalk it up to good presentation: the score is well-done, the sound effects are punchy and make basic actions feel weighty and satisfying, and there isn’t any tongue-in-cheek meta-commentary on RPGs to get between you and the game. The most plot you get is something like a picture of a pixelated yeti flashing on the screen with the words “DEFEAT YETI” under it, and that’s all you really need. The major advantage of a retro aesthetic is the potential for minimalist, elegant design, and that potential is definitely reached in Tales of the Adventure Company.
Tales of the Adventure Company does lack some of the variability that makes games like Desktop Dungeons and true roguelikes so replayable, but that same effect makes it more appealing to play on the train or on a 20-minute break than its more intense relatives. A combination of responsive controls and gameplay that asks you to think without having too many variables to think about makes it one of the best time-passing mobile games that I’ve ever played, and it makes a case for portrait mode as an underrated format for a mobile game.
Just because large elements of what traditionally constitutes an RPG are excised doesn’t mean that people who like RPGs won’t like Tales of the Adventure Company. It won’t replace your favorite RPG, but it’s so portable and intuitive that you won’t really care. This is a game that knows what it wants to do and executes it well, and as a result it leaves a lot of its mobile competitors in the dust without breaking a sweat.
Is it Hardcore?
Tales of the Adventure Company is a puzzle game wearing a dungeon crawler’s skin. Fast-paced, intuitive to control, and well-designed.