Bookish Gaming, Part 2: Mobile Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Style

The last time I reviewed mobile games I commented about how the choose-your-own-adventure concept hasn’t successfully adapted to newer technologies outside of print books.  I did offer a great graphic novel type zombie title called Survivor Z, and disqualified probably the most well-known title, Choices, because, well…romance.  Blech.  Well, since then, I ended up going down a rabbit hole of the available apps that fit this bill.  It seems there are two primary developers (Hosted Games LLC, and Choice of Games LLC) that have built catalogs of subject matters for whoever might be looking.  I’ve already noted in the past that I’m a sucker for anything zombie related, so most of the titles I chose to review, (surprise, surprise) were zombie related – or at least zombie adjacent.  The apps from these developers are almost identical with the product being completely text based with no graphics or sound effects.

Really, my reviews should be based on the two developers, as each title would be based on each reader’s preference, and the structure would all remain the same throughout the different titles, so I’ll do a side-by-side comparison at the end.  First, I’ll review the titles that I took a shot with.  Since they all have unique writers who are independent from the software developers, the story lines and quality of writing should offer a range.  In theory, at least, right?

Zombien – Developer: Hosted Games LLC.  Text based.  No graphics or sound effects.  This is a zombie story, but it also throws in aliens just to keep things interesting.  Plenty of choices to make, including some that seem unnecessary (your character’s sexuality for example), but still have an effect on the outcome.  The options for names are pretty lame, but they do offer to let you type your own.  The formatting leaves a little to be desired.  The paragraph breaks seem somewhat random and haphazard.  There are several grammatical errors and punctuation mistakes, but the nice touches of humor allow you to overlook some of those minor issues.  The down side of this app is you only get the first 2-3 chapters for free, then have to pay for the remaining chapters.  The positive of this app not being free, is the removal of ads once you make the purchase.  Obviously, that’s exactly how it should be, but it’s still a nice perk.  Another nice touch is the ability to check your stats.  The app tracks how many weapons and essentials you pick up along the way, relationships you build with other people, along with other character traits such as strength, leadership, intellect, agility, and so on.  This app would never win any literary awards, but it is enjoyable nonetheless.

Next: Doomsday on Demand – Developer: Choice of Games LLC.  Technically not zombies, but it’s an apocalyptic doomsday scenario with mutants, so it’s not a far cry from my beloved genre.  Right off the bat, I noticed something different from Zombien: this whole story is available for free (as long as you don’t mind some ads), although the free version only allows you to read so much at a time before you have to take a break.  Of course, there’s the option to pay three bucks if you don’t have the desire to deal with advertisements.  This title doesn’t waste any time with pre-story details.  It jumps straight into the story.  You are a ten-year-old boy, and that’s all there is to it.  This story offers a lot of either-or questions, with limited options.  It’s not a completely linear story, but it doesn’t seem to be that sprawling of a story either.  This title also tracks stats, but the majority of them are centered around your reputation with other characters in the story, which is kind of an interesting bit of info to have.

Next app: Zombie Exodus – Developer: Choice of Games LLC.  This title starts off with a variety of choices to make to create your persona, and offers a few options while going through the story instead of simple either-or scenarios.  The story kicks off right around the beginning of the apocalypse, which always provides interesting dilemmas to figure out just which needs should be prioritized.  I did catch some crude illustrations along with this story.  While it broke up the boring black text on a white background, it kind of stood out, as these apps don’t rely on graphics or sound effects.  This story did offer multiple options when it came time to make a choice, which makes the story more realistic and more engaging as the reader/”participant”.  Basic stats for the reader were also tracked, but nothing too in-depth.

Next title: Zombie Exodus: Safe Haven – Developer: Choice of Games LLC.  This is a companion story to Zombie Exodus and not a sequel, which could’ve been a really interesting idea – especially if you could somehow upload your character info from Zombie Exodus, and continue the story through the apocalyptic wasteland.  But alas, this is a whole separate story that also kicks in at the beginning of the zombie outbreak.  However, you do have the option to enter your email address from Zombie Exodus in order to earn a reward from your experience in that title.  Because I didn’t pay for any of these apps, I wasn’t able to see what that entailed, unfortunately.  You can play the first chapter for free, then have to purchase the rest of the app to continue.  If you’re going to buy it, you might as well do it right off the bat, because at least the ads would be removed at that point.  This title offers a ton of possibilities and seems to have a pretty great setup with a lot of time devoted to multiple different outcomes.  The character attributes are very time consuming if you choose to devote the necessary time to develop them, which can be frustrating if you’re in the mood to jump into the story.  I didn’t catch any illustrations with this title, and the punctuation and grammar were clean.  I couldn’t get too deep into this title before I hit the pay wall, but it seemed like it was well crafted.  Safe Haven is the title of all that I tested that took stats to a whole other level.  It was quite impressive the level of detail this app broke down the player’s decisions.  Overall, this app was the most developed and well crafted.

Next up: Popcorn, Soda…Murder? – Developer: Choice of Games LLC.  I figured I should expand my research beyond zombies, so I went with something a little more traditional: a murder mystery/crime thriller.  This title is supported by advertisements, which means the whole story is available for free if you don’t mind waiting through some commercials from time to time.  You also have the option to pay a small fee and turn ads off completely.  Right off the bat, you enter your name, then you are encouraged to get a pen and paper to keep notes of clues that you find along the way.  Major bonus points for drawing the participant in so well from the jump.  There’s also a well executed fourth-wall-break early on, showing that the author doesn’t take himself too seriously.  It’s a very interesting concept, really immersing you into the story as an active character instead of a reader who’s simply making choices, if that makes sense.  The downfall that I ran into early though, is how drawn out the process can be at times, having to examine every option before being able to make some conclusions and move on.  When I was finally able to make an accusation, the app responded by basically telling me to read more and try harder, which was insulting and frustrating.  Because of that alone, I moved on from this title rather quickly.  In terms of stats, this title failed to offer any.

Lastly: Rock Star – Developer: Choice of Games LLC.  Again, I wanted to break away from zombies a little bit, and I landed on this niche title.  Since I wanted to actually be a rock star at one point in my life, I figured it could be fun to fantasize about the lifestyle a little bit at least.  Again, you can play the first three chapters for free, then have to purchase the rest of the app to continue.  If you’re going to buy it though, you might as well do it early and eliminate those pesky ads right away.  From the start, I couldn’t ignore some grammar and spelling issues.  Nothing major, just enough to be annoying.  There aren’t a ton of decisions to make in the free chapters, but when you do get a choice, there are several options, leading me to believe the story has a significant amount of possible outcomes.  I noticed that this title also tracked progress and stats, determining what kind of influence your character had, their musicianship, and a few other categories based on decisions made throughout the story.  Overall, this story was unique and entertaining from the portion I was able to see.

Now that I’ve broken down each title individually, let’s compare the two primary developers – Choice of Games LLC and Hosted Games LLC.  Honestly, it’s probably more than a little unfair to do a comparison, since all but one of the titles I played came from Choice of Games LLC, but whatever.  Let’s do it anyway!  I think the first thing I can say is that the available titles that caught my own personal interest more came from Choice of Games LLC, so I’ll give them the first nod simply for grabbing my attention more.

Secondly, a side-by-side look at which developer’s titles were more polished will be unbalanced due to my small sample size and under-representation from Hosted Games LLC.  However, based on what I did see, the Hosted Games title seemed more haphazard with the formatting, grammar, and punctuation errors.  Those issues could easily be attributed to the author of each title and not the developer, but because I only had one title to review from them, this is my conclusion.  At the end of the day, both developers could spend more time in the editing phase to polish up the spelling and grammatical mistakes and make the apps a little higher quality overall.

Both developers had titles that offered a plethora of choices for the reader to make, therefore potentially resulting in numerous different outcomes.  This seemed to be more title based, and less determined by the developer.  No decision either way for this category.

I would have to give the overall entertainment factor to Choice of Games LLC simply based on my first grading criteria; it offered more titles that caught my attention, so its stories were more interesting and entertaining to me.  If you like the library that Hosted Games LLC offers, then this could easily be the opposite for you.

Ultimately, each of the two developers that I looked at had a wide variety of titles to their credit. Unfortunately, most of them are paid apps. So, if you’re a cheapskate like I am, then your options are pretty limited.  Regardless, hopefully this has been helpful in feeding your choose-your-own-adventure fix, and if nothing else has implanted a seed of curiosity.  If so, then enjoy!

Thank you, that is all.

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