At a time when many children are missing out on school due to coronavirus, The Academy is perfect for recreating that mental stimulation they may be missing out on; offering puzzles that encourage creativity and thinking outside the box with the solution not always being the most obvious approach. Unfortunately, it also brings the embarrassment of being called out in front of the class for not revising a book chapter... yay?
The Academy: The First Riddle is a light-hearted puzzle game where you play as Sam, our silent protagonist who has just passed the entry exam for the prestigious Arbor Academy. Events take a bizarre turn at the school, from a missing professor to ghost bears running rampant, and the player must solve puzzles in order to find out whose responsible.
For a game which has over 200 puzzles to complete, The Academy very much lacks in variety. In his adventure, Sam will encounter three different types of puzzles. The most common involve being shown an image with either multiple choice answers or putting a marker over the correct answer. On top of this, there are newspaper suduko-style puzzles which get progressively harder the more you complete. And finally, the third type is putting together broken fragments of the mysterious artifacts that seem to be causing the havoc across the school, which you must do several times throughout The Academy and it doesn't get any trickier than that. So, there are only three different types of puzzles - in a puzzle game.
It is safe to say this becomes boring fast. There just simply wasn’t enough variety to keep The Academy interesting and there were plenty of opportunities to make certain puzzles more interactive. For example, I completed one which required you to draw the marker over the correct buttons to activate a machine. All that had to be done to make this more interesting was have the player actually interact with the buttons by pressing them. I found the design of the puzzles extremely lazy and it really dragged away my motivation to actually complete the thing when you are consistently presented with basically the same challenge over and over again. Remember when I said the puzzles could be challenging? That's only because the questions are misleading. For example, you are shown an equation where you must find the value of x and the question is worded as though math is involved. But surprise! There's no math involved at all and all you have to do is spot the trend in the way the numbers have been sorted.
On top of this, the major flaw with multiple choice questions is that you will eventually find the answer purely by guessing. If a lot of The Academy is based on multiple choice questions, then you could essentially guess your way to the ending. Often, I would be stuck on a puzzle and end up guessing the answer, but sometimes even the explanation after you completed the puzzle isn't clear on how you solved it. It feels like sometimes not even the game knows the solution and is relying on you to just stumble across the conclusion randomly.
For each of these puzzles, you are scored out of 10 based on how many wrong answers you selected. But some puzzles only have a choice of five or so answers, so you’ll only get below five points if you’re selecting a wrong answer twice. The scoring system is also completely useless, as there are no penalties for a low score or rewards for a high score. In fact, The Academy congratulates you on a high score even if you got a 4/10.
The game encourages you to explore the academy further to find side quests and "explore the school’s rich lore," yet there’s really not that much to find through doing this and there are no benefits to completing the side quests. You can collect chocolate bars which are used to unlock hints, but you’ll find enough of these as you’re walking to and from each main quest anyway. I feel like the least The Academy could do in terms of award is offer chocolate bars for completing bonus puzzles or side quests, otherwise there is no point other than the satisfaction of 100 percent completion. And a lot of the time, the hints can also be very vague and of no help at all, especially when you can just guess the answer.
Not only are the puzzles repetitive, but I had to mute the soundtrack after I struggled to fall asleep with the constant twinkling tune relentlessly stuck in my head. The same song is on loop and plays over and over again. It’s completely maddening and almost nauseating. And with no voice acting during dialogue, there's not really any reason not to mute the game anyway.
The Academy even flops when it comes to nailing an interesting storyline and characters as it relies too much on those classic school stereotypes. From nerds to bullies, it pretty much ticks off everything on the list of common high school tropes in video games and films. Even our main trio of characters are boring and don’t add much to the story. Sam is our dark-haired and passive protagonist who is just ordered around, Maya is the nerd brain who basically does all the real work and Dom is the red-haired wimp who’s just kind of there. Wait a moment, this sounds familiar! Unfortunately, every character lacks much personality outside their stereotypes or influence from Harry Potter, much like the game itself.
On top of this, the dialogue is not compelling at all and only really serves to drive the plot forward. It doesn’t help that Sam is a passive protagonist and you are given no dialogue options to further involve the player in the conversation. The story revolves around the mystery of a missing professor and what is causing the unusual disaster throughout the school. But The Academy's obsession with recreating that school experience really ruins the fluidity of the story line. One minute you're saving your friend from a rampant ghost bear, but then the characters are seemingly in no hurry to work out what happened because they've got to get to class and you're forced to sit through that interaction to progress.
Even the visuals are pretty basic, with the character models looking like they were created on Sims and their animations are repetitive, over the top and often not matching what’s going on or what they’re saying. There’s one scene where the group are trying to fix a machine that can change the weather, and even when nothing is happening Maya is jumping around comically as though the thing is about to blow.
Overall, The Academy: The First Riddle is overwhelmingly unimpressive and tedious. I struggled to find the motivation to complete the game after the first few hours of slogging through uninteresting dialogue and being forced to sit through classes, chastised for not taking the time to read through a boring book chapter in preparation. There isn't a single likable character within the whole story as they are all merely shells embodying their designated high school stereotype. The storyline appears to be quite interesting and you can't wait to solve the mystery at the beginning of the game, but this novelty quickly dies off once you realize how repetitive and boring it truly is.
Jess reviewed The Academy on Steam with a code provided by the publisher.